Organizational Leaders Can’t Fix People

 

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Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times, 1936

Last week, in the middle of an important project, my printer stopped working. My first response was unbridled frustration and then I shifted into figuring out what went wrong. It turned out that the problem had to do with the cartridge and all that was needed to fix it was to replace it with a new part. Done –  not very exciting or interesting news. But, it got me thinking about how organizations still go about dealing with change and human dynamics.

In my attempt to resolve the problem with my printer I took a linear approach; get to the source of the problem and replace it with a new part. I can’t begin to tell you how often I hear stories from the workplace that reveal the same approach to efforts to ‘fix” what’s broken – a program, a communication issue, a person. In fix-it cultures, concerned more with quick results, this poses major obstacles to the massive changes needed to shift mindsets towards greater resiliency, transparency and collaboration.

In the thousands of books and articles written about change management, less emphasis has been placed on so-called “soft” management – leadership, motivation and human dynamics. In his article, Why Change Management Fails in Organizations, Ray Williams point out that  “change success in large organizations depends on persuading hundreds or thousands of groups and individuals to change the way they work, a transformation people will accept only if they can be persuaded to think differently about their jobs. In effect, CEOs must alter the mind-sets of their employees-no easy task. I would add to their conclusion that individuals in organizations, to embrace change, must also engage in a process that changes how they think about themselves, not just their job.”  Continue reading

To Change Behavior, Change Your Focus

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Recently, one of our clients, the president and CEO of a mid-size company, sent me an email after participating in a development group with his senior leadership team that was focused  on collaboration and emotional intelligence.

His message went something like this, “ A situation came up at work where I had the opportunity to put into practice some of the information we discussed and realized how hard it is to change and break old habits.  He also asked a question that many clients ask –  how do I remember to remember these things that we’re talking about?”   Essentially the question becomes –  how do I become more  conscious of my intentions and my behavior?

It got me thinking about how easy it is to become captive to our internal narratives and reflexive in our behavior.  The question compelled  me to go deeper into what it is I do as a  coach to support  people to break through habituated, unproductive behavior

Two  important influences on behavior are the areas of language and attention – how we describe our experience is indicative of the focus of our attention.  As a coach one of my goals is to share my thoughts in a language that help clients focus their attention and makes connections with new ways of thinking that align with their desired outcomes.

Being able to hold on to new information and learning requires attention and consistency. Having a “container” for new information is essential. One of the most promising “tools” for increasing our capacity to strengthen habits of attention and consistency is mindfulness.  Insights from neuroscience also have the potential to expand the container, while at the same time, bridging psychological explanations for human behavior with a scientific basis. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, “Strengthening attention helps you let go of stressful circumstances because the brain economizes our circuits. Being compelled to pay attention to your emotions is the opposite of being able to choose where you put your attention.”  Continue reading

Humanizing Workplace Relationships~People Aren’t Tasks

 

Kind thanks to my business and life partner, Louise Altman, who kindly lent me this excellent article to reblog  from her archives. It’s one of my favorites from the Intentional Workplace and one that her readers consistently rank in her top ten. 

To me, this article speaks to a central issue that I believe is at the heart of so much difficulty in today’s workplace – our inability to regularly connect at the human to human level.  To be sure, the structure of the “modern” organization creates serious roadblocks and even undermines empathy, trust and genuine collaboration between co-workers.   The article points to the decaying legacy of hierarchical control models that were never designed to optimize human dynamics.  The article raises important points that I believe are part of a critical conversation that organizational leaders and their employees need to have if we are to restore trust and authentic engagement. 

“For me, my role is about unleashing what people already have inside them that are maybe suppressed in most work environment.”                Tony Hseih, Zappos CEO

Is the “modern” workplace designed for people?

Are the systems created for work designed to maximize productivity and profit or human well-being?

Who factors in the real cost of human labor when analyzing productivity and profits?

What do most managers believe they are managing?  

I have far more questions than I have answers on this topic. In fact, I think we’re now on new terrain when it comes to redefining the meaning of work in a global “supply chain” world.  While it may seem absurd that in one part of the world children are still working in coal mines; while in another, companies like Google have installed, Chief Culture Officers, this is the new “normal.” Continue reading

Being Human At Work

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People are not tasks or robots. I’m still surprised when I meet people in the workplace who don’t believe that people are the most important part of their jobs.  Sadly, the people are a means to my end meme still dominates. Granted, many people are disengaged, burnt out and disempowered – and can’t summon up the energy to deal with diverse personalities and needs and intense organizational pressures and demands.

Most of the business world is still organized on the principle that a job is essentially an economic transaction.  Workers are being asked to do more with less –and faster than ever before. Employee head count is down and the bar for performance set higher. And managers still don’t seem to understand how to establish a workplace environment that view workers as people. An over reliance on the rational (we’re here to work!) and on emotions that don’t feed the human spirit (anxiety, mistrust, resentment, frustration) all contribute to the sense of exhaustion and disillusionment that many employees feel. Continue reading

Engaging The Unengaged: Part 2

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In Part 1 of Engaging the Unengaged, I refer to the Gallup State of the American Workforce Survey that revealed that “America is largely a nation of working automatons, with most people not feeling emotional ties to what they do and sizable numbers actively seeking to sabotage their colleagues and managers.” 

I cited some astounding statistics (hopefully, not too many) that suggested the issues and causal factors underlying disengagement.  A major component contributing to engagement that explicitly and implicitly surfaced in the study was relational dynamics. In other words, “people skills,” which is the focus of this article.

Gallup places the spotlight on managers and leaders whose weak people skills fail to help others feel connected to their work and good about themselves. What are these people skills that not only relate to others, but to us as well?

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, here are a few of the people skills that I find missing in many managers that directly affect employee engagement. Continue reading