It starts with you
Change is an inside-out process, so if you want to decrapify work then you start with yourself.
I don’t mean you have to decrapify yourself though! (Although there maybe a little bit of toxicity to be taken out).
I mean you begin by working on yourself. Figuring out what you stand for. What your values are. What type of person you are. Developing your mindset. Taking action.
This might not be what you expected. It’s certainly not what ‘change management consultants’ tell you. I get that it might be a bit of a shock, a little daunting. Terrifying, even.
The good news, though, is that it is in your own hands. You don’t need anyone’s permission or help, you can start right away.
You can start to decrapify work now.
Work on what you control
The fact is that you can’t really change anything else but yourself. You don’t run the company (although you may have some influence and status within it). You can’t control others – and you probably have no desire to do so.
You – that the only thing you have. What you think. How you behave. The actions you take. This is your circle of control.
So you can start to decrapify work by decrapfiying your circle of control.
Most of the time we are operating on automatic pilot, acting habitually and unconsciously, so you should start by considering how you are showing up in your circle of control.
- Are you a positive influence on those around you, or a negative one?
- Do you present and embody your values, your higher aspirations, your nobler self?
- Or do you simply reflect the crapiness of the work environment around you?
- Do you show how things could be different, and better?
- Or do you simply reflect and reinforce how things are?
It’s surprising how little control we actually exercise in our circle of control, isn’t it?
The point of this enquiry is not to make you feel guilty, it’s to make you aware. The first step to effective change is acknowledging and accepting where you are starting from, with clear-eyed honesty and unsentimental detachment.
You see, many workplaces train you to conform to behavioural norms and to fit in. To follow rather than lead (no matter what the ‘inspirational’ posters on the wall might say). To be compliant, a cog in the machine. This is known as ‘learned helplessness’, a belief that you can’t do anything to affect your environment. This belief saps you of energy, independence and spirit.
Now, you know that’s bollocks or you wouldn’t be reading this. But you may have doubted yourself and succumbed to the pressures, to the stifling blanket of expectation that has been placed over you. That’s OK, don’t feel bad about it. That’s what it is all intended to do. You weren’t aware of it, you didn’t know how to resist it and you weren’t equipped to deal with it.
Now you are going to acquire the awareness and the knowledge to change that.
Now you are going to stop behaving automatically and acting unconsciously and instead start to take control of your circle of control.
Be More Pirate
This is where the Pirates come in!
They refused to accept things as they were and took action to change their world for the better by breaking the rules and making better ones. They rejected the norms and behaviours of the time and created their own way of living, their own way of being.
In short, they stood up for what they believed in.
You too can decide you are not going to accept the norms and behaviours of your environment and show there’s a better way to be. You can start a mutiny of one.
What if you started to treat everyone around you the way you’d like to be treated? What if you behaved in the way that you think everyone should?
Instead of moping around and keeping your head down, what if you started to say hello to people? Started to take a genuine interest in them? To start helping people just because you can, without any expectation of a payback? What if, instead of doing the easy thing, like everyone else does, you did the right thing?
What if you started being the person you’d like to be? How would they respond?
I’ll tell you. They will start to reflect that back to you. If you smile at people, they smile back. If you say good morning and ask them how they are, they’ll start to do the same. If you start to connect to them as human beings, then they’ll start behaving like human beings.
You can be the stone in the pond, and they will be the ripples.
Of course, not everyone will respond. There are always arseholes in any group of people. But what does that matter? It’s their loss, not yours.
The least that will happen is that your daily experience of work will improve. You’ll create a little bubble of positivity around you, a bright spot amongst the toxicity. You’ll be less drained by the daily grind. Instead of your soul being sucked out by the work, you’ll be replenishing it through your interactions with others. Even if only one person responds, you’ll have a better day.
Because that one person could be one of the others. Someone else who wants to decrapify work. Someone who could be part of your crew.
Find the others, form your crew
You can’t decrapfiy work on your own, you can only make change happen in your circle of control. However, if you can find some others and form a crew, then you can reach beyond that and really have an impact.
You don’t need many. The pirates had small crews and yet could overcome the much bigger and better resourced navies they encountered. As Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
By being different, by consciously choosing how you behave, you are hoisting your personal Jolly Roger and that will draw other would-be pirates to you.
Once you have a pirate crew then you can really start the mutiny and begin to change the world around you. There actually are crews in organisations today, only they are called teams. The thing is, organisations don’t realise how important teams are, and how much they power they have.
The fact is that it’s in teams where the work gets done, where change really happens and where shifts can occur. Most organisations don’t recognise this. They don’t know how many teams they have, or how many teams someone is a member of. They don’t know about the informal teams, the ‘gangs’ of like-minded individuals that work together outside the org chart or in other formal structures like projects. They don’t know how healthy their teams are or how well they are performing, other than on a subjective and random basis.
You can form your own pirate crew that cuts across the organisation and spreads the mutinies. You can also turn some of your teams into pirate crews. And, like the pirates, you can bring crews together to collaborate on a massive scale to achieve an objective and then melt away again in the night.
Teams are where it’s at for pirates. Teams are where the mutinies occur, the rules get broken and remade, where change happens and gets spread. They are where you inject the pirate virus into the body corporate and watch as it spreads and takes over.
This is the next step in how you make the change happen from the inside out.
Changing the organisation
Many leadership teams proclaim that they are trying to improve work and make it a more fulfilling experience but this is often a combination of wishful thinking and image making PR bullshit. They don’t really want to do the hard work to change the organisation because it would require them to change themselves. They mostly want the organisation to be different for everyone else but pretty much the same for them. After all, they are the winners, the status quo works for them.
There are a few leaders, however, who truly do wish the change their organisations to be more human, more nurturing of people and their potential. They are also courageous enough to grasp the nettle and to go through their own personal transformation. They have given us some beacons of possibility, templates for the types of organisation that we could have everywhere. We need to understand what they have done and use it as inspiration and guidance for ways in which we can decrapify work.
They have left us Treasure Maps that we can use to find the buried treasure.
You could wait for your leaders to have a damascene moment, recognise the error of their ways and transform into one of these courageous visionaries. It’s possible, but it’s not very likely, is it?*
Or you can take action yourself to show the organisation that there are better ways of organising, that there are alternatives to the status quo that are more effective, more resilient, more sustainable and more human. Oh, and mostly more profitable, too.
So at the organisational level it is about showing them the way, a process of education in order to awaken them to the possibilities. The best way to do this is by telling stories of those organisations that already do things differently, that have already decrapified work.
This is the pirate way, telling tall tales to have an impact on the imaginations and emotions of those you wish to affect. The stories are already there and don’t need exaggeration (they really don’t, they are amazing as they are) but they do need to be weaponised – sharpened up into gripping and powerful stories that can be easily remembered and repeated. A folklore, if you like, that can be passed from person to person and spread virally through the organisation.
Creating these stories and the means to distribute them is part of your work plan to decrapify work. We’ll provide some examples here in the Treasure Maps section, and you can find more in the Resources section as well as learning from others who are decrapifying their workplaces.
Navigating the High Seas
The pirates had no conception of the world they were trying to create. They were mostly driven by ‘away from’ energy. Away from the exploitation, the subjugation and the abuse of the Navy and of society at that time, where they were subjects to Kings and Queens and had no rights of their own. They had some vague ideas about freedom, brotherhood and equality but there was no model for them to aim for, no examples they could learn from. They really were ground-breaking pioneers, making it up as they went along.
We are more fortunate today, there are examples of companies and organisations that do it differently, that put people at the heart of their organisation and create truly human and inspiring workplaces.
These are our buried treasure, and their stories are the Treasure Maps that guide us to it.
But we also need to know how to navigate our way around this world. The Pirates didn’t just sail off into the blue and see what turned up. They had the stars to guide them, the charts to help them position themselves, and the skills and tools they had learnt in the Navy to sail where they wanted. Sure, they sailed to the edges of the map to explore what was there but they started with a map in first place, and a knowledge of how to move around it.
So we need maps, compasses, navigation instruments – some mental models to help us find out way around this new world we are creating.
You’ll be pleased to know that we are not alone in trying to change the workplace for the better. There have been a number of initiatives over the past few years as different movements and groupings have emerged.
For example, there’s the ‘Conscious Capitalism’ movement, the ‘B-Corp’ movement, the ‘World Blu’ movement. These and others are coming to the fore, growing and becoming more well-known but they are all part of the Reinventing Organizations movement, inspired by a book of the same name by Fredrick Laloux that really kicked things off in a big way.
The book was a breakthrough because it gave us a new way of thinking about organisations and a language to talk about them. It gave us a map and a means to navigate it, if you like.
Laloux introduced a new mental model that described how organisations evolve and the different types that we see. He also identified key breakthroughs that marked the evolution from one type of organisation to the next. He tells us that we in the middle of the evolution of the next level right now.
Laloux’s model gives each level of organisation a colour and the emerging level is called TEAL (I know it’s confusing, it looks like an acronym of some sort, doesn’t it?). He has identified the three key breakthroughs that mark this evolution as being:
- Self-organising (also called self-management)
- Whole self
- Evolutionary purpose
Now, if anyone was ‘self-organising’ it was the pirates. And they certainly brought their ‘whole self’ to work. OK, their purpose was mostly to get rich, drunk and laid but it was the 1600s and they weren’t very ‘woke’ back then.
The point is that being more pirate is pretty much aligned with what is needed to create the type of organisation that puts people at the centre, allows them to be who they are and enables them to realise their potential and positively impact the world. In short, the sort of organisation we want to work in.
You, Crew, Company
So let’s summarise how you decrapify work
Start with YOU
Reject the norms and the culture of despair and change how you behave and act. Treat everyone else the way you think is right, whether they respond or not (most will).
Stand up for what you believe in. Speak your truth. Raise your own Jolly Roger
Form your CREW
Find the other like-minds and like-hearts. Write your own pirate code. Start breaking some rules and making better ones. Start some mutinies.
Connect with other crews so you can scale up quickly and have a broader and bigger impact.
Talk to the COMPANY
Start telling some ‘Tall Tales’ about organisations that do it differently, that have decrapified their workplaces. Learn about the ways they work. Follow the other movements for better work. Connect up with the communities (including Be More Pirate and this one).
We’re not going to Decrapify Work overnight, we’re not going to reverse the process of crapfication of the past 40 years quickly. But we can start to make change happen, and now. In fact, YOU can. You have the power. Start today.