Tribe Culture Change | “This girlfriend is useless”
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17 Sep “This girlfriend is useless”

Climbing in the Verdon Gorge in Provence is unique. The routes tend to be hard for their grade and very committing, with sheer limestone walls which plunge 1000ft from the road along the rim towards the river below.

It’s usual to start at the top, abseil over the edge – usually several rope-lengths, until you reach the start of your chosen route – just a couple of expansion bolts drilled into the vertical wall. At this point, with the ropes pulled down, you climb back towards the rim. If you find that you can’t actually climb the route you’ve selected then you could be in a bit of a pickle! Because you can’t get up and often you can’t retreat all the way down to the bottom. Hence the comment that it’s quite a committing venue. To add to that, the style of climbing is very specific, requiring the use of tiny pockets or dimples, in the otherwise smooth rock, for fingers and toes.

Man abseiling down a rock face above vegetation and boulders below

Nick in the Verdon Gorge in Provence

It takes a great deal of getting used to and many climbers never really get to grips with either the climbing or the huge exposure, with many hundreds of feet of fresh air beneath you.

During our visit I met an American couple – a fairly well-experienced climber and his girlfriend who was relatively new to climbing. Clearly this girl was well out of her depth in this environment. She had a look in her eyes that said “I don’t want to go down there again!” When she climbed she’d grip far too tightly and as a result her arms gave out quickly. As for the complex rope-work, she was entirely dependent on her more experienced partner. She wasn’t enjoying what should have been the trip of a lifetime.

Sadly her boyfriend was not sympathetic. He’d been planning this trip for some time and had an ambitious list of routes he hoped to achieve. He was losing patience with his partner and it all came to a head one evening in the campsite when he exclaimed to the assembled throng: “this girlfriend is useless!”

Does this similar situation sound familiar at work?

An employee is given a task or role for which they haven’t been adequately prepared and for which they don’t really have the enthusiasm. When they fail to match up to the expectations of their ambitious manager they’re regarded as having failed, yet they were set up to fail from the outset through lack of training, information and engagement to try and understand their needs and expectations.

As for the climbing pair, while I understand the frustration of the ambitious boyfriend, my sympathies lie with the over-stretched girlfriend. What the climber and managers who find themselves in a similar situation should ask is: “what part have I had to play in this situation?” and “what can I do to resolve it?”

Nick Wharton
Nick Wharton
nick.wharton@tribecc.com