The trouble with vanilla…

Published by Lucy Gower on

office-geekOver the years I’ve observed sparky, funny, passionate and clever people morph into vanilla shells of their former selves as they enter their office to get on with their professional job of being a fundraiser.

It’s a strange phenomenon. Somehow through our drive to excel in what we do – to reach targets, climb a career ladder, ‘fit in’ or conform to the expectations of a working environment – we over-professionalise ourselves and lose the essence of what makes us extraordinary individuals. It seems the office can strip us of our true identity.

For me, meeting in a relaxing space like a coffee shop – as one client recently put it “where people can be themselves”, rather than in office meeting rooms has become commonplace.

I run team training days and workshops, and we always get better results when they are off site and away from the daily grind. I believe we get better results because leaving the office distances us from every-day routines and ‘business as usual’; helping to put us in a different space and mind-set. When one delegate told me it was a relief to be away from the “stressful work environment”, it made me ponder:

Shouldn’t our day-to-day working environment be a place where we can function without stress and just be ourselves?

And our very best selves at that?

Chicken and egg

Is it the physical environment of the office space that causes us to deposit our true selves at the door, or is it a personality shift as we pass through reception that serves to make many working environments so dysfunctional?

I’ve observed time and time again that people conform to what they believe is expected of them, and the result is mostly mediocrity. Yet they still manage to revert back to their true self when they leave the office at the end of the day. It’s little wonder that their messages don’t stand out, and their fundraising feels so hard. I’m afraid that one of the reasons it’s so hard is because everyone is blending in and doing the same things.

I know that people do business with individuals they know, like and trust; these could be internal colleagues, suppliers, business partners or supporters. Yet if everyone is filtering or dumbing down their true selves, does it make working relationships easy to build or allow trust to develop quickly? And does it make for more successful fundraising for the causes we are all trying to help? I don’t think it does.

Has any charity or individual not been given a donation because they had too much rapport, were too personable or constructed a relationship which contained too much trust? I don’t think so.

Serving up chickens and eggs

There is much to learn on this topic from Hawksmoor, a rapidly growing restaurant brand in London. They credit their success to their people strategy, which encourages staff to embrace their individual personalities. This makes employees happier at work, which in turn creates a more friendly and enjoyable environment for customers. Hawksmoor goes out of its way to employ people for their wide range of personalities and experiences. Staff all work to exceptional standards, and they all bring their true selves to work everyday. You can hear more here in an interview with Will Beckett of Hawskmoor.

350ml-creative-building-blocks-personality-plastic-water-bottle-diy-office-personal-drinkwareTomorrow, make sure you bring your personality to work

At Lucidity, we’ve been helping teams bring their personalities to work by encouraging them to identify their own unique approaches to innovation, and by coaching individuals and teams to play to their strengths.

Check out our innovation animal quiz. Be yourself, have fun doing it and let me know what innovation animal you are – this could be your first step to unlocking your ‘true you’ at the office.

Let’s not leave our personalities at the door when we arrive at work. If you are a manager, help your team be their best ‘them’. If you recruit, recruit people for their differences as well as their similarities.

But ultimately, you must be your best you. That’s when exceptional results happen.

After all, no one strives for vanilla.

Lucy Gower

Lucy has been a fundraiser for over 10 years and is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance. Lucy is an independent trainer and consultant specializing in innovation in fundraising. Lucy also blogs for fundraising website sofii.org and is a conference speaker both in the UK and overseas.


Simone Joyaux · October 17, 2016 at 16:21

I agree with what you’ve said, Lucy. I think this is part of the “growing up” and losing the spontaneity and curiosity of childhood.

I also think that people “deny” their own truths and personality and and …. out of fear of rejection. Do we dare be who we are …. and it isn’t totally professional in the way that someone else is totally professional. Do we lose our sense of joy and humor and inquisitiveness and spontaneity and and and … when we “do business.”

And how welcoming are the others to us when we’re too different?

I’m in my room at the IFC right now.

Jo · October 17, 2016 at 17:54

I think a lot of us who are “too much” for offices and not willing to tone down our personalities end up as consultants. I think I exhausted my boss at my last charity side job because I wanted to do more and pushed and was just not willing to do a blah job or be a quiet, agreeable person. Charities push us out because of a fear of risk or difference or edge? It’s dumb.

    Maeve Strathy · October 27, 2016 at 02:19

    Jo – I relate to this so much! The exact thing happened to me and here I am now at Blakely, which embraces me for the “too much” that I am. It’s too bad the charities that need all of the amazing fundraisers can’t seem to keep them. :(

Maeve Strathy · October 27, 2016 at 02:25

I’m a bison! :)

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