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Posts tagged ‘Organization Behavior’

Wanted: Experience

In recent job interviews, a just-turned-30 acquaintance has been rejected for lack of experience. Additionally he is often told that older persons already in the hiring organization wouldn’t be comfortable with a younger leader. And yet, he has kept a sense of humor, sending me an e-mail with this subject line: “How to sound younger in an interview.”

Having worked with this person on multiple projects in a variety of settings, I have come to appreciate his creative ideas and insights. I have seen him work successfully with people of all ages. On more than one project, his leadership led to changes that could not have been imagined by someone embedded in the system for the past 10 or 20 years.

I have worked with and supervised persons younger than me, and in turn, been supervised by younger persons. In all of these relationships, I have benefited from younger persons’ thoughtful leadership and management abilities. I have learned to see the world and organizations in different ways, to see my role and my self in new ways.

I value the contributions of all persons, no matter their age, in the organizations where I participate. If your organization is tied to a particular map of how the world works – i.e. older persons always supervise younger persons, I challenge you to adventure to the map edge and discover the power and opportunity of experiencing the extra-ordinary.

All the world’s a stage

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.
  – William Shakespeare

How many roles have you played already this week? Boss. Cook. Parent. Spouse. Manager. Friend. Janitor. Child. Clear roles and responsibilities keep business processes and families running smoothly. Yet the paradox is that rigid roles and rules can cause processes to collapse and malfunction under changing conditions. Keeping the roles and responsibilities simple permits flexibility and adaptability when needed.

Understanding and acting out our roles and responsibilities requires a personal commitment to behaving with social intelligence. The phrase “social intelligence” has become “business speak”. I will define it as first having a personal understanding of ones own values and philosophy coupled with empathy and compassion for others  along with the ability to communicate effectively and influence others.

In other words, each of us is more than the hats we wear in any given situation, more than the job title, more than a relationship. If we seek to know and act on our core values and philosophy or way of being in the world, we can participate more easily in all of the different roles life offers us. If all the world is a stage and we are the actors, perhaps the key, as the airline flight attendants say, is to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

The power of undo

The power to undo has become firmly established in our lives. We press the backspace key or type “Ctrl+Z” to instantly undo typing mistakes. We press the undo button in the word processor to change our minds about what we want to say or how to say it.  If we decide we don’t like a purchase, we take it back to the store. Undo is the power to “make a previous act of no effect.”

I would not want to go back to the days of “white out”. And, I like to be able to return things that don’t fit or exchange them for something more useful. But when we try to transfer the power of undo to our organizations and relationships, our commitments can be conditional; we don’t have to care too much; we don’t have to risk trusting. Indeed, trust may be broken all kinds of ways. A leader offers false praise, gives inconsistent messages, or pretends the elephant in the room doesn’t exist. It can be broken when a customer service representative stonewalls instead of assists or a product fails five minutes after being unboxed.

Yet, no one or thing is perfect. We make mistakes with our clients and employees, families and friends.  And, in our relationships and organizations, there is no undo, no power to “make a previous act of no effect.”  A reader recently challenged me by commenting that we need to do “our best to finish well, especially when we need to ask for forgiveness … understanding and healing should not go undone–if possible.”

Asking for, and offering, forgiveness is part of rebuilding trust. In my experience, repairing trust is possible, but it can take time and requires a change in behavior. Paul Boese said, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it enlarges the future.” It enlarges by making it possible for me to again risk commitment, love, and trust, – remembering that the power of undo is limited.

The assumptions of scientific management

in 1908 Frederick Taylor carried a stopwatch in to a steel plant in Philadelphia and began the time and motion studies that would lead to his publication, “The Principles of Scientific Management.” His goal was to find the “one best method” of work – substituting “science for rule of thumb.”

We no longer are surprised by the efficiency and productivity that scientific management delivers. But I would suggest that we have forgotten the six basic assumptions that Taylor makes. Here is a summary as set out by Postman in Technopoly (p. 51):

  1. The primary goal of labor and thought is efficiency.
  2. Technical calculation in all respects is superior to human judgment.
  3. Human judgment cannot be trusted because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity.
  4. Subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking.
  5. What cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value.
  6. The affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.

I’ve been pondering the impact that these assumptions have on our organizations and how they influence our decisions and actions on a daily basis. Are we tempted to make everything in our lives more efficient? Are we tempted to apply efficiency standards to our relationships too? Are we at risk of trying to measure things that require wisdom and not process and procedure?

We forget these assumptions at our peril.

Postman, N. 1993. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York, NY, Vintage.

Feedback: When performance is poor

If feedback when performance is positive or somewhat less than 100% is challenging, giving effective feedback when someone has done poorly or failed is even more difficult. I suspect that the reason for this is that the emotional tension goes up dramatically – for the person delivering the feedback and the one receiving it. In my experience, the difficult work must be done before the encounter by the person delivering the feedback.

Let’s look at what doesn’t work so well first. To immediately access the emotional charge on both sides of the conversation, try starting the conversation with, “Well, why did you do that? What happened?”  Neuroscience tells us that both people will create a physical and mental reaction to the emotional charge. One way of thinking about it is fight, flight, or freeze. The delivering person will be in fight mode, which does not allow for clear thinking let alone good processing of incoming information. The receiver of emotionally charged feedback may fight back directly with anger or frustration, fight back indirectly with self-recrimination, freeze in fear and distress, or run from or avoid the encounter.

As with challenging feedback, the question I ask is, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” As I suggested in a recent post, if the answer is learning, growth, and change, then a frustrated, critical response will not provide success. This requires planning for meeting when both people are fresh and less likely to be reactive. Again, it is important to begin by acknowledging that the conversation might be uncomfortable and that you appreciate the person’s willingness to take time out to talk. Be clear that your goal isn’t to dissect what happened, analyze the problem, or put their job in jeopardy. State that your goal is to help them do their best, learn, and build their potential.

Follow with a good opening question that asks them to reflect, “How can we discuss what happened in a solutions-focused way?” Or, “I’m interested in how you think you did in this situation. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate work?” You can follow with some other questions and statements, making certain to keep the conversation at the learning level – not in the details. Remember, avoid the impulse to suggest a solution, give advice, or tell your own story. Your role is to lead the person to their own “aha” moment of insight.

Some example questions and statements were listed in the recent post. Here are a few more that can help guide the conversation:

  • What is the biggest insight you’ve had about yourself from what’s happened? About your team?
  • What have you learned overall from the situation?
  • How committed are you to working to create a new approach?
  • Are you clear about what needs to happen next?
  • What resources or training will assist you in creating the new approach?

The bigger the emotional charge for both people, the more important it is for the person delivering the feedback to allow the other person to discover their own solutions and answers. Not only does learning take place, but the potential for ongoing growth and transformation increases. It’s time to consider eliminating “constructive feedback” and begin intentionally creating a climate of open communication and learning by asking people what they are thinking and discovering. This shift has the potential to deliver value to the organization and to the persons involved in the difficult feedback scenario.

Feedback: When things are less than 100%

Giving positive feedback when things go well seems logical and reasonable. When things are less than 100%, providing effective feedback is more challenging. The first thing many of us do is to say the first things that come to our minds, which often reflect frustration or anger. As always, the first person that needs to be considered in any situation is ourselves and our own behavior.

The question I ask is, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” If the answer is learning, growth, and change, then a frustrated, critical response will not provide success. What considerations go into my thinking on this issue?

First, the fact is that most of us are our own worst critics. We usually don’t need help to identify our failings. Secondly, neuroscience shows that it is just about impossible to change  our mental and behavioral wiring when we focus on what we don’t want to do. If we think about what we did wrong, we’re only reinforcing the circuits that create that behavior. It’s much more effective to create new circuits. Thirdly, negative interactions can send someone, and the entire work group or team, into distress and anxiety; which leads to bad morale and long-term performance issues.

I propose a different approach, one that will bring insight and learning.  Begin by taking time to plan for the conversation. Do what you need to do to calm your emotional response by taking a walk or whatever you do to release negative energy. Remind yourself that your goal is to focus on the work behavior in the project or incident, not on the individual. Then schedule a time to talk one-on-one when you both have energy and privacy for the conversation.

Begin by acknowledging that the conversation might be uncomfortable and that you appreciate the person’s willingness to take time out to talk. Be clear that your goal isn’t to dissect what happened, analyze the problem, or put their job in jeopardy. State that your goal is to help them do their best, learn, and build their potential. Follow with a good opening question that asks them to reflect, “I’m interested in how you think you did in this situation. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate work?” You can follow with some other questions and statements, making certain to keep the conversation at the learning level – not in the details. Remember, avoid the impulse to suggest a solution, give advice, or tell your own story. Your role is to lead the person to their own “aha” moment of insight.

Here are some example questions that can help guide the conversation:

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you observe about how you worked? About how you worked with the team?
  • Tell me more about that . . .
  • What insights are coming into your mind?
  • What resources, knowledge, or skills would have been helpful in this situation?

Conclude by asking how you can support them in developing the new behaviors or skills they’ve identified. Plan to meet regularly to discuss how they are going about carrying out their intentions to create new behaviors or learn new skills.

By allowing the person to reflect, gain insight, and learn, this process has the potential to develop increased trust, better communication, and foster change. It still may not be comfortable for everyone, but the outcomes will be significantly different from the old “calling on the carpet for discipline” process.

I encourage my readers to try this feedback process with your team members or family members or whatever organization you find yourself in. Reflect on how it makes a difference for you and the people around you.

Read about giving feedback when things are going well.

Feedback: When things are going well

Giving feedback when things are going well is just as important as when they’re not so well. According to neuroscientists, brain circuits that wire together, fire together. So, if leaders want to reinforce behavior, it is logical to give positive feedback when things are going well.

I’ve found that it can be just as uncomfortable to give positive feedback as negative feedback. People will say, “Oh, thanks, but it’s just my job.” Or, “It was nothing … really.” The first key to positive feedback is to reflect on some questions for yourself, before you begin talking:

  • What do I want to communicate or what behavior do I want to reinforce?
  • What specifically was well done?
  • What challenges had to be overcome?
  • What was the impact on the organization? On the team?
  • What made a difference?
  • What words will best communicate this to the person?

In order to reduce the tendency of people to dismiss feedback, begin by setting the stage with a short statement, “I know you often brush off appreciation, but I’d like to share some feedback.” Or, if it’s a bit longer, “I have some feedback for you regarding the project. It’s all good. Is this a convenient time to talk for a few minutes?” Then give the feedback that you’ve planned. After you’ve shared your positive feedback, consider asking for reflection that reinforces critical thinking, learning, and builds self-awareness:

  • Tell me 2 or 3 things that you observed which worked well.
  • Tell me something you learned about yourself when you worked on this project.
  • What did you experience as the biggest obstacles or challenges to making this project as success?
  • What internal and/or external resources were used in this project?
  • What new skills or knowledge did you need to complete this project?

Finally, ask how you can support further development in this way of working or behavior.

All of this put together will not only reinforce what was learned, but can promote reflection, insight, and growth.

I encourage my readers to try planning, delivering, and engaging in learning as you deliver positive feedback with your team members or family members or whatever organization you find yourself in. Reflect on how it makes a difference for you and for the people around you.

Turning off the autopilot

I was recently working with an organization to identify their values. Some would say that values are yesterday’s news, a 1990’s activity for an organization to do. Others would argue that listing values becomes another exercise that gets posted on the break room wall and ignored.  I would argue that remembering values is something that should be done daily: we, as individuals and organizations, must intentionally choose to act from our values.

When we interact with each other, with those who purchase our services, with our friends and families, when we make decisions, when we innovate and create new opportunities, the question is: Does that fit with one or more of our values? Or not …?

I challenge all of us not to confuse values with priorities or with our core business philosophy. Values don’t change easily. My values include trust, honesty, integrity, kindness, and positive action. I seek to act based on those values. Values provide an underlying framework, supporting the systems that make up our more visible maps of the world or mental models.

To spend time identifying and make values visible, is to choose to act consciously. It is to choose to turn off the autopilot and check our systems, decisions, and actions to make certain we are acting in concert on our journey.

Here’s a short exercise to try: After your next meeting, spend five minutes considering which of your values you saw on display? Which values of your organization did you see represented? Try the exercise after your next decision or your next conversation. Are the values the ones you expected to see?

Lead with Positive Desire

(This is a guest post from Justin Anderson. Justin is a Licensed Sport Psychologist and Principal of JSA Advising, a Minneapolis/St.Paul consulting firm that specializes in optimizing sustainable performance and harmony in family-owned businesses.  Justin’s worked with athletes/teams from all competitive levels, and over the past five years, he’s used those experiences to help family-businesses build thriving and sustainable legacies. Justin can be reached through JSA Advising. Thank you, Justin!)

What motivates you to act?  Contemporary thought can reduce human motivation into two basic modalities; fear and desire.  If you are like most, you will likely find that you do many things in your daily routine out of fear.  For example, many people get up in the morning with less than ideal sleep, not because they desire the feeling of being tired.  Rather, they do it because they “fear” the consequences of not getting up “on-time”.  For many, not getting up “on-time” means missing work and missing work means getting fired and getting fired could mean losing the house.

It’s not too often that we consciously connect all the dots.  Rather, we typically go through our routines automatically, because it’s what we “need” to do.   It’s why so many of us are tired, stressed, and anxious.  Taking consistent action through the fear perspective leads to higher levels of anxiety and tension which, over a longer period of time, leads to poorer health, less meaningful relationships, and a decreased ability to process information clearly.

In addition, taking action from the fear motivator can lead us to be critical of ourselves or those around us.  Negativity breeds negativity.  Like an out of control snowball, if you find that fear is your dominate motivator, than it’s likely that you could be contributing to a work place environment that is more judgmental and paranoid.  And a workplace that is judgmental and paranoid will create more negativity and fear.  Ultimate result: a work place where creativity and productivity is stifled or even frowned upon.

The solution to ending the negativity spiral can be found by developing a keener sense of self-awareness and self-accountability.  It calls for us to slow down and reflect on the “why” as we check-off our to-do lists.  It requires us to retrain our neural networks to focus on things we can control as well as to be able to let go of the things we cannot.  And, it requires us to focus our attention on the things for which we are grateful and that give us positive energy.

This final requirement is not as easy as it sounds.  The human mind instinctively wants to solve the “problems first”, a practice that served our ancestors well when they were looking for food and avoiding predators.  But today when our physiological needs are fairly secure, this type of thinking doesn’t do us any favors.  Instead, it creates a negative lens that primarily focuses on problems that we cannot control or those things that we are still “missing in our lives”.  Being able to retrain the brain to instinctively focus on the things we can control and are grateful for creates a greater sense of tranquility, thus relaxing the tension, opening the mind to new and innovated ways to get our needs met through our desire motivator.

Don’t abuse: Like all good things in this world, too much of a good thing can lead us right back down the negativity path again.  By suggesting that we operate out of our “desire” motivation, I’m not suggesting that we ignore all the rules and moral guidelines and become hedonistic.  Rather, I am simply pointing out that on the spectrum of motivation, many of us act far too often from fear. If we acted more firmly from our desire modality (within reason) we would also find that positivity is contagious.  Similar to how negativity can breed negativity, positivity and gratefulness can breed a healthy and energetic environment, fostering increased creativity, greater productivity, and more meaningful relationships.

If you are a leader or manager, consider what motivator drives your actions.

When questions derail the process

Given my passion for critical thinking and good questions, I was glad to find some balance in the world this week. Scott Anthony wrote a guest blog over at the Harvard Business Review about how questions can kill innovation. He discusses the way that people can use questions to endlessly delay action by analyzing each opportunity to its death. This is true of people within corporations or people who are entrepreneurs.

Continually researching the answer to questions that start out with, “What about . . .” or “What if . . .” can lead to gridlock or inertia. Tom Kelley in The Ten Faces of Innovation gives a name to the people who play this game, Devil’s advocate. They jump into a discussion, “Let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a minute . . . .”

Whether confronting an endless questioner or a Devil’s Advocate, it is possible to move forward. Anthony suggests trying a quick and dirty test in the marketplace with your concept to see what the response is. Kelley encourages people to engage in constructive criticism and debate – to move beyond an argument threatening to destroy a fragile idea or concept.

In my own experience, options for getting unstuck include asking the group or person to step back and remember what the larger goal; doing a quick prototype of an idea or concept; or changing the question to one that requires action, “What is the first step you could take in the two days to make this a reality?” Creativity and innovation can flourish when there is a balance between questions and actions.

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