A Story of Control… “Chris & the Paperclip Training”

Chris was having an OK day, no big dramas, no staff issues, no complaints. Everything was going OK. Coming back from making tea, Chris was quietly chuckling. Sarah had been explaining how she and her team were being sent on a new training session. Sarah had explained the email came out this morning, and was compulsory training for some teams, even if they only ever worked in the office. Surely that was just a complete waste of time.

Chris had been on a similar course two years ago, and was adamant that it really was a waste of time. In fact, Chris remembered being quite vociferous at the time about what a complete waste of time it was. Still, there was no email for Chris’ team, so everything was alright.

As a newly promoted manager, the last thing Chris wanted to do was send the team to the training, there would moaning and groaning, something Chris really didn’t want to deal with, especially after only having the team for a couple of weeks. Having to stamp authority now wouldn’t be such a good thing.

Sitting down at the desk, Chris flicked on the computer. Tea had only taken a couple of minutes to make, and perhaps a ten or fifteen minute to chat with Sarah. The tea was lukewarm but good grief, how many emails could Chris receive in just those few minutes. Seventeen…that’s more than one a minute. People have nothing better….

Chris’s heart sank. OK, it wasn’t the end of the world…but it was a bit of a minor earthquake.

“Hiya Chris,

As you know, we are rolling out compulsory Health and Safety training for a number of teams, I think you were missed off the list this morning, sorry.

Anyway, can you make sure your team all attend the training next Tuesday, 0930 until 1230 in meeting room 2. Any problems, speak with Martin in L&D who is organising it.

Btw, I know you had training before, so you won’t need to go. Hope that suits.

Thanks Chris

                The Boss”

Immediate relief at not having to attend was quickly dispelled by the grief Chris knew was going to come. Tuesday was not a good day for the team to have training, especially something that they didn’t believe added value.

Having moaned about it in the past, largely to the same people Chris was about to send on the training, how was that going to go down?

Looking round the office, everyone was there. Chris added a comment to the email from The Boss, and was about to hit the send button. That was the cowards way out. Standing up, Chris spoke loudly enough so that everyone could hear. “Just so everyone knows, I’m rearranging our normal Tuesday meeting next week. Instead, from half nine to half twelve, we’ll be in meeting room 2 for some training. It’s compulsory, we all need to go.”

Chris wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but it looked like a default decision to also attend, even though it wasn’t necessary.

“What’s the training?” asked Paul. “The Preservation of Paper Clips in the office” replied Chris.

Chris was right about one thing, it certainly wasn’t a universally popular training session.

“Seriously, how to save paper-clips. I’m taking leave,” said Jenny. “I’m surprised we have to do it, I really am.”

Chris started to think quickly. Chris was exempt, but would attend anyway. Should that be divulged, would it say “Look how good I am, because I’m going anyway?” Could be good, but was it really necessary? No, just set an example. Chris really wanted the team to go, and participate fully. It was an early test of management skills to achieve this. Chris had a vision that the team would be the most professional in the organisation, and having Jenny avoid it would certainly not showcase the team in a good light. But then again, nor would Jenny, and others, sitting in the training with arms and legs crossed, looking bored. Neither would reflect well.

Chris thought for a moment. It would be easy to stamp authority here, after all, it was what Chris was now paid to do. It was a risk, but Chris’ mouth opened even without realising. “I’ll tell you what, this is what we’re going to do” said Chris.

“Jenny, you want leave and that’s fine, but you will need to go to one of the mop up sessions given it’s compulsory. If none of you want to go, that’s fine, and good luck avoiding the mop ups. Just so you know, I’ve been told I don’t need to go, but I am going because I want people to realise how professional we are. I’m not convinced the trainer will enjoy doing the training because they will know our views, I don’t envy their job. But they have a job to do, and that is to present and train. And I want us to do our jobs, and that is being professional. Our job as the audience is to listen, learn and participate where appropriate. After all, you never know when that very last paper-clip may come in handy. What else will we play with, unfold and twiddle with in one of my more boring meetings?” said Chris, with a wry smile.

Chris had spent some time with a mentor just prior to taking the promotion, and realised that being professional was important. In fact, Chris had written as much in the leadership philosophy document prepared with the mentor. Sometimes this meant doing things they didn’t want to. But Chris had also written “Focus on what you control.”

Chris didn’t control the team, certainly didn’t control the behaviour. Actually, if they wanted to have a moan in the office amongst themselves, then that was fine. But outside of the office, that was a different matter. Although Chris could control whether the team went as the manager, Chris wanted to influence the behaviour and attitude.

We don’t control much in life, and certainly don’t control other people. Don’t try because it will frustrate you and them. Adjusting attitudes and behaviours, inspiring people, is something we can influence. That means leading.

An old Roman philosopher named Epictetus taught us that,  when he said “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”

11 thoughts on “A Story of Control… “Chris & the Paperclip Training””

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