The Habits of Successful Men: Jack Norman - Change, Diversity & Wellbeing Specialist
Author: Nick Carvell
What makes a man successful? We asked a few of our friends at the top of their game exactly that. Read on to find out how they got to where they are and the life lessons you can learn from them.
People have always been at the heart of Jack Norman’s work. Born in York and having originally had aspirations to be a lawyer, his work in fashion retail when he moved to London led him on an interesting career path. “A manager once told me at the infancy of my career, ‘The clothes don’t sell themselves - that’s what people are for’,” he says. “And that always stuck with me.” After working in managerial roles for Club Monaco, Browns and Reiss, he was hired by one of the capital’s most prestigious department stores, Selfridges, to create programmes that would engage and inspire their 4,500 staff members. Earlier this year, he branched out on his own to found Normalise - an agency that works with organisations to transform their office cultures, both in person and digitally, through effective communication.
“As we spend more time at work than we do with our friends and family, it’s important that we actually enjoy it,” Jack says. “Many studies have shown that the majority of people don’t enjoy their work – that upsets me!”
At its heart Normalise was set-up to help people co-exist in the workplace in a way that impacts positively on their mental health and supports conversations across pay grades and cultural divides. Of course, what he teaches and the avenues of communication he facilitates go far beyond the 9 to 5 - they are also just as useful for the 5 to 9. As we approach the festive break, the people we love most will be at the forefront of our minds. And while there will be joy, there is no doubt that the pressure of the restrictions of a global pandemic will lead to moments of stress with those closest to us and loneliness from those we are separated from. Here, we speak to Jack about what you can do to communicate (and listen) more effectively and what you can do over the Christmas period to care for your own mental health.
The OS: Your work centres on opening up avenues of conversation between different people. Why are you so passionate about this?
JN: There’s a huge power in sharing experience. As a straight white man, it’s difficult for me to fully comprehend the life experiences of, say, a black man or a gay woman. I can only do this by being educated - and the only way to do that is to listen and learn from others. To do this it is essential to build a healthy community, one where a person can learn from another’s experience in an environment without fear of judgment or shame. When you have a diverse group of people around you who are able to safely challenge you, hold you accountable, celebrate you and educate you it’s a wonderful thing. However, this takes a great deal of vulnerability.
You recently founded Normalise. Can you explain a little bit more about what your company is about?
Having worked for large corporations for the majority of my professional career, one common theme started to reveal itself: companies don’t care enough about their people. I set up Normalise to help companies transform their cultures to ensure their people feel respected, understood, and empowered. Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace continues to be something that companies struggle to get right and things like subsidising your employees’ gym memberships does not help your line managers develop skills of empathy and understanding. The desire and passion that has been shown by many in response to the Black Lives Matter movement has not only inspired me but has reaffirmed to me that there is so much more work to do around company culture - and that work is multi-layered. For that reason, amongst many, diversity and inclusion is a specialist field at Normalise as we believe our programmes can create long-lasting change, with improved company cultures that inspire and progress success for all in the workplace.
Whether in day-to-day life or the workplace, do you find there is a notable major barrier to effective communication?
Due to the fast-paced nature of the world today, the best communicators consistently practice the art of communication as we all need continual re-education to grow. In the professional environment, the major barrier is often a large disparity between senior leadership that implements decisions and a workforce that has to bear the brunt of those decisions. Explaining the why, and taking into consideration the collective voice of employees can help an organisation manage change much more seamlessly.
Is there something inherent in stereotypes specifically around masculinity that inhibit mens' ability to communicate effectively?
As men we are inherently challenged to conform to the notion that we need to be strong and end up emotionally suppressing ourselves because of it, even if we are experiencing adversity or hardship. In my experience, building healthy community through safe spaces that facilitate open and honest communication is the most important aspect of progressing our idea of masculinity. Having a group of men and women, from diverse backgrounds, stand alongside you to hold you accountable and journey with you through the good and bad is life changing. We all need to realise that communication is essential; and that goes for all humans, regardless of gender. How does that saying go? A problem shared is a problem halved.
Are there any habits or daily practices you can incorporate into your life that can help you communicate more effectively?
Allow time for reflection. Usually the only time we stop to think is when we are getting into bed, and this is not the ideal time to be reflecting, especially on negatives. Take five minutes after a heavy meeting to think about the emotions you are feeling, to properly digest what was said, and to think about the next steps – you’ll start thinking more clearly, less with emotion.
The other thing that has really worked for me has been finding people who offer me safety, no matter what is on my mind. When I was working in the corporate world, there were things that would frustrate me so much; but having someone at the end of the phone like my dad or having my girlfriend, Amy, to come to home to, both of whom would listen to be rant without judgement, meant that I would be able to process things much more succinctly. It also meant that I didn’t say that stuff when I was at work, too.
We're coming up to Christmas, a joyous occasion for many but also one that can be anxiety-inducing. What can you do over the festive period to help maintain your mental health?
Lots of things can cause stress over Christmas, but one of the most pervasive is financial stress; what presents need to be bought and so on. I think after the year we have had, now’s the time to re-centre our focus on the things that matter the most – spending time with our loved ones in whatever way we can.
What is the definition of success to you?
I always struggled with the concept of success, mainly because the perception I had was one of winning or achieving something. Having aspired to become a footballer, then attending law school with the aspiration of becoming a lawyer, there was a tangible goal to be met. For a long time I viewed these experiences as failures because I didn’t reach the target that I had initially set. Success isn’t about a goal or target for me now; it’s about doing the best that I can with the resources that are available. The most important thing is to act with integrity and stand for what I believe is right.
Do you have any habits as a part of your morning routine that help you get ready for the day ahead?
We recently invested in a barista-style coffeemaker, and that has fast become a morning ritual for my girlfriend and I. We also take our dachshund, Chip, out every morning for a solid hour’s walk to set us up right for the day ahead (and to exhaust some of his barking energy!).
What’s one habit that helps you relax in the evening?
I love reading. I’ll try and read for at least an hour each evening. Of course, sometimes that ends up being far longer. I recently read The Monk who Sold his Ferrari and couldn’t put it down until it was finished.
What’s a habit you can’t give up?
Buying trainers. I always had this ideology of a capsule wardrobe (like Ryan Gosling’s character in Crazy, Stupid, Love) but it’s too difficult. My aim is to get to a 50-piece wardrobe, with most of those items being able to be worn in 15 outfits. Ambitious, right?!
What’s a habit you’re proud to have given up?
Amy and I had a bet at the end of February to give up drinking for a month. She lasted two weeks and I’m still going. There wasn’t a specific reason why it’s continued, it’s just become a lifestyle choice. Plus there’s some really great 0% ABV beers out there now.
What habit would you like to cultivate?
Running a marathon is a dream and I’m slowly building up my stamina. Hopefully 2021 is the year.
Read more about the work Normalise does at www.normalise.co.uk