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Four years ago, almost to the day, I was sat in a cafe with the President of a global consulting firm. He had his book open and a picture of a battery in black sketched ink existed with some shading in.  I stopped and asked him what it was all about and he explained.

During change he used to draw a picture of a battery each week and draw how full he felt. Or, if you are a glass half empty person, how empty he was.

We were working with banks at the time and talked constantly about the need to invest in people and teams to create healthy cultures.  We had the lightbulb thought that we could use a similar metaphor to capture the fact that everyday we make choices about how we deposit or withdraw from ourselves as individuals – ultimately, putting us in the red or in the black. This thinking progressed and the Bank of Me metaphor emerged. It has been used ever since with individuals, teams and wider organisations for how we create ‘black’ not ‘red’ cultures.

In our busy lives – we, as human leaders, do things every day that put us in the black – and we do things everyday that put us in the red. The impact on our teams and organisations is profound.  And vice versa.

Some of the things that put us in the red are obvious like lack of sleep, poor nutrition and high stress levels. Others are less obvious, like a lack of purpose, a sense that we are not valued and constant distractions.

And likewise with the things that put us in the black. We all know that down time and eating well are good for us – but do we give enough thought to the role of learning and growth, a clear direction and having clarity over what our goals are – in work and in life.

It will be different for everyone. And a key part of keeping a high human bank balance is to be aware of the things that send us into the red with our levels of energy, emotions and enthusiasm, and those that keep us in the black and feeling healthy, energised and positive. The trick is to recognise what puts you into these two states and work on how you can avoid the negatives and build up the positives.

From an organisational point of view, we work in many organisations that are full of people with high human bank balances – they are amazing cultures to be in and we see happy, engaged teams working effectively together. This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when people identify and keep doing the right things to build a positive environment. UKTV CEO, Darren Childs, captures this perfectly when he says:

“Experience tells us that the most critical role I have as a leader is creating the right culture for people to bring their best each day and thus deliver outstanding work. I’m not an actor in the play – I’m building the stage. I’m creating the environment for everyone here to do their best work ever.”    

In our work, we know that the secret to real change is in every individual, every team, changing everyday behaviour and making it stick. Breaking bad habits and starting new ones one at a time across areas such as focus, motivation, personal growth and how we manage our emotional and physiological selves – can be game changing for managers and leaders and rub off on all of those around them. While every action may seem small, the ripple effects are extraordinary – and they transform businesses.

Jane Sparrow is a culture expert and one of the founding partners of The Culture Builders

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