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Recognition, thanks, honouring.

I am at the airport, waiting to fly home from a rather extraordinary time in the North (Pretoria, Brits, Potchefstroom) doing something really exciting for a client, and I want to write about it before I lose the amazing magic of the work we did.

I was asked whether I could come up with a way to train up a very particular group of workers who work in the service industry. They are women who work for a catering company that services a few private hospitals. To be honest, the importance of their job far outweighs its rewards, particularly financially. I imagine they are earning pretty much the minimum wage, on average. Yet, they have direct contact with the patients. They have huge responsibility. The scope of their daily duties is really wide. And, most importantly, they are scored every month by a survey company that does random calling to ask service related questions. It’s a tough, relatively thankless job.

I wasn’t sure what I could offer them. I specialise improvisation in the corporate sector, and in industrial theatre, used to deliver a specific message. Neither of these two options seemed like what they needed. And then it came to me. More than anything else, these women needed to be recognised in some way. They needed to be seen and thanked, not challenged, tested or trained.

And that’s exactly what I proposed. And it was phenomenal. I watched suspicious, negative, tired faces turn into faces of joy and delight. I watched the truth of the thank you sink in, and I saw as women relaxed and told their stories. I watched six times, on six different occasions, a change take place, without ever calling for it, or naming it, or demanding it. It was transformationnal.

What I heard and saw and was part of has changed me forever. It has turned me into an unofficial HR campaigner. It has reinforced my belief that people are a company’s greatest asset. It has powered my knowledge in team work. It has absolutely confirmed that most people are committed to their work, even in the most trying circumstances, and that acknowledgement and thanks does not have to be grand, or expensive or ridiculous, but heartfelt.

I am going to keep the ‘how’ of this project a secret, because I am definitely going to be doing it again, with other groups and teams and members of the mostly invisible. And, I will push hard for the bosses to go there. And I know for sure it will make a huge difference. If you read this, and are inspired, contact me. Let’s talk.

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Improv workshop observations

What an amazing week it has been to be doing the positive, active, affirming and warm work of improvisation. I have just finished a series of five sessions for a hotel who wanted to do something to bring staff together, get them to know a bit about each other and to relax, have fun and communicate openly and warmly. So, in five sessions I worked with a complete variety of hotel staff, from housekeeping to doormen and receptionists, and even middle and top management. Amazing.

Running parallel to this work has been the 2010 World Cup, which has a very particular relevance to hotel staff. Not only do they have a hotel full of foreign guests, they also have a great pride and patriotism. So, it’s been a wonderful time to do the positive work of improv.

Obviously it’s not easy for everybody. Shyness, nerves, fear, embarrassment and even status issues have to be overcome, or at least managed. I have to say that almost everyone did something surprising or fresh, and everyone definitely had a good laugh. The best part was some delicious and heartfelt feedback at the end of the sessions, full of smiley faces and warm voices.

Although I found moments of the work really, really challenging I also absolutely loved it. I love seeing immediate results. I love being totally present. I couldn’t wait to be there and do it.

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