"Because I said so" didn't cut it then and it still won't now.
Is it wrong to compare employees in the workplace with kids? Just recently, I've found myself doing that.
Over the years, I have seen some childlike behaviour from people at work. Some has made me laugh (like when you laugh at the naughty kid at school) and some has made me really cross! They should know better, I hear myself say.
There's always one...
The one who makes you laugh when you are not supposed to. At school it was in Assembly; at work in an important meeting, or during the CEO's speech. There will be an in-joke here, a clique of colleague friends there. There will be the people who always go to lunch together. Like high school in suits?
Some is normal group behaviour, but if you find yourself in a business where some of the people have tantrums like children, it is often because of a parenting style of management. If an employer behaves in a parent like way, should they expect childlike behaviour in return?
Not all employers act like parents, of course. Each business has a unique culture. However, in some big corporates, where there has been a paternal style of leadership, I have seen the terrible two's or adolescence (Kevin the teenager) come out in grown men and women.
Sometimes people behave out of character at work, as if they are not a grown adult. They resist change in the style of a toddler or a grunting teenager. You may have had the experience of resolving conflict between colleagues or trying to persuade someone towards a new way of working.
Looking back, did you approach this with the same strategy you use to get kids share their toys and play nicely? They call it 'politics' these days don't they?
And what a good example politicians are! If you have ever watched Parliament on TV or Prime Minister's Question Time, you know what I'm talking about. A bunch of school boys (and a few girls) jeering each other. My Daddy's better than your Daddy, and other such nonsense.
Comparing adults to children might sound patronising. Believe me, it is not my intention. But the truth is, the culture of an organisation, and behaviour of its people all depends on how you are being treated by those in charge. Leadership.
Over the past 15 years I have worked in communications and change in some form or another. Many of these businesses were trying to change their culture and values, or deliver a programme of change. And it isn't easy.
Not least, because we all come from our own cultural background, with our own set of values embedded in our core. Our parents had their own parenting style and set of values. This affects who you become.
Getting lots of different people to buy into a collective culture and behave in a certain way is never a simple thing. People have to genuinely believe in it. It can take years. Just as it takes years to nurture your child into the best person they can be, and teach them the values you think are important to live by.
Technically, everything a company says and does (therefore everything it's people do) needs to reflect company values and speak consistently 'on brand'.
Have you ever heard your child repeat something you say? Do you sometimes hear your voice through the words of your kids? It's an interesting reflection, isn't it.
Changing a culture is complex, but it is amazing how many companies don't even cover the basics of communication; which goes some way to stop the kids fighting.
These could be lessons for parents and leaders. Same thing.
- Explain where you are headed and why, it helps
- Express what needs doing; and why it's important
- Provide information and guidance to shape thoughts around the subject
- Create tips on how best to communicate and share the message with others
- If you have helped people believe, you've cracked it
It helps more than saying because I told you so.
Think about it: who asks "why?" more than anyone in the world?
It is important to question things. Kids do that. It brings a fresh perspective. If you do what you've always done, you get what you've always got. I say it everywhere I go. I've often found, sticking my neck out to challenge the status quo really pays off if you want to make a difference.
You just have to be brave.
Brave like kids!
Brave like kids, with an air of professionalism, perhaps.
Kids are great at pushing boundaries; challenging expectations; inventing things; coming up with creative ideas. We need to embrace the inner child in people before it gets crushed by corporate (or whoever else might be busy shattering dreams as our kids grow up).
This is why some of the most creative businesses let people have the freedom to 'play' while at work. It breeds ideas and keeps your mind open.
Happy, engaged employees do a better job. Fact.
We need to nurture the good childlike traits to keep dreams alive and move the world forward; while not forcing people into a corner, to induce adolescence.
So next time a child asks you "Why?", perhaps think on an answer a moment longer...
To coin a phrase: the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way!