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The Personal-Professional Divide Is Over

Time to bring your whole self to work

Published: Monday, November 27, 2017 - 12:01

The onslaught of disruptive technologies has resulted in business and operating models being turned upside-down. This requires a shift in mindset. Invariably, change is difficult. We are all creatures of habit and subject to long-standing attitudes. Those of you who have been in business a long time will likely have built up some entrenched beliefs about what it takes to succeed. Some of these thoughts will always stand the test of time. But some old paradigms need to be rethought.

Of course each business needs to make a profit, have areas of control, and plan effectively. Crucially, however, we must make room for a new mindset to have space to grow and challenge the ways in which we are currently ineffective.

To make the transition from old to new, we must first accept that it is no longer possible to separate the professional from the personal.

Empathetic engagement

Why is that the case? First, we should make a distinction between “personal” and “private.” By personal, we mean our full person, including our sense of humor, values, history, and eccentricities. The private zone, which may include intimate details of our relationships or information about our children, should remain shielded from public view or shared only among those closest to us, as we so choose.

We must seek to bring our full personality to work. Real engagement happens when we get personal. Your brand’s first and biggest fans need to be your employees, especially in an era where good talent in specific fields is hard to find. For employees to be fans, they need to love their team. Teams are soulless without passion. Passion without personality is impossible. People need to be personal, and when a team’s members are so, they can confidently perform to the cheers of commitment.

Good pay is obviously essential, but real motivation and performance enhancement come from personal engagement. Additionally, a brand grows in power and attractiveness the more it connects with emotions, an area that is accessed only in the personal sphere.

Finally, the vast majority of these new and disruptive technologies require a deeply human connection. We see this in great design, which is based on empathy and the designers’ ability to put themselves in the shoes of the customer.

By contrast, it is remarkable how many senior executives ignore their own personal experiences with smartphones, social media, or e-commerce when it comes to overseeing company sites and applications. Instead, they create or approve interruptive, unfriendly, and awkward user experiences for their customers.

For all the above reasons, we need to be both personal and professional at work.

Accepting imperfection

What does that mean? It means creating a workplace environment where it is not just OK for people to be themselves, but it is actively and wholeheartedly encouraged. In effect, this means giving more space for emotion, so people can begin to be wholehearted. If adding a ping-pong or foosball table is a nod in that direction, an even more powerful approach is to foster a culture where people can express themselves, where they feel safe to laugh and even cry. In business schools and, historically, in senior management, the focus has been on providing strategic rationale, leading with authority, and hitting the numbers. The rational side is not to be diminished. On the contrary, it should be connected with the emotional side.

At another level, it is about accepting imperfection as well. Common sense tells us that certain environments—such as laboratories and factories, where safety risks are an urgent concern—call for rigid adherence to highly specific rules. However, for most companies, there must be room for imperfection and for making mistakes. There are many organizations wishing to be more “agile” or to adopt an entrepreneurial attitude. But this cannot work without the opportunity to err or fail. And, if there is failure, there must be the ability to fail quickly, so that lessons can be rapidly taken on board.

Finally, in the crossover between professional and personal, we like to talk about congruency. On a personal level, is who you are on the inside reflected in your outward behavior? For an organization to optimize engagement and energy, there must be consistency between the external projection and the internal mechanisms. When one accepts the presence of such a wall between the professional and personal spheres, disorder sets in. Breaking down that wall liberates pent-up energy and births creativity, both within yourself and throughout your business.

The above is an excerpt from Futureproof: How to Get Your Business Ready for the Next Disruption (FT Publishing, 2017).


About The Authors

Minter Dial’s picture

Minter Dial

Minter Dial is an international professional speaker and education expert on branding, new technology, and digital strategy.

Caleb Storkey’s picture

Caleb Storkey

Caleb Storkey is a serial entrepreneur, international speaker, author, and consultant.