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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Parents and business - more than just helicopters?

This week I am helping out at my son's business. 

Tom is enjoying his honeymoon and his business partner is spending time with his brand new baby son. A double set of joys and testing for a small business.

In the spaces between managing the phone calls, I am struck by how much I am enjoying this glimpse of what Tom and Graham have created. It sheds new light on the man that our son has become.

Musing on this I realised that I have been given similar glimpses of my daughter in her professional role in PR in London. 

The first glimpse came when she and I were enjoying a gin and tonic on the South Bank. She was hailed by a group of people from one of the national arts organisations. One of them detached himself from the group to come and talk to her. I listened in as they engaged in banter and work talk. Latterly I had a meeting with Libby's boss, as it transpired we had similar interests in creative methods for organisational development.

We have 'Take your daughter and son to work day', so maybe 'Take your parents to work' is a logical follow on. It turns out this is not a new idea. 

There is a Facebook page trying to set this up. Others have run it as a one off idea, as a Wall Street Journal blog shows:

Some recruiters and companies with graduate schemes are choosing to deal with the phenomenon of 'helicopter parents' by providing information packs (Enterprise Rent-a-Car) or even meeting them. Attracting the right talent is important to them and they recognise the influence that parents can have on their children's decision-making (

Employees' parents provide other untapped or unseen support for businesses: 

- parents, and their friends, are potential clients and customers;
- they are the ones ensuring that members of the workforce can still turn up for work when their children are ill or have school holidays;
- they play a key role to helping ensure members of the workforce are fit for work when their personal life is tough;
- they sometimes provide a sounding board or act as an advisor to their children about their work situations.

Any other examples of this potential being exploited by businesses?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Surprised by joy

Our daughter's wedding
This last Saturday our son Tom married his lovely fiancee, Katy. It was the second September wedding in a row for Tim and I, as parents. Last September our eldest child Libby married Paul.

These two wedding days have provided us with the most amazing and unexpected experience of what I take to be 'joy'. 

It sounds a bit stupid to say that this emotion was unexpected. We had approached Libby's wedding anticipating a happy day with family and friends. The careful planning had been a shared and enjoyable process. We knew too that everyone we had invited had a special relationship with Libby and/or Paul, so they would be determined to make it a happy occasion. And then the day came....

What neither of us had anticipated was the powerful effect of the love between two people being made manifest in front of a crowd of witnesses. Nor the depth and power of the love for our children being made manifest in and through parents, family and friends. 

I know now why we use the phrase 'to burst with joy'. The body cannot seem to contain the emotion - smiles cannot be wide enough, tears flow at the slightest prompt. The emotion, carried us, glowing, through the following few weeks.

Approaching Tom's wedding, I was apprehensive about being opened up again in this way quite so quickly. So not to be surprised a second time, but readier and steadier........ha ha, not a chance.

Reflecting on this second experience, I have to acknowledge that joy is also a highly disruptive emotion. It opens us up and makes us vulnerable. It is overwhelming. It creates in us outward expressions of love, generosity, and gratitude to others.  At the time, all this is on open display and has a public impact because it cannot be contained.

Whilst this level of intensity is not sustainable on an everyday basis, it is interesting that the expressions of joy can be accessed daily. Positive psychological and management research show major benefits are to be gained, both in personal life and business productivity, where people make opportunities and are proactive in practicing these expressions. 

'Deviantly successful' teams (i.e. successful beyond what might reasonably be expected) were found to be the ones who were encouraged to notice the best in themselves and others, to celebrate together, to express gratitude and to show their compassion for others.

Soft stuff ? The profit line says otherwise! I wish you just enough joy in your life to create greater happiness and peace every day.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Inside Knowledge - uncovering hidden wisdom

- What best helps families with complex needs to become stable? 
- What else needs to happen to prevent people of Pakistani descent losing their sight, as a result of diabetes? 
- What can we do to help young people use alcohol more wisely? 

These three major questions have been occupying my work and waking life over the past six months. 

In each case the work involved asking those with the inside knowledge - the families, people of Pakistani descent and young people and their parents.

 Of course, we listened to what all the relevant professionals had to say as well. In fact we listened to the 'whole system' i.e. everyone who had a contribution to make in one way or another, to the issue being considered.

There was thoughtfulness and animation in the focus group discussions; a real willingness to share experiences generously, even painful ones, in the individual interviews. Parents who had never been involved in anything like this before helped to design and shape community responses to family needs. 

Revelations and insights abounded. From the interviews with families who have succeeded in becoming far more stable, a common pattern emerged of what things had helped them to change life for the better. Their analysis provided a possible model for professionals to use to help more families at an earlier stage. 

It took nerve and not a little courage to turn up to a workshop with professionals; to air ideas; to listen and to be changed what you heard.

This sort of involvement, engagement , designing and learning is immensely powerful for everyone participating. It shows that people, no matter how vulnerable or how complex their lives, can deliberate and analyse with others, offering insights that the professionals could never guess at. 

The most surprising thing for some professional participants was just how much consensus there was about what needs to be done, when all the different perspectives had been shared and heard. 

I would love more public services to dare to draw the public in to help with innovation, strategy and planning. 

What are your best stories of work like this?