One of Churchill’s most famous maxims was a phrase he allegedly used at the start of each day, and at the end of phone conversations:
“Keep buggering on!” – KBO.
(His pool of female typists used to hear a politer version – KPO – “Keep plodding on.” )
It’s a phrase which sums up his fighting spirit and tenacity, qualities which were at times lacking in the leaders around him. No doubt his grim determination to see things through inspired others to do the same: his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech to the House of Commons in June 1940 after Dunkirk, with its immortal line “We shall never surrender” has gone down as one of the great oratorical performances in history.
“We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
Maybe this determined attitude became somehow woven into the culture of the times. I would say my father, who survived being a POW in Japan for several years in World War II, displayed it throughout his life, particularly at key moments such as when Mum died (“another page has turned, life goes on”), or when at the age of 94 he had to have half of his left leg amputated: within days he was asking about when he was going to get fitted with a prosthetic limb, and never once did he complain that from then onwards he was effectively bedridden.
“Keep buggering on” – which from now on we’ll call KBO as we both know what we’re talking about – certainly has its place in our library of attitudes. You’ll often see it argued that Millennials could do with a bit more of it in the way they tend to see a career as involving much more “flitting about” between organisations, and what can be perceived by older generations as having much shorter attention spans.
But I think we need to get better at recognising when KBO is a bad idea in the workplace. Sticking with something which isn’t working is not so clever, and the smart thing is to rethink it. American humorist Will Rogers nailed it in 1964 with his advice:
“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
In my work as a behavioural skills trainer and coach I come across too many instances where people need to stop digging. I often use a short questionnaire to help people pinpoint where there is workplace malfunction, and one of the top two areas it exposes are broken, outdated or cumbersome work processes and procedures. The owner of said processes need to NOT bugger on in this instance.
The other worrying malfunction is where people are in a career hole and need to stop digging. The annual Gallup State of the American Workplace survey gives us a clue as to how many people are in career holes, with 70% of full time employees not engaged with their organisation. Too many of them feel they can’t get out of the hole, because of insecurity, fear of failure, concern that they may never be able to start again, financial pressure, or maybe even sheer exhaustion.
My forthcoming book “My Job Isn’t Working!” will explore this in more detail, and provide tools to help people build their own ladder to climb out of the hole and rebuild their career mojo. The good news is that there is plenty that can be done to regain balance and find more fulfilment at work, and no rocket science is involved.
One of today’s widely used maxims is “Agile” working in all its various guises (Agile performance management, Agile software development, Agile project management and so on. This article identifies 40 Agile variants.) I guess Agile is the opposite of KBO, and is a way of thinking more in tune with our rapidly evolving and increasingly unpredictable world.
My call to action today is to recognise when you should stop KBO-ing or when you should be helping or advising someone else to. Having the courage to call it is the first step, and involves some risk. When KBO becomes conflict avoidance (and sadly avoidance is the most extensively used method of dealing with conflict in the workplace), the greater risk is that the conflict gets worse. Doing nothing is an option, but beware the consequences.