The consistent question asked from any audience and group I work with is….
For us to do this high-performance collaborative work:
Don’t the leaders have to change their approach?
And, don’t the individual contributors have to change to step up to the game?
But these questions are never asked together — meaning, individuals ask “don’t leaders have to change” and leaders ask “don’t the employees have to change”.
(image is from ideachampions.com, don’t you love it?)
Both are true. Leaders and individual contributors will need to change. Why? Because we are all complicit in the current mode of working. Complicit is a pretty strong word but I use it because we have all bought into the current system so it’s going to take some serious consciousness on our collective and individual parts to change the system we’ve created.
First, we have let too many leaders own the role of “chief of answers” where we ask someone in the “right” role to make the decisions. 2nd, we don’t step up as much as we need to to advocate for what we believe is right because that’s not our “role”. We step back because we think “they don’t listen to people like me”. Or whatever.
But let me just say the obvious….that the way we’re working today isn’t working for any of us. Too many leaders are not enabling the whole organization to act nimble because they try to own too much. And they are tired because no matter how hard they work, the volume of strategies and such is increasing based on how fast the market is moving. And for all of us individuals…we see this: Too many really creative, educated and talented types are leaving organizations rather than work within them because they don’t feel they can contribute. While this might be the right decision for them personally, it is sad to see what happens to companies because of it.
It seems that we need some new rules to play the game of business if we’re going to create a better situation. Better as in, we can work in a more transparent, nimble, collaborative way that can result in better business outcomes. Better in that we can innovate faster and outpace the competition. Better in that we create a place of work where the talent of the organization can be brought to full force in a way Drucker could be proud of.
To get to this better place, it is going to require a change by all of us.
I want to engage the conversation about those changes. So let me put my neck out there, and propose some concrete steps as starters (please add comments to add to this).
I believe we can create a better workplace by each of us:
Stop wanting praise. We all want praise and to be told we’re doing a good job. And while that’s nice and validating, I just wonder if each of us really need that much praise. After all, you’re a talented person. You were hired because of that talent and creativity. I say, stop seeking permission and praise and ….Do what you need to do. You can check in and all that. But praise is the killer. You know why? You have given someone else power to like your work rather than respect your work. Focus on creating the right outcomes, and less on praise.
Stop focusing on Titles, Shmitles.We often pay attention to titles in meetings. As if Joe, the VP and what he says is worth more than what I the individual contributor is saying. My husband once worked in a place where (and this is no joke) people were debating an important issue to the business and clearly couldn’t agree, so someone pulled out their badge, and others followed. The one with the lowest employee # supposedly “won” the discussion. (Oy vey!) But we all do it at some level by deferring to others based on their position, title. Let me just say that the reason that any of us are “in the room” is to have the discussion is to think together. And I’ve gotta believe that if you were invited you have some data, perspective, etc to contribute that will educate the group and will ultimately lead to the right solution (executable solution) to get chosen. Don’t sweat the titles and grades. Rather, elbow your way to the table to make sure the company is doing the right thing. The right thing for growth and winning. And for you, leaders, that think your title earns you the right just “tell” people what to do, you are enabling (at best) only today’s win, not the organization’s repeated ability to win.
Remember, be good humans. We often think that all the stuff like strategy, innovation happens “in the room”. But people watch one another long before we walk into the room to make the tough call, and we decide whether want to work together. Trust is built by knowing you, the person, not your role. I need to see how you open the door for the person in front of you, or whether you will hold an elevator when you can see me running towards it. It’s how I know that you’re not all about you, but about us. The underlying question that everyone is assessing is: “Will you give a shit for what I need? And what the business needs vs. what you personally need?” and if the answer is no, the right decision will never get made because we’ll never be willing to state what we really think or really need. Just like Adam Smith saw that economics had a behavioral component and Drucker saw business performance as human-centered, all of business is about how humans treat one another. Be the type of person I want to break bread with and you’ll be the type of person I want to collaborate with. It might take more time to say, hold the elevator, but it is time that comes back in spades.
I believe we can create a better place to work by:
Shooting the conflict avoiders. Really. They are going to do everything to avoid dealing with issues. And fundamentally business is about problem solving and going through the wall of fire to get to the other side. We can’t avoid the issues. We need to be able to name tough things, and ultimately we need to go through the difficult discussions to come together on the other side. In general, conflict avoiders tend to shy away from engaging the issues in an effort to protect themselves. They fear difficult conversations, and they want to avoid feeling uncomfortable, incompetent, unsuccessful, or blamed. They don’t want to be perceived as causing conflict. When a culture lacks a pattern of dealing cleanly and fairly with tension and conflicting viewpoints, those natural avoidance behaviors are understandable. Not healthy, but understandable. However, engaging the issues does not mean blame, judgment, or conflict. It does mean having conversations about present and future risks, such as customers defecting, competition winning, or markets disappearing. We have these conversations because the benefits of engaging the issues will ultimately outweigh the consequences of staying silent or waiting until it’s the “right time”.
Discussing/Owning Failure. Be open about your own mistakes and culpability (if it exists). Be up front about your past contributions to the situation, if any, and own what you want to do differently. Talk about how you failed, or what it would look like to fail in this situation so it can be avoided. By doing this, you are showing a kind of fearlessness to learn. When you take the stance that learning is more important than being right, I think you are on your path to a high performance organization.
Killing Power-games. I have a current team I’m working with, where one guy really thinks he “should” be in charge and he plays some rather apparent power games and demonstrates passive-aggressive behavior. I hope the CEO does something about this because once you let these games go unchecked, you end up letting people work from positional power, which undermines the power of good ideas. People who have good ideas to contribute stop taking ownership for success because they know ideas don’t matter as much as power in this firm. So they step back, rather than stepping forward and do “only” what is in the box they are assigned. And who can blame them? I talked about this at my TED talk and other places. It is the gap between the boxes that often cause the business to fail. So we’ve gotta find a way for all of us to hire, reward, and manage so those gaps get closed. As long as we allow power-games, we’ll never close those gaps.
I believe that when we do these 6 things, we are on the road to a more transparent, nimble, collaborative place to work, that RESULTS in better business outcomes. What do you think needs to change to create this better place?