engagement and reward

i am lucky. most of my working life i have ran my own businesses or worked with others to help grow theirs. i am lucky enough to feel engaged in what i do. i have always had significant leadership positions in what i the businesses i have worked with. i feel engaged in what i do. i have a say in what happens, use my intelligence and abilities knowing that i can make a difference. it is not about earning more money but knowing that i am not just a number. i matter.

for the last year and a half I have been building an ethical in store cafe for an established social enterprise. i get to use all my knowledge and experience to pick suppliers, design menus, set prices, train others and generally make the cafe happen. i have done this very well. but i cannot take it any further because the director of the organisation lacks ambition which basically means the organisation does. i have therefore decided to leave. i have achieved my original goal.

i would not want things any other way but i think about other people who do not get to be engaged every day. where every day is just another day to earn a small amount of money. this suits some people. and that is fine. i get that. but i wonder about all the people who want to say more, do more, be engaged more. on the whole, i have seen, in organisations i have represented, non engaged people. people with potential. potential that i have spotted and nurtured where i coud but it was always there, lying unrealised.

in my current organisation there are people who are capable, creative and full of ideas. most would probably never have their own business. some, given the nature of the organisation will not climb a very small ladder. but they have more to give. they are keen to get involved but they lack confidence and feel like they do not matter. they have a weak leader who does not allow much creativity or expression and who runs, not leads, the business his way and people generally do as they are told. my guess is this is the case in many businesses up and down the country. my experience confirms this.

it is sad and disheartening. i enjoy being engaged and having a voice. mainly through owning or running businesses but it does not have to be that way. not everyone wants that responsibility. but maybe some. some say. a voice that is heard. some expression. my co creator in the cafe we, not i, lead, came to me with no experience. in less than a year she could have managed it. i gave her the room to breathe, learn and express herself. i shared with her my thoughts and reasons into every decision i took, explained all i could about what i did and why. she responded by being excellent and helping to develop and execute my plan and vision.

she is, in my experience, exceptional but part of her excellence was that I allowed her to be fully involved and make her part of things and not just be a number. it would have been very easy for this not to be the case. for her just to be another minimum wage cafe worker doing a job percieved as a “bullshit job” this is played out up and down the country in thousands of cafes. but I did not allow this to happen. and she responded.

while she was there she approached every day with purpose. she was invested in the success of what we were trying to achieve. she learnt every role and took on duties outside of her remit to be more involved. she did all of this whilst the organisation paid her minimum wage.

how much are organisations potentially missing out on by not fully engaging people, by not creating spaces that allow people to feel like they have a say, that they matter?

what if we could create workplaces where people can be as involved and engaged as they feel comfortable with. we would have more creativity, innovation and ideas. if that purpose and engagement could stretch to reward we would have an even more powerful model. if that reward could be ownership, if everyone could be owners, tiny little fractions of ownership that shows that they are part of a bigger picture, that their role counts so much so that they own a little piece of the pie.

this may seem radical, especially in a world where so few own so much but this is the reason that ideas like this could take hold. we should not continue believing, without questioning, a system where the few are rewarded at the cost of the many. where the many work to produce empty income for a privilaged few organisations, toiling away on low incomes and jobs they are not engaged in.

at a time where, whether we want to admit it or not, we are at a major cross roads of change in society, economy and environment we need to look at radical and alternative ways of doing business. we need to humanise our enterprises.

some people, me included, believed that capitalism, free markets, call it what you will meant opportuntiy for all and a society where everyone owned a bit of pie. now is the time to make that true.