Filtering by Category: Behaviours
Every once in a while there is news of a trusted, successful brand that suddenly lurches into unexpected trouble. More than suffering from misfortune, they are revealed as deeply flawed, and are not what they seemed to be at all. When the internal reality doesn’t match the projected image they are effectively living a double life - one that is ultimately unsustainable.
Is it unreasonable for an organisation to want to project a flattering picture of itself, to instil pride and confidence in it’s staff and customers, while shying away from contemplating its faults and weaknesses, be they systemic or those of individuals?
Imagine if all the challenging, difficult stuff could manifest itself in a ghastly hidden picture instead of being lived, worked-out and resolved – like some fantastic deception in a gothic novel. That could be tempting, especially if problems are being suffered and managed by others and all the easier to disregard. Some may consider things are better left unsaid, to allow them to be managed discreetly and preserve the reputations (and dignity) of those involved.
However, exploring troubling issues openly can establish their true extent throughout the organisation, as well as offering a valuable opportunity to share experiences, correct misconceptions, and learn from each other.
While it may be appealing to avoid the upfront cost and disruption of directly confronting difficulties, how costly will it be in the long run to constantly bend to accommodate them? An informed, strategic response can attempt to share out the burden more fairly, rather than leave problems to be borne by just the individuals directly impacted. That could make for a story with a happier ending for everyone, not just those telling it.
My colleague drew this image the other day after we were discussing some of the challenges employees experience in their day-to-day work environment. Does it resonate?
It makes me consider the fluid nature of the way I work. As a consultant I am struck by the dichotomy or competing forces that come into play when trying to meet the needs of each client and the needs of the people that I work with.
I quite often feel myself getting overwhelmed trying to meet these expectations - my own included (but they definitely sit at the end of the queue). I think there is something so difficult in this because it is easy to lose perspective and no longer be able to see past the thing that is right in front of you.
A lot of what I am talking about here is perceived as well as 'real' pressure, and can be triggered as much by my own work ethic as it can by my clients’ expectations. When I am in this space it feels completely real and completely crushing – mind, body and soul.
So, what stops me saying "Sod it, I’m getting out of here"? Somedays, honestly, I don’t know. I know that I love my work, I know that I also love my daughter and husband who invariably end up as one of those competing forces rather than one of my reasons for being and why it is so important for me to work.
When I look at this image I keep asking myself 'Who are these little devils?' For me they are every best intention I have, plus an obligation to my colleagues, plus a commitment to an organisation that pays me to be there. This is in part due to a work ethic, and in part due to a standard I expect of myself.
No-one actively chooses to put their head in a vice, but when you are in that vice how easy is it to take your head out again? Are you even aware that the vice is there?
The answer, for me, is to be able to step out and explore what is happening, take some time to be mindful and reflective. The double bind is, of course, that to do that I still need to be aware that something isn’t right in the first place. Perhaps more realistically it is about stopping often to reflect not only when there is a problem, paying attention to the body response and trying to notice when things seem out of sync. And having a colleague you trust enough to share with how you are feeling can make all the difference.
When managers see things going wrong in a department they may respond by moving staff with key talents to help those who are struggling to cope. Hopefully these specialists will contain the situation and restore normal service, but their talents mean they could be redeployed just as quickly to be of use elsewhere. That can leave the department in the lurch; vulnerable once more, dependent as ever on external capability.
Likewise, it can seem cost effective to bring in external consultants to deal with a specific issue, but if the underlying causes remain then there's the makings of an expensive dependency - unless the required skills can be adopted by the permanent team.
Must it be a choice between getting an expert to deal with an immediate problem quickly, or equipping that department with the right tools and skills it will need to remain robust and reliable? If support doesn't include learning, then how much of a help is it in the long run?
Despite the efforts that leaders go to in communicating their future vision to their employees, many change initiatives still fail.
Leadership and employees need the opportunity to develop a shared, personal commitment to the change needed, and an understanding of how to deliver it.
For me my shadow side is the parts of me I can’t see or I’m completely unconscious of that drive my behaviours and has a significant impact on the quality of my relationships. Have you been in a meeting recently and felt disempowered by someone who has dominated the conversation so much that there was no space for anyone else’s views? Or it felt too risky to share your thoughts, let alone give them feedback on their impact on you?
I’ve only learnt recently that sometimes my silence in a meeting can shut others down more often than my voice does! Since getting that gift of feedback I’ve become more sensitive to what happens in the interactions that I'm taking a part in. And I've become more curious about how I show up, and now want to learn more about the parts of my shadow that closes down others' voices and contributions.
Given that I can’t normally see my own behaviours, I really need others to give me honest feedback on what they see and the impact they have. The trouble is there can often be different realities existing simultaneously in a meeting; what I think I’m doing and how I like to think I’m showing up, and how others see me behaving. It can be obvious to other people how I’m behaving, yet hard or impossible for them to give me feedback if they don’t trust me or it doesn’t feel safe enough.
This is a real bind for me, as how can I learn to develop my self-awareness if it’s not safe enough for others to speak up and give me feedback on my behaviour? If I don’t know what impact I’m having I can’t learn to change my behaviours - to the ones that could create the relationships of trust needed for it to be safe enough for people to give me feedback in the first place! AARRGHH!
Moving on from my frustrations, I’ve been getting a sense that I need to work on learning to listen more deeply and actively, from a calmer place, responding differently from this position and noticing what happens. If the quality of trust shifts, I hope to get more feedback that can shine some light onto to the parts of my shadow that seem to close down others and get in the way of more open and honest conversations.
The Henley Forum; Building Connections workshop 27th June 2017
We were at the Henley Forum recently for a workshop on building connections, and got to share some thinking on relational leadership and the importance of relationship building in Organisational Development (O.D.). Two of the other presentations on the day we liked explained how certain human factors constrain knowledge flow and the concept of networking mapping. Factors such as silo mentality, stress, fatigue, politeness, fear, positional power, social norms and emotional risks can often constrain people sharing ideas and knowledge, and this really resonated with our experience doing O.D. with clients. It's interesting to explore the connections between the Knowledge Management(K.M.) and O.D. fields, and what links these two different ways of looking at organisations.
K.M. could look different framed from an O.D. perspective, by thinking about knowledge as a process of knowledge creation through having conversations, rather than as objects of information to be transferred or stored. Given that enabling positive human factors is critical to effective knowledge sharing, and organisational functioning in general, looking at it from a more human-focused perspective could be fruitful. Shifting metaphors can be a good place to start. Extracting, capturing, retrieving and storing knowledge are good terms for understanding how computers work with information, but are they useful for working productively with the richness of human experience and relationships?
Knowledge sharing can’t always be controlled or contained: it has a life of its own. In the same way, as soon as someone tries to control a conversation, it deadens the interaction and we can lose energy, motivation and sometimes even the will to live! What we know is always changing and evolving. It can be a messy yet deeply human process.
Knowledge that is created in, emerges from, flows between and existed in the space between people is something that is easily extracted, particularly if someone is afraid to share something. Knowledge is something that lives in and between us, in the ways we come to know things and how we share what we know is a wonderfully human, natural, spontaneous and unpredictable process. When you are doing a new K.M. project we suggest you broaden it by starting with the daily human realities we work in, and how we experience knowledge sharing, and what factors get in their way.
Giving more attention to the positive human factors and behaviours that build relationships would enable a more natural and effective flow of knowledge throughout an organisation. We think that by investing more in people and supporting them to learn relational skills you could significantly enhance your investment in the K.M. tools you already have in place.
Reactive behaviour ingrained within organisations and the problems it can lead to is a recurring theme in our work. We’ve seen a number of instances where troubled projects are held together by a few heroic workers who use their experience and know-how to fashion workaround solutions, much to the relief and gratitude of their flummoxed colleagues. They save the day. Then do it again the day after that, and soon it becomes the norm.
This approach can be very wasteful but there may be vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Averting regular crises gives the rescuer a sense of recognition and security, as they showcase their talents and demonstrate how essential they are to the team’s success. This is their exclusive comfort zone; the rest of the team prefer to stay in their own ones away from the drama, relieved that someone else is dealing with the mess again.
Neither party has the time or inclination to tackle the root causes, even though the results might benefit everyone.
Can talents be put to better use preventing crises from happening in the first place? What would it take to let go of habitual roles and embrace the possibilities of new ones, to break the comfort zone conspiracy and work more proactively as a team?