Putting the right support structures in place at work

As Seamus Heaney so eloquently put it: "...We may let the scaffolds fall, confident that we have built our wall"
Barry Shannon

IF, like myself, you entered the world of dating long before Tinder, Twitter and social media, you might have used a little poetry when pursuing your significant other (it worked for me – I ended up with a gem).

Usually this involved anything that had the word ‘love' in it and the more over the top the better, typically something written by old standards like Keats, Byron and Shelley.

Later however you start to appreciate the more earthy, realistic descriptions of life and love, the ones that the likes of Seamus Heaney crafted so well:

“Masons, when they start upon a building, are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure the planks won't slip at busy points, secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints”

More prosaic than ‘love seeketh not itself to please', but in truth it's the start of a beautiful poem about the solidity of foundations built between two people, through years spent in a relationship, far away from the first flushes of excitement and nerves.

Now it's not often you would find poetry and HR in the same post code, never mind in the same article, so I best get to some relevance here!

Heaney spoke to the importance of putting the right support structures in place so that further down the line the fundamentals, the bedrock of the relationship built is solid and robust; capable of withstanding the odd storm.

It's the same in business: very often people come into a new job and the first thing they do is look to see what can be changed, what can be done to make them appear different to what went before. They are keen to try and show their new employer that they are an upgrade. Version 2.0. They play the big, bold Byron, Shelly and Keats ‘look at me' card.

(As an aside: that dreadful ‘what would you do in your first six months' question that gets asked at interviews doesn't help anyone at all. How the hell do you know what you would be doing in a job until you actually get in and get a measure of it?).

But what folks don't consider is that many of the established staff they will meet have been used to a particular way of working and they typically feel comfortable with it. They may even have been instrumental in establishing it in the first place.

To initiate sweeping changes right away, just for the sake of it, could destroy the existing harmony and leech away any goodwill that has been afforded to you as newcomer. It can make you look like you are implementing change for change sake, rather than taking the time to understand how things work in practice, to evaluate them in action and perhaps even acknowledge they are good!

Think back to when you were first dating your significant other: you didn't try to change them from day one, you took the time to get to know them, to understand them.

The same should apply when you join a new team or start a new job: get to know how it all works first. Showcase the things that build relationships: your personality, your helpfulness, your ability to listen and most importantly your ability to make reasoned, thoughtful decisions. Then, once you have established yourself as a decent credible person, you can tackle the rest.

Build your relationships with the people first, then look at the processes. As Heaney so eloquently put it:

"So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall."

:: Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast

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