Rob Baker – Empowering True Strength Podcast – Episode 17
As part of my Empowering True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Rob Baker from Tailored Thinking.
CliftonStrengths (TM) Dominant Talent Themes: Ideation, Input, Individualization, Maximiser, Futuristic, Learner, Achiever, Activator, Competition, Relator, Positivity, Intellection.
To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous episodes on our podcast page.
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Hello this is Ian Pettigrew of Kingfisher Coaching and welcome to the Empowering True Strength Podcast, today featuring Rob Baker. Hello Rob.
Hi Ian and thanks very much for coming to me with the newly named podcast as well I understand.
I was going to say, can you be an eagle-eyed listener? But for the eagle-eyed listener, they’ll have noticed I’ve added the extra word “Empowering” so that it’s now the Empowering True Strength Podcast and I think I’ll talk about that more on a future episode. So, Rob it’s brilliant to have you here with us today. Big question to start off with, who are you and what do you do?
That’s a really simple question isn’t it and one that you think would be easy to answer, probably easier sometimes to think about where I am rather than what I’m doing but who am I? So I’m a husband, I’m a father, a brother, a dad, that’s kind of really important to me. A friend, I’m someone who likes adventures, so someone who, when I was reflecting on the kind of conversations we were going to have today and some topics, is that a lot of things I do are themed around having mini adventures. Professionally I am the founder of a company called Tailored Thinking, so that’s a well-being, positive psychology, HR consultancy and what I try to do in terms of that from a work perspective has been to bridge the gap between research and science practice in terms of what do we know around that creates positive outcomes for individuals, organisations and teams, and that’s what I am really passionate about from a professional perspective, I suppose in terms of the mix of who I am, is that I am a coach as well from an athletic perspective as well as professional perspective in terms of encouraging and enabling people to realise their goals and aspirations and I am really fascinated about the best way we could do that. So I suppose the enabling point, I am trying to be an enabler in terms of going out, an encourager, a fan, a cheerleader and try an apply the best knowledge that I can kind of get in to get people to do what they do. Although I am someone who very much likes to kind of set out some ideas and suggestions and enable someone to find their own way. It’s something that I’m not very comfortable saying this is what you should do and so with myself I’m always curious about having experiments about trying things that I don’t quite know how they’re going to work out and what they’re going to do. So this is probably the messiest answer that you’ve had in terms of who I am but that’s a completely honest one!
It’s a brilliant answer, so plenty for us to talk about. And…. author.
Oh yeah, and author yeah! So I have written a book and someone asked me about this so someone said, so you’re a writer or introduced me as a writer, and it didn’t necessarily feel authentic to me as a definition. And in the probably the same ways that someone can do, I have friends who do the marathon for the first time and they would say, ‘so I’ve trained for the marathon and I’ve done a marathon’ but they would never define themselves as a runner and similarly in the same way from an author perspective, I’ve written a book, researched and done it, but I wouldn’t necessarily at this moment in time, give myself that kind of moniker as a writer being active but it is the truth that I am an author of a book which has been an exciting adventure.
So, you’ve got a really interesting life and a big portfolio of things that you do. How have you ended up doing this, what’s your journey been?
I was mapping it out a little bit on the train coming here from Durham as we’re speaking in Leeds today, and it’s a bit of a zig-zag in terms of how I got to where I am and I think there are things that have shaped who I am and what I do, from a professional and personal perspective although I would probably see them as the same thing effectively from a life perspective. So, maybe start professionally and then talk about personally as well. So professionally, I studied psychology at University, I’ve always been fascinated and interested around people and particularly what drives us as humans to do the things that we do, we’re kind of inherently messy and I’m kind of fascinated by that messiness but also around recognising that, you know what can we learn about, kind of unpicking that to do some great amazing things and also some terrible things as well and why those kind of things always happen. So I studied at Loughborough and the reason I chose Loughborough was because it had a great psychology course but also it was great for sport and athletics which is something that has been a key part of my life. So I studied psychology and then it was a case of what do I do with this? I nearly did a PhD in sleep and another part of me Rob Baker would be someone who is studying in that space, but I didn’t and I ended up working for Price Waterhouse Coopers as an HR Consultant working in HR and it seemed fascinating but I had no kind of sensible sense of what that actually could have meant into what I could have turned myself into, but I kind of really enjoyed that and it shaped me in terms of gave me some amazing exposure to lots of different organisations, very driven cultures you would expect and from good and bad perspectives, it shaped my working ethos in terms of delivery, in terms of working hours, in terms of outputs to client needs, which some of that has been positive and some of that has maybe been less positive I think in reflection in terms of how first experiences shape us. And then professionally moved on to working in a number of standalone HR project initiatives, so one with British Telecom for a company called RBT Connect which was leading an HR transformation project, so again the theme of that project was around bringing people who working in silos in small HR functions together in a shared service centre and understanding how that happened and that was fascinating in terms of understanding and seeing how complex change can be, because as a consultant you spend a lot of time advising people about change but not actually delivering it and this gave me that exposure. And then I worked, I was lucky enough to get a job with Sheffield University which was a very forward thinking kind of progressive HR function within higher education and I’m kind of fascinated by higher education for lots of reasons, but particularly in terms of trying to create amazing knowledge to make a difference in the world but also around encouraging students to kind of learn and it was also a quite fascinating complex, quite traditional background and within Sheffield they were trying to challenge and change that a little bit and that was really interesting to me. So I did that and then took a job I was offered in Australia which was fantastic in Melbourne University, again in an HR role. I was really curious and interested whether the experiences in Sheffield would be very different from Melbourne in terms of working for a University internationally, and some things were different, some things were very similar, and that was really really interesting but Melbourne was probably transformational for me for 3 reasons. Firstly, we had our first son there Finn, who was born when we were in Australia, secondly I found and stumbled across this idea called Positive Psychology which didn’t exist when I did my undergraduate degree, and I’d always been yearning to do some further knowledge and creative element but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’d done my HR qualifications with PWC, but I was yearning to do something else. I thought I’d do an MBA but hadn’t got round to it and fundamentally I think it wasn’t exciting me enough, it wasn’t interesting me, so Google was my friend on this occasion and I googled something, Positive Psychology came up and I thought this is fascinating and it just so happened that they’d just set up a research centre in the University of Melbourne invested with some external support and they’d brought some kind of world leading researchers to start this and they’d just started a Masters programme and it was 2 miles away from my house and the University paid for me to study, so I feel very very lucky in terms of how all those things kind of aligned and serendipity.
And that’s the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology?
Yes, Masters in Applied or MAPP as it is referred to and kind of globally I think there’s 10, maybe 15 now, in the UK I think there’s 2 or 3 and it’s very much around actually applying the science of positive psychology. Positive psychology the way I describe it is around the science of understanding positive outcomes and flourishing from an individual, a team or an organisation perspective. I was particularly interested in that organisation perspective. And the third, I said there were three things, the third aspect was that quite quickly when I got there the University decided it was going to go through a big transformation project itself of 6,000 employees and so 3,000 were roughly professional and 3,000 were academic and we re-designed the whole of the structure for professional services, so it was a massive change project and I was responsible for kind of getting it done as it were, the completion of it! And again it was a massive learning experience from what happens when you’ve got best in class world class thinking, because we were working with some great consultants to design the new structure, but we didn’t bring the people with us and so in terms of doing change in services is easy from a structural perspective, although it’s kind of hard work, it’s a technical challenge, but actually getting people to live and breathe that change is very different and I learned a lot from that and at the same time as studying positive psychology, thinking actually some of the things we’re doing here, maybe we could have done better, or differently and that kind of again shaped my thinking so that when I came back to the UK after 3 years in Australia, it was a case of right, I’ve learned quite a lot from my studies in positive psychology, could I do something differently and so I had a decision point there of do I go back into a standalone HR role or do I do something different and we were talking about mini adventures, I decided to set myself and say no actually I want to spend my time and focus on this in terms of supporting organisations to apply science to create great outcomes for them and how they can do that. So that was the inception of Tailored Thinking.
And how’s it going?
So it’s good, it’s going really well. I’m very lucky in terms of working with a variety of different clients from lots of different sectors. I think the interesting thing is around, a lot of the work that I do, organisations are interested in applying the science of say positive psychology are the more forward thinking people focussed organisations so it’s not necessarily for everyone and I think that’s an interesting challenge I hadn’t foreseen when I started the consultancy in terms of this wasn’t necessarily everyone’s To Do List as it were so it’s taken time to kind of develop the networks and create those relationships with organisations where I can add the most difference to them but I seem to be finding more and more of those organisations now or they’re finding me and that’s edifyingly exciting, but really hard work, tremendously hard work, and I think with all these things, you see people working independently or have other businesses and you see the glamorous side of things and I think I was maybe a little bit ignorant in terms of actually how much hard work it was and sometimes it scares me but sometimes you don’t always necessarily see that.
Yeah, it’s interesting how things look from the outside and what they’re like on the inside. I love what I do, I think I really have got the best job in the world and I’m really fortunate, I’m really busy doing stuff that I really thoroughly enjoy, but I do work really hard as well, but I enjoy it as well. Anyway this is not about me, it’s about you. So let’s talk about you, let’s talk about strengths. So, with your background in positive psychology, you’re aware of various approaches to strengths. I know you’ve taken CliftonStrengths in the past but you took it again just a few weeks ago so can we talk about you and your talents, because looking at your list, your Top 10, it’s a really interesting profile as they all are. There’s lots about thinking, like Ideation, there’s lots about curiosity, like Input and there’s Learner, a fascination with Learning. There’s a really people focus in Individualisation and Relator but then there’s real drivers in there like Maximiser and Achiever and Competition and there’s a focus on the future as well. So it’s interesting, it’s this real combination of a real focus towards how things could be, lots of thinking talents in there, lots of desires to learn but also an impatience and a drive and a need to succeed as well. So, I’m interested, how well does this resonate with you? What do you see of yourself in there Rob?
Yeah, when I saw it I thought this is probably definitely me in terms of the mix and it’s a nice way of kind of capturing and distilling those which I think is really useful in terms of all strengths tools, because there’s loads of strengths tools out there and as you said, I hadn’t used the CliftonStrengths for a while. I think for me, because it does feel really real, is around that blend of Ideation in terms of searching out and exploring new ideas but then also that idea of impatience for action. So it’s actually how do you then bring those to do something with them, so there’s that applied aspect, that practical aspect and that’s the kind of thing that I find really interesting and at the start of this conversation, I started as someone who is trying to help people to do good things with good ideas so I’m fascinated with finding out what those ideas are and then working with different tools and techniques and approaches that brings those to life and I think the idea of competition and that competitive aspect is certainly something that is within me all my life and that idea of sense of achievement and I think for me it’s around actually kind of doing good things no matter what that looks like. I’m very sort of goal driven in that respect so yeah, it feels very real and I think the futuristic kind of element of this is something that I am forward thinking in terms of my approach and I’m generally kind of optimistic about the future in the fact that it doesn’t exist yet and I think we all need to stay stuck in where we are in lots of different sort of facets, economically, politically and socially, but the way that I see it is that well it doesn’t exist yet so therefore we’ve got every opportunity to kind of do something better and differently and that’s why what I want to do is disrupt, encourage and cheerlead people to kind of think about creating a more positive future than the one exists at the moment. So yeah, I think all these kind of different elements of the strengths and talent themes are ones that represent me very well.
And it’s interesting, I think the adventurer comes across loud and clear because you can see this kind of thirst for information and knowledge and learning, this focus on the future, this fascination with ideas and then this, right I want to go out and try it and find it and have some adventures as well. When you look at your strengths, what are you proudest of, what do you most like about being you?
I don’t think proud – I think I’d challenge that a little bit in terms of what am I proud of because I think the thing with strengths is that they are what they are but the things I love doing I suppose, if I was to show my best day at work or my best day off probably wouldn’t be that interesting actually because it’s more research and thinking in terms of an idea but probably drawing the gaps between an idea and actually a tool or something concrete or an idea and exploring that ideally with someone else, so effectively I like doing work where I do some thinking myself, some rumination on something and then actually testing it out with people and that testing it out is something I get really excited about and then getting them to develop and shape that and make my idea even better. That’s the sort of stuff that I love doing, so it’s around unearthing, unpicking ideas, translating them and then working with people to kind of do that. So what would my day look like, well maybe doing a group session or workshop, exploring an idea that I’ve kind of developed and my take on something and that’s fantastic but I think one of the things that I recognise is that takes a lot of energy as well to be able to do that and I need to think about how to sustain that and it takes a lot of time as well so one of the things about the strengths is that they are where you naturally going to go to and the challenge with learning and having new ideas is that there is an infinite amount of them and therefore it’s like where do you stop and how do you focus your energies and your time and that’s an interesting challenge from a well-being but also from a productivity output and then again this idea of being an Achiever, I want to produce stuff so it’s kind of where do you stop and where do you start and what ideas are the best ones to explore?
And that’s a challenge that you and I share. You know really happy with the learning and I get exciting when I walk into University libraries and I’m on staff at Imperial College London as well doing some work and to have access to the library now is a rich resource but also the ability to overwhelm myself at the same time as well and needs managing.
Absolutely, it’s a real privilege, there’s an amazing amount of resource that’s out there and it’s so accessible. So what a privilege you have to do that.
So, we’ve got lots of definitions of strengths, sometimes we talk about them as being things that we find effortless and energising and are essential to who we are, you know The Three E’s, so it sounds like if I asked you that question, what I’d get is well you could almost reverse engineer your CliftonStrengths from that.
Yes, I think you could, you absolutely could. I think all these things, particularly the top 10 are things that give me energy that I find comes to me relatively naturally and also they’re things that I’m good at and I think also recognise that just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean to say it’s a strength but because of these aspects in terms of developing new ideas, researching the ideas, bringing them to action, working with others to do that, they’re things that I could do every day of the week.
Can we talk about weaknesses a bit and I want to deliberately do that because sometimes people confuse positive psychology with positive thinking you know and they think that positive psychology that we believe in a world of unicorns and rainbows where everything is great, you get to play to your strengths, it’s perfect and you never experience negative emotions. And that is not true and that is not what positive psychology is about, so I like Gallup’s definition of weaknesses which is anything that gets in the way of your success. So it can be a strength over-used or badly used as a de-railer, so things like Competition, you’re competitive. Used well that’s powerful, used badly, that can get in your way. Or a weakness could be something that you’re not naturally talented at or it could be something else. So what sort of things get in the way of your success?
I think, I love the way you’ve described that and I think the CliftonStrengths idea of a weakness is really helpful so what could be some examples of what gets in the way. So one of the things in terms of my Achiever or Competition aspect of it is that how do I know if I’ve been successful involves other people and I think sometimes I’m the line on the feedback for other people of them applying different ideas in a sense sometimes I become over-reliant of my success on the feedback or the views of other people in terms of how they’ve interpreted or used the stuff that I do and I could spend a lot of time or worry about that sometimes. On my worst days I spend a bit of time worrying about what other people’s perceptions are of me or the value of work that I’m doing or something I’ve said when we know in reality, most people would kind of hit me over the head and say Rob, look people don’t spend as much time thinking about you as you think and actually generally what you have done would have been good anyway but that’s something that I can kind of hijack me from an emotional perspective. I think the Competition side of things is something that again is a bit of a cliché, but if you’re overly competitive then it can sometimes drive you to deliver an outcome at all costs and maybe you can make sacrifices along the way, it can hijack you in that you spend more time doing that than you should be doing other things and I think that sometimes, although I’m very very collaborative in terms of the approach, if we were playing a ball game, I’d want to win that ball game, so therefore it’s kind of zero-sum game there and something I’m kind of aware of and not always liking in myself. But having said that, my best lifelong friends are people I’ve met, a lot of them, through sport who have been my competitors, who I have competed with on a day to day basis yet we have the best kind of possible relationships with them so I think you can definitely have both but you need to be aware of them. So they are the two weaknesses that come to mind.
Can I ask you, what do you do to manage those? So if we continue with Competition, you’ve got a natural talent there that is a driver and that helps you be who you are, how do you use that well, how have you learnt to use that well?
So the way that I harness it is that I know that I don’t have to work too hard, if I just give myself a goal, I will get there, I don’t have to think about it too hard, so I do write things down sometimes and targets. I’m quite constructive in terms of from a competitive effect in what am I going to achieve, what am I going to do? But I don’t have to work very hard to kind of motivate myself to do that so I know that if I do that, set my mind with that and I will somehow get that done, so that’s my competitive but it also links into my Achiever side of things from a talent theme. I think how I manage it is that I am much more open when I’m talking to people in that I am competitive so if I was to do an event where there was a sort of competitive element to it, I will say, Look, one thing to know is that I am quite competitive at this stuff and I make a bit of a joke of it but I think by raising it and circulating it, it doesn’t give you permission to be super competitive but it just recognises who I am and I can’t do much about it but I can have a bit of fun about myself about it and I think also, it’s an ongoing journey with the stuff but I can try and take a step back and actually realise that maybe I’ve done something or certain behaviours have been because I’ve been super competitive and actually I can be a bit kinder to myself in recognising that I’ve done something because that’s naturally who I am rather than try and change it if that makes sense.
I want to dive into job crafting as well. I hold you in high regard. You are one of the good guys out there, you are somebody that I respect and I rate. I like you, you’re a really nice guy. I like the work that you do and I absolutely share the desire to do that from a strong evidence base but at the same time recognise that people are the experts in them and we should be enabling and empowering and coaching and helping them try some experiments so, that’s just a really long way of saying I like you and I like what you do. When I look at you, you seem to do everything quite effortlessly, you know, works seems to come across as being easy, you seem to have a good work-life balance, I get out of office emails about ‘With the Kids today’, you know, you come across as well sorted. I’m interested in your personal experience of job crafting. You’ve written a book on it which I’ll come to in a minute but what about you, what’s job crafting meant to you?
Yes, we’ll come to that in a second but job crafting is something is something that I try and practice what I preach and in terms of little bit round reverse engineering is that I realise that some of my best experiences and opportunities that I’ve had in my life have come about through job crafting, although I hadn’t realised at the time that’s what I was doing! Part of the job crafting stuff with work is about enabling and tailoring your experiences to make the most of your strengths, your passions, your interests, so for example, when the job in Australia came about, through an element of job crafting in the fact that I was on holiday in, very lucky to go to Canada for a competition actually, and I found myself outside UVC University, a big University there, and I wished at that time, I wished that I’d contacted someone to go and have a chat because I’m fascinated about work and how they do things and thought, oh that’s a bit of a missed opportunity in terms of seeing someone from HR teams around that I could just sort of have a chat and see what I could learn from them. And so that was that my natural curiosity coming out there, this idea of trying to develop new ideas and share them, build relationships, and when I was on holiday in Australia a couple of years after that I thought, ok building on that experience I’m going to pitch to my employer, University of Sheffield, that I could have a couple of days within my holiday paid to go and visit some other Universities as a bit of good research sharing, showing different practices and experiences from an HR perspective. So I did that and then with no expectation of trying to get a job in Australia, it was just one driven by curiosity and then about 6 months later the HR Director at the University of Melbourne contacted me and said ‘Rob we really enjoyed your chat, there’s a job going here, would you be interested?’. And so I applied for that job and the reason I can give as an example was the fact that if I hadn’t kind of crafted my experiences of when I was away of naturally tapping into my curiosity and arranging these meetings about building relationships with other people and connections, that led to an opportunity where I had the opportunity to work abroad. No my kind of crafting activity wasn’t deliberately to find job to work internationally but it was something maybe that I was interested in broadly as an idea as a concept, but it just naturally moved me to that destination, so that’s kind of one example. On a day to day basis in terms of crafting, would be that I know from a well-being perspective but also from an Ideation perspective idea, that if I run on a day to day basis, or exercise, I will perform better in my job in the fact that I think about ideas when I run, whether I like it or not it’s just going to happen. I get exercise, I feel better and set up for the day, so I now view running as part of my work day, rather than something that gets in the way of my job or has to be fitted in with my job, it is actually part of my job because I will 100% perform better in my day if I’ve exercised that day and I think again people don’t think about what sets us up to work well or actually when we are working because I may not be thinking on my run 100% about work but there will be some element whirring around in the background that will help me be a bit smarter, be a bit more productive, have an idea when I’m running so that’s an example of how I’ve crafted my thinking about running into my day to day basis.
So what else do you do to craft your job at the moment?
So there’s lots of things. I think one element of crafting is around really thinking about the purpose and value of certain activities that you do. So one of the things that I have a deep dislike for, just looking down my list of strengths where it comes into, is doing expenses and all the financial side of the business.
This is things like Discipline down at 28.
Yes Discipline and being Deliberative and it’s something that I know that I need to do so what I’ve tried to do and what I get people to do is to kind of reframe their thinking about this a little bit and one of the things that I am deeply committed to is the sustainability of my business, I want to produce a business that’s sustainable, that’s got a viable future and therefore I know that the finances are a key to that sustainability so rather than seeing my finances and viewing them as an admin time crusher or black hole which I kind of often do, I rethink them to it being a way of my showing care for my business. So when I’m doing my expenses and doing them well, I’m showing diligence and care about the business so there again, it may seem like a mind trick and in a way it is, but it’s me re-framing how I think about certain functions. So when I’m doing them I don’t necessarily enjoy them less but I realise that it’s something that’s really important to nurture the business and I can feel even better for having done that and protecting the time to do it in a way that say running comes to me easily and I know that I need to do that … so in business, by framing my expenses and the finance side of things in that way makes me more likely to create the time to do them.
So, the book. What’s it called?
So the book is called Personalization at Work and we talked about kind of adventures so about this time last year, it happened quite quickly, I’ve been curiously interested about how people write books and why people write books and there hadn’t been anything to date that could have really translated or presented the ideas of job crafting in a clear way, (agreed), and particularly from a perspective of actually applying them within work places. And so I thought this is something that there was a need there for this. I hadn’t thought that I would be the one to fulfil it but it was something that was there and I was talking to people who had recent books, just because again I’m curious and interested about how these things happen, and could have quite quickly from three people that I had conversations with they introduced me to some publishers and quite quickly I had some sort of interest in the idea. So March last year I started writing it and had to finish it in September and the book will come out in March this year, so March 3rd, and the idea of the book is around understanding maybe why we don’t personalise work, sort of in the work place, so we personalise all aspects of our lives, our cars, our clothes, our holidays, our coffees, you know everything and when we do that we enjoy those experiences more, they are better aligned to our personal sense of style, our strength, our interests, and we perform better and we feel better if we can personalise it, but we still don’t personalise work.
Can I stick with the book then? So Personalization at Work out in March 2020 by Kogan Page, so let’s put you on the spot, the book if you had to condense it to one sentence, what’s the one sentence summary of the book?
Bringing job crafting to life would probably be my summary of that and by job crafting it’s around how to enable people to personalise their experiences at work to make their jobs more aligned to their preferences to make their jobs more aligned to their preferences to make their jobs more aligned to their preferences and more likely to bring out their strengths, their passions, their interests in what they do and we know there is an abundance of research, 140 peer review papers on job crafting, that shows actually that there is a strong relationship between when people do this, when they personalise their work, it comes along with positive outcomes. But again, most of the research to date has been around how can this be applied perspective, it would be more around for me, an analytical perspective, looking at the relationship between positive outcomes and job crafting behaviour and the thing that I’m fascinated about. So a third of the book is around the why job crafting, why it matters and then unpicking the what and the how in terms of what does this mean on a day to day basis and I’ve tried to bring out as many stories as I possibly can and case studies about how people have job crafted and how people have made themselves reading it could job craft so that people it may be of interest to could be HR leaders or if you were looking at trying to bring this out in other people, in terms of actually bringing the personal approach within the organisation, for coaches in terms of exploring job crafting, there’s some tools there and ideas there around exercises they can do with individuals to actually encourage people to job craft and I imagine some people will be doing this anyway, so maybe for those that are already doing it, maybe adding new ideas or some additional ideas and tools for them and also for an individual who maybe curious about what they can do about their job, not feeling stuck or actually feel they want to be more proactive in terms of taking an element of control of the work that we do and we know that that element of control is something is probably one of the biggest precursors for people for dissatisfaction.
Absolutely. So two questions about job crafting. Where do you think it’s going to make the biggest impact, you know who’s going to get the most mileage from doing something on this and also, what sort of organisations are ready for this? And I’m asking that question with a bias because I’m imagining that some organisations don’t feel ready for this yet.
So it’s really fascinating and I don’t have the perfect answer for this. I think the organisations that I’ve worked with to do this have been more kind of people oriented organisations and by that I mean those who have a genuine commitment to enabling people to bring their whole and best selves to work and again I see job crafting as an evidence based practice to do that so a lot of organisations will say they want to be the best place to work for but maybe that doesn’t always necessarily feel like that on the ground. So the organisations that actually want to make it feel like that on the ground are those that have embedded them. It doesn’t come from one particular sector so the organisations that I’ve worked with or interviewed for the book have varied from airlines, Connect Health in the North East who a growing mid-size organisation that provide physiotherapy services, Universities that have various different roles, some start ups, and I think we need to be careful about why we want to introduce job crafting in the first place in terms of what are you trying to shift the needle on and I think the organisations that I’ve worked with are the ones who may be interested in this are those that are maybe trying to create a compelling employee experience so one is a differentiator from a retention or recruitment perspective, so when people personalise their experiences they feel that they’ve had that opportunity and are less likely to want to give that up, so for organisations that want to create an environment where people want to stay and do their best, job crafting does that. So some of the kind of digital start ups that I’ve worked with have been doing it deliberately because they wanted to create an environment where people wanted to stay, they’ve run out of ping pong tables and all you can eat food and thinking about what else can they do and actually without ….. culturally as a thing that makes a difference, so they’ve used job crafting in a way of saying, we want to enable them to create work that is personal to those individuals, so they are less likely to want to give that up. Also organisations are looking at it from an employee experience, an engagement perspective in terms of seeing that although there may be organisations that I work with are generally score quite well in terms of engagements, they feel they’re doing their best but they may be static or they’re looking for new ideas of taking that further, and kind of interestingly from my perspective, is that from a diversity and inclusion perspective, is that again job crafting at the heart of it is around recognising people as an individual and encouraging them to bring their whole and best selves to what they do and that is really at the heart of most inclusion agendas that I kind of see. I’m not an inclusion and diversity specialist in terms of a function that I’ve spent a lot of time working for but I’m having some interesting conversations with organisations at the moment about job crafting can actually be an enabler to making that happen. And the other way or angle that people have used job crafting from a career perspective so traditionally a lot of organisations, and particularly those who are or were hierarchical, had quite linear progressions in terms of this is what’s going to happen, but a lot of organisations now don’t necessarily have that and it’s more driven by the individual to create opportunities for themselves with organisations and again job crafting is a nice framework to do that and I’m saying all this to you and I’m really clear that job crafting isn’t a panacea, it doesn’t fix everything – sometimes I think Oh, maybe it does!, but it’s something that provides a language, it provides a framework and provides a mechanism for people to have reflection but also conversations to start to kind of personalise their work and again you will know from the coaching work that I imagine you do, is that’s really the key, is around creating that space and giving people the language and the opportunities and the ideas to do that.
Absolutely, and you’ve already said, some people would be doing this intuitively already but I think it’s powerful to provide a language and a lens and a framework to help somebody do something really intentionally which is I think what you’ve done here really well. Can I just test an assumption with you? As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking what sort of companies would this work in and where wouldn’t it work, and I’m sort of assuming that it would need to be a reasonably high trust culture in order to give people that freedom, or you could use it as a way of starting to generate that. Is that a reasonable assumption?
Yeah I think that’s a reasonable assumption, I think the ideas of psychological safety is a good one in terms of trust is critical. We know that if someone said to me categorically where would job crafting not work, it absolutely wouldn’t work in an environment where people wouldn’t be trusted or enabled to actually job craft because we know from research that it can backfire, so if you were to say that on the one hand we want to encourage job crafting, we want you to kind of personalise your work activities somehow, but actually if you not enabled to do that either by your immediate manager or just culturally, or you haven’t been given the time to do that, then actually people become more frustrated and actually though their engagement, their happiness, their productivity can all decrease as a consequence of that. But in terms of specific organisations, I’m constantly surprised by different kind of groups that do embed them, so for example, because I’ve used job crafting to work really successfully within call centres, where in the first instance, because when I go into an organisation I often ask ‘give me your hard to reach groups first, any area where you think it may not work to test this out’ and I’m really someone who we were talking about then as I want to test this first before go big bang, let’s just test this out with a few groups. And so kind of difficult groups and I’ve yet to find groups that haven’t been able to make it work and in actual fact in some industries or some groups that you wouldn’t expect, they’re the ones that are actually maybe crying out for it more than others and therefore they kind of find to make it work. So call centres, technicians in a University perspective again I’ve worked with them where they’ve got very, on the face of it, quite restrictive jobs but they can do it. Again, cleaning staff again I’ve used it at that level. In actual fact sometimes it’s the roles that people have got massive autonomy, masses of freedom, that struggle with this a little bit because it’s a case of well I can do this all the time or I don’t know where to start and actually it’s kind of reining them back to give them the platform or mechanism to do it.
So where do you think this is going to make the biggest impact? Or where do you hope it will make the biggest impact?
I think for me where I hope it would be is that within work places we spend 99.9% of time doing jobs without actually reflecting how we do it and what I would love is, we talked about safety proof it, but in terms of there’s certain concepts from research such as growth mindset, psychological safety that have jumped over into common parlance with organisations of an acceptance or recognition that these are things that are important to be aware of or if not played or used and I think job crafting, and I would say this, and I’m aware of my bias in terms of saying this, but I think job crafting in terms of creating an opportunity for people to reflect on how they do their job and having and enabling people to kind of drive and determine the nature of that a little bit or giving them that freedom, is something that is available to everyone so I’d love to, it’s a very broad answer, but I think the opportunity to personalise work should be something that we give to everyone. And I’m coming back to using my strengths profile and the Futurist and this idea of being optimistic, very much we talk about how AI is going to potentially shape, be another kind of big transformation into how we do our work in terms when we talk about hybrid jobs and super jobs and other things, and these jobs haven’t been invented yet, and I would love to think that job crafting is a mechanism to enable them to think about actually how can we reshape our work to enable people to do more of the things that they’re great at and maybe standardise or get AI to do some of the stuff that they don’t enjoy, and so again I think I’d see that as kind of a mechanism. So in the future I love to see more awareness of this as an idea, as a concept, and more conversations around how you’re doing your job, and more reflection on that on a day to day basis.
So if somebody is sat listening to the podcast and thinks job crafting is potentially for me, I could see me applying this to the job, I’m going to ask you, what do they do, and obviously you’re too humble to say this but my first recommendation would be buy your book (!), but practically, you know somebody’s sitting there intuitively thinking I like the sound of this, where would you encourage them to start?
So the way I’d get people to start is to think really small, so think playful, so when I’m doing workshops for people I often say, ‘what change could you make this week in 5 minutes a day or an hour a week?’ So give yourself that capacity, so if I was to challenge you to make your job better with a budget of time of 5 minutes a day or an hour a week, what would you do and think about themes because job crafting generally comes in different themes so could be around in your tasks or in terms of the activities that you do. It could be around your relationships, it could be around your skills in terms of developing new knowledge or experiences, it could be around understanding the purpose and value of the work that you do or your well-being in terms of how you can make your job healthier from a mental or physical perspective. And some of the examples may overlap all those things but to reflect on actually, if you could make your job better, what would you like to be spending more time doing but again, how can you do that in a really small way. So to give you some examples of people who have done this to sort of contextualise it, so recently a senior leader, one of the things that they wanted to do from a well-being perspective was to introduce more activity into the day, so they decided to have walking meetings. And what they found, and this is the thing with job crafting is you run experiments, in a way it’s a bit like an experiment, you don’t know how the outcome is going to be. I want people to be curious about this. You assume it’s going to be good but you don’t always know, but they often have unintended consequences so this example for this individual, they found that not only did it get them out and out of the office if it was a nice day or could have been internally just for a walk around the floor that they were, they found that actually the quality of their conversations with their colleagues changed so they actually had better, richer, more honest flavour conversations from having this walking meeting but that wasn’t the purpose of it in terms of doing it and that took them about an hour a week to kind of experiment with that, so that’s one example. Secondly, from a call centre example, one example I had was someone was feeling actually what mattered to that individual was feeling they were making a difference from a helping people from a customer perspective. Often when you’re in a bank in a contact centre, you’re dealing with a wide variety of calls and you’ve very clear deadlines to meet for call turnover. But this individual was saying that ‘Look, in the noise of all this, I want to feel like I’m making a difference’. So what they did was they put a diary in the seat of their car and before they drove off at the end of the day, they just wrote down their best customer experience and they found over time that list just grew and grew and grew and the unintended consequence of that was that they felt in a better mood when they were going home than thinking about the worst customer experience. So that was again the idea of a purpose crafting, I suppose shining a light on the purpose of what they were doing. Another example from a job that you would think would be relatively low autonomy was from working on an IT service desk who was getting lots of calls coming in in terms of calls from IT’s, so he was the person who would tell you to turn your computer off and on again and he was getting frustrated by the fact that he could spot patterns of issues that were coming in but nothing was being done with this, so he logged the calls and logged the problems and then produced a report that would go to the IT management team but nothing seemed to happen as a consequence. So having some job crafting training, he spoke to his manager, or his manager spoke to him and said, ‘well what would you like to do differently?’ And he said ‘one of the things I would love to kind of understand is actually a purpose and a value to all this capturing of information that we do in terms of the call sheets because at the moment it feels like we are doing the activity without purpose to it, because nothing is changing as a consequence’. He said, ‘that’s really interesting, so why don’t you come and give an update every month to the IT leaders about what it’s like on the ground from an IT perspective in terms of the calls that are coming in?’ So the IT management team got this call log, or list of reports every month but they probably looked at it and did nothing with it, maybe the first time it was generated there was interest but over time it was just something that was logged. But by having a face there saying these are some of the patterns and issues that we’ve seen that organisationally we’re struggling with, people showed more of an interest in it and things started getting fixed and ideas to change. So the unintended consequence of this was that first of all the person felt more recognised, it was the good that he got the opportunity to present these patterns or these issues that he’d seen. It cost him no time at all to prepare for this, he was quite nervous the first time he did it but actually the business started benefitting from these insights that they were given and over time, when I checked out this person like 12 months later, he’d been promoted twice actually within that organisation, and again that wasn’t the purpose of him raising this idea, the idea of the job crafting was just like, actually I just want to understand more about why we’re doing this task and shining more light on the purpose of it and maybe my skills and knowledge of spotting patterns, but it gave him a profile that gave him reach in the organisation and opportunities and that I think happens when people are proactive, it creates opportunities, but you don’t necessarily know where they’re going to go. Is that useful?
It is! When we talked about weaknesses you touched briefly on other people’s perceptions and how that can consume time, I want to ask a bit about mindset. What’s it like to be Rob, what goes on up here and how do you make the most of that?
So my sort of question and I think, as you know I’m a fan of your podcasts and I don’t think anyone’s kind of said, ‘oh it’s a lovely, serene experience in my head!’ So I feel like someone who’s noisy I’d say in terms of lots of kind of ideas and thoughts that are rumbling around at any one time. So I’d say, energy using, because I run quite hot as it were in terms of thoughts and ideas but I think in terms of what it’s like to be me, it’s exciting, it’s… oh I’m slowing down now in terms of what to say! It’s exciting, it’s exhausting sometimes and I think the thing that I do that in the back of my head, this is where we come back to the idea of strengths, is this core of ideas or thoughts that are just constantly turning, that I don’t always necessarily know I’m aware of but I know for example that if I’ve got a problem or an issue, I’ll think about it and I know that if I kind of leave it to percolate, the answer, not necessarily the perfect answer, but an answer, or thoughts will have done some work on that without consciously having done it and that’s why I think things like running and other aspects of it are really helpful to kind of maximise that. So one of the things that I’ll do around productivity, I’m trying to do the best I can to work with me, as an individual as it were, which is around to feed me with ideas and then give me the right fuel and food to enable those things to come to fruition. I talked about people, my relationships with my friends and family, my children matter to me an awful lot, and I think like most people I question and challenge myself about whether I’m spending as much of my energy and time with the people that matter to me in the way that it matters to me but also could be more individual issues that could take me away from them sometimes as well and I think that’s something that I’m most aware or kind of challenge myself on. And you mentioned at the start of this that I was someone who seems to have his head screwed on and I smiled when you said that because sometimes to me doesn’t always feel that. I think outwardly, the feedback that I get from people, that doesn’t always necessarily feel like it does inside of me. So people would say I’m quite positive or I seem to be spending my time in the right kind of places, that’s a constant shock to me, it doesn’t always feel like I’ve got it right. In fact it never feels like I’ve got it right, it’s a constant piece of work but I do try to practice what I preach and I do trust in the process as it were of doing the things in a way that we know works from a research and a practical point of view.
And that’s why I asked the question really deliberately and I was fascinated by your response because if we’re really going to be empowering true strength in people, having role models where people stand on stage and create the illusion that they’re perfect and everything’s easy I don’t think helps. I think people need to see what people are really like. So my head’s a messy place, it never switches off. It’s really positive but I can overwhelm myself with ideas in a darkened room and if you give me access to a library and other people you know, that goes ten times bigger. And I think it’s really important and it’s helpful for people to hear what it is like and what goes on in people’s heads.
Yeah I think so absolutely and I think for me I’m very open with the fact, you can speak to my close friends, I’m not super, although I study well-being, positive psychology and have all these ideas, on a day to day basis I’m not always sunshine and rainbows, anything but, but I do have the language to kind of explore this and explain it with others in terms of what I’m feeling and what I’m doing and I’ve more of a kind of talk it in terms of actually saying, these are the sort of things that I need to do to manage myself. But I try and be as open with others that I can be in terms of presenting me as me rather than as necessarily the perfect version of myself which I don’t think is necessarily helpful, as you say, helpful for anyone because it sets up unrealistic expectations.
Let’s go bigger picture. So by the time you retire or at some point, what impact do you want to make, what do want to have said by then?
Wow, so one of the things that we did on the calls for positive psychology and I read about this again recently actually, was around looking at obituaries and writing your own obituary in terms of the things you want to have.
I wasn’t going to go that far but you feel free to pick your own time scale!
So it comes back to this idea of what we said at the start, I’d love there to be a large number of people, and I haven’t got a sense of how many people that is and it doesn’t necessarily matter to me, that feel that I have in some way made a contribution that enabled them to be a better version of themselves or to do the things that matter to them, and I want to feel that impact and if I can feel like I’ve done that, then I’ll be really happy from a professional point of view, again this idea of sustaining and nurturing a business in a sustainable way, if I’ve got a legacy of that then that would be something that would be really positive and one of the things that I want to do, at the moment the majority of my work is driven by myself with associates and I’d love to actually create more opportunities for people to do work in the space that I do and if I can employ people to do that, then that’s the thing that I’d love to be able to do because I want to be the antithesis of a law firm so in terms of an employment tribunal specialist who deal with all the problems and issues and negative cases that happens on a day to day basis within work places that fuels this kind of industry and I’d love to be the opposite of that so that we would be a consultancy that gives advice to organisations about fantastic, great, flourishing places to work and that’s what I want to do and I don’t want to do that necessarily by myself so if I’ve created an environment opportunity, a body of business to be able to do that, then I’ll be really really pleased.
Brilliant. Let’s build on that to talk about well-being. You’ve talked about a few of the things you do using job crafting yourself, you’ve talked about running. What else do you do to look after your own well-being?
So I think things that I really focus on a day to day basis is around sleep. I’ve got two small children so I don’t get as much sleep as I need but I do recognise again that if I starve myself of sleep for too long, I’ll have negative outputs both from a productivity perspective but also from a work perspective and one of the challenges I have is that I don’t naturally or easily switch off so I find sometimes the idea of wanting to go to sleep doesn’t often come to me but I know that if I get as much sleep as I can, I work better, again it sounds quite boring but it’s quite a practical thing to do, I know if I don’t tick that box. The other is that from positive psychology introduced me to a model called PERMA which is around actually different pillars of well-being so that’s around positive emotions and happiness, it’s around engagement, it’s around relationships, meaning, and accomplishment and all those actually are things that I try and think about trying to top up on a daily or weekly basis. Not always necessarily deliberately although I have done that in the past when I’m maybe not feeling as motivated as unlike well-being being as high as I want to, I might go back and really go through that PERMA checklist and see what could I do to uplift some evidence of that. You’ve mentioned exercise and I think they’re all really helpful and positive things. I also sometimes try and be pragmatic and practical as well so that I know sometimes you can think if you’re working too hard or work is too stressful, the answer is just to not do work and just spend more time at home but I don’t find that always necessarily works so actually if I’m actually worrying about things I will have more of an open dialogue or conversation with my partner or friends and actually saying I’m having to not spend as much time with you as I want to at this moment in time because I’m pre-occupied with work and have more of an open dialogue about that and that’s certainly the case when I was having to write the book and having a business and a baby, they were the kind of things that don’t actually naturally come together and the way that I fixed that from a well-being perspective was to just be more open about it and plan with my partner, with Claire, my wife, where I was spending my time and energy an making sure that helpful relationship point of view. So trying to be more open, talk about these things a bit more and I think I love spending time with my family in terms of my children and trying to create those opportunities as well is something that matters to me a lot. In the end it doesn’t always feel, if I’m going to be really honest with you, joyful all the time (!), it’s something that enriches me and doing it after always kind of fills me up and I think a lot of things from a well-being perspective sometimes at the time don’t always feel an immediate pleasure, they don’t give you those rich endorphins such like maybe reaching for a chocolate bar or bingeing out or numbing yourself on a boxset. So there’s maybe a time and place for those at some point, some of the good things from a well-being perspective are sometimes the hardest things and I think that’s why sometimes well-being gets a, not a hard rap, but people don’t recognise actually it’s not an easy thing to do and I think we need to be kinder to ourselves in recognising why are we not always have the levels of well-being that we want is because actually doing the things to ensure our positive well-being doesn’t come naturally to everyone and that’s certainly me in that case.
Interesting, one of my own experiments at the moment on my well-being is I know all the things that produce really good well-being in me but I’ve been giving myself a really hard time when I can only do like 80% of them, and so I’m actually practising some real self-compassion and reducing some of my targets and being more tolerant of myself and that’s produced a positive effect.
That’s amazing and I think for me sometimes talking it out with someone else actually adds, just building on that, so I find that if I talk to say my wife or a friend saying this is what I’m trying to do and get that kind of affirmation, as I talked about how other people’s views are sometimes important to me, that actually helps me a little bit, so I can internalise it is one thing but to externalise it can be added to that, love that.
That’s why my schedule is littered with strategic lattes that just have that time you know to just think out loud. So big picture reflection question and you can answer this however you want. What do you wish you’d known when you were younger, what would you say to your younger self, or what would future Rob say to Rob today?
Yes, so. I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up and by no stretch of the imagination am I in the perfect set of circumstances, but I’ve got no doubt that I’ve shaped what I’ve done and I wouldn’t necessarily want to change it. There are some things I’ve done in the past that I, not regret’s not the word, but would certainly now would do differently, I’ve learnt from them, but if I hadn’t made those mistakes I wouldn’t have learned from them so maybe I wouldn’t go back and give myself advice, but recognising I’m not perfect in terms of who I am, I am just at peace with where I am. In terms of maybe the future, the thing that I struggle with in terms of my ambition, if I’m being open here, is around being bold enough. So one of the things that I’m probably more, I’m probably quite risk averse as an individual and so my concern is am I being bold enough in terms of some of my ideas in terms of having the impact and reach that I could and so maybe my future self, with maybe more confidence, will come out and say ‘you know, you need to be a bit bolder in terms of what you do’ and that’s not something that necessarily comes naturally to me to be bold and abrasive and disruptive with a capital D, if that makes sense? And sometimes I wonder if that, not holds me back, but means that some of the ideas or things that I think are important aren’t accelerated as quickly as they could be.
Could we book in another strategic latte soon and you and I can help each other with that as well! Because that’s erm… funnily enough something on my own list as well! Rob, where can people find you online and where can people find out more information about the book?
Well the first thing to say is that I’m really happy to contact me and share ideas, very informally without any expectation of a return for that, I just love sharing ideas. So on Twitter @bakerrjm. I’m also on LinkedIn, my company is Tailored Thinking and the website is tailoredthinking.co.uk and if you are interested in the book specifically, you can look it up, it’s Personalisation at Work, so that’s Personalisationatwork, spelled with a Z or an S because the book that I’ve written has got a Z in it the whole way through because that’s the Kogan Page Press and I still can’t quite get myself happy with that fact, having spent all my life trying to spell it with an S, but Personalisationatwork.com with an S or a Z, you will find some details about the book.
Brilliant. Rob Baker – thank you so much.
It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much and if I could just say thank you for all the podcasts you create and I’ve dipped in and out of them and I always find something inspiring and interesting to take from the people that I’ve heard so thank you very much for giving that to the world.
Oh, my pleasure – thank you!