pop my candy

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“Too cold to hold and got to be sold.” he called out.

It drew my attention and my gaze caught his.

“Don’t let dehydration ruin your vacation.” he grinned.

“Can I refresh you today?” he invited as I approached. “Guaranteed to cool you out without a doubt…”

This street trader’s appreciation of the value in selling not the product but the benefits, had won me over in the New Orleans heat of early afternoon. I could sense how it would feel to be refreshed and sated by one of his ice cold drinks. I duly purchased a beverage from the ice filled cool boxes at his feet.

Talking about value, contribution, benefits and outcomes seems effective. Doing so in language that engages the senses, even more so.

What might happen if we adopted this approach in organisations when we discuss people? Not, she’s top talent or he’s well qualified. But, she’ll energise you with a deep passion that washes over you like a wave of effervescent bubbles from popping candy. His courage and insight will inspire you like the view from the banks of the raging Mississippi with all its power and direction in the flush of Spring.

What if?

‘don’t walk’ growing pains

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We’re all standing, looking at the red hand. There are no cars. The road is just two lanes. Yet we stand and wait. Waiting for the ‘walk’ sign. To be told it is safe to cross.

We think that we’re grown up just because we’ve hit adulthood, have flown the nest, or because we’ve taken on a position of leadership in our organisation.

But so many of us are still looking for parents who can save us from life’s difficulty, confirm the right course of action, or who can tell us we’re doing ok.

As long as we’re looking for parents, we expect the leaders of our organisations, or others in society to know what to do, to know all the answers, to tell us what’s needed, and to rescue us. We hold back from speaking truth or acting confidently because we’re scared they’ll judge us or reject us. Meanwhile, they’re scared they will get found out; found wanting. So they are happy to parent us. To be seen as wise and all knowing.

And in this parental game, we blame them for sticking to their rigid parental ways. And, when things don’t turn out the way we want them, we blame them for failing us, instead of stepping up and taking action and responsibility ourselves. We give up our capacity for independent thought so we can keep ourselves in a dependent, child-like role.

And they, for their part, give up truly leading. Instead they parent, patronise and push change, to show they know best.

All of this is happening even at the most senior levels of multi-national organisations, because – it turns out – being senior, and being grown up, are not the same thing.

It explains much about why change can be so difficult in organisations. Why we fail to own our own change and why we have created an industry called ‘change management’ – like all that’s needed are more parents.

All of this makes the ongoing task of adult development so critical for each of us and for our organisations. Truly growing into ourselves, being ourselves and growing up is challenging work. But it means we can become self confident and genuinely be adults in the world – without relying on a saviour.

And once we can act like responsible grown ups, that allows us to take collective responsibility first for our institutions, and then for our society as a whole.

Then we can walk.

quit your job today

second-job

Many of us come to work and do two jobs.

One, we get paid for.

The other we do to survive. We spend time and energy looking good, making sure our boss and our colleagues like us, appreciate what we do, can see the value we bring. We spend time and energy hiding weaknesses, making sure any inadequacies are kept buried from view, protecting our vulnerabilities. We spend time and energy manoeuvring through the political and cultural slime of the organisation, hoping to escape its quicksand-like pull. We spend time and energy concealing mistakes, showcasing successes, managing and preserving our reputation. We spend time and energy on relationships that might protect us, on gangs, tribes and clans of people like us.

This second job gets a lot of attention, but largely goes unnoticed, because we all do it and we all conceal it. It’s like an unconscious game we all have to play, because anyone who doesn’t play may lose out.

What if our organisations were able to shift so that openly bringing our whole self to work was encouraged, so that mistakes, errors, weaknesses were seen as opportunities for learning and personal growth? Not learning to develop our weaknesses per se, but freedom to acknowledge them with equal weight to our unique abilities. Learning that we’re good, able, confident people really and learning that this ‘other’ job is directed at preserving a myth. The myth that we need to do that job at all.

We could all stop. All quit this second job. Together. Now.

This is an underpinning thought behind the concept of
the Deliberately Developmental Organisation here

do organisations have emotions?

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We were contemplating this today.

As human beings so much of what we do is driven by a felt sense, gut, emotion. We combine this with cognitive thinking; adding reason, logic, judgement. Together these ‘brains’ afford us sense making, a motivation, value, direction.

Organisations are good at the cognitive often. The logical behind the vision, the strategy, the goals, the measurement, the success. By and large, organisations try to connect with employees cognitively. They are often not so good at connecting with the individual’s emotions. They talk about engagement or about hearts and minds, but attempt to influence, inspire and manage these cognitively with data, plans, employee surveys, roll-outs.

And what of the organisation itself? Does it have a system brain over and above the collective brains of the component people? And does it have its own emotions?

Systemic Constellations theory might suggest it does. The system behaves according to its own needs, maintaining the integrity and balance of the system itself. So, if that’s true and if it’s working well, is the system pleased, happy, excited? If the system is struggling to maintain itself, does it get upset, annoyed, disillusioned?

If organisations do have feelings, how do we engage with those and what are the implications for the workplace?

sitting to hear

I sat the other day with about fifteen like minded people.

We were invited to share something we wanted more of in our lives.

We were sitting in a circle.

I have on several occasions been invited to share my story or something significant about me in a group environment. The most successful of these has always been in a circle, facing each other. It is no accident that village elders often sit in a circle; indeed many cultures do this. Sitting in circles, around a fire, in a yurt, on the desert floor. Children often do it in our primary schools at reading time.

Seeing the faces of the speaker and your fellow listeners builds a bond, draws you to the story, generates a trusting, safe environment. Nobody is in a position of power, authority, dominance. Or in a position of inferiority, subjugation, minority. Everyone is equal.

Strange then that in our places of work, many meeting tables are square or oblong and we are so often organised in rows. Face to face, back to back, side to side.

No wonder we find it hard to be heard.

truth or consequences

truth-or-consequences-sign

I have long been curious about relationships and honesty in organisations.

We have many relationships in organisations.  Leaders and led, managers and managed, teams, colleagues, friends, co-workers… And it seems to me we are typically comfortable talking about ‘stuff’ in organisations. Comfortable having conversations about ‘stuff’ in these relationships. The target, the project, the objective, the goal, the job etc.  Oh sure, some are tricky conversations. The performance management one, the looming deadline one, the efficiency might mean redundancies one…

However, in organisations in particular, we find it hard to speak the truth about deeper thoughts and feelings. About emotions. Especially the truth to power. Or the truth to a colleague. Or the truth to a line manager. Or the truth to a team member.

It seems to me that largely this is because of consequences.

Consequences real or perceived.

I heard a story the other day of a senior leader seeking to speak the truth to power.  They were encouraged to do so by their most senior leaders, so at a conference they spoke up, to the MD.  Expressing a deeply felt concern. They were subsequently embarrassed and throughout the remainder of the conference they were made an example of.

Such bravery is to be admired, but there are normal everyday conversations in organisational relationships which fall foul of the perceived consequences from speaking up.  Not just about important organisational stuff,  but about deeply personal stuff. Admitting a vulnerability, or a personal emotional difficulty from life’s roller coaster ride, inside or outside work, seems to be a truth too far. Expressing a gut feel doubt, or exploring a sense of frustration, disappointment, confusion, anger in our organisational relationships seems a harder truth than ‘you’re fired’. Seeking to explore different thinking, or values, or drivers or beliefs seems somehow a luxury that might be frowned upon or considered not real work.  Activities to be judged in our organisational world of relationships. Activities with consequences.

I wonder if we need to be more overt about consequences, or the lack of them? So that truth, vulnerability, feelings, difference can be encouraged to flourish? These are important things in our organisational relationships and if they can be nurtured, cultivated, grow and blossom without fear of consequences hanging over them like a watering can full of weedkiller… I wonder what might be possible?

would you hire Archie?

Hierarchy

Think of four people you know. Friends, work colleagues, neighbours.

Now, including yourself, place these five people in a hierarchy. Who is top, who is bottom? What is the sequence? Who is above whom and what criteria are you consciously or unconsciously choosing as you create your list?

If the other people were to create a list, would it be the same or different? Where would they put you on the list? How much does that matter to you?

What if you were now to share the five lists with each other? The lists you and the other four people had compiled. Could you? How easy would that be? How comfortable? Would you be seek to justify your choices? Would you want to explain? Would you be honest? Would people expect there to be a reason, a logic? Would you be focused on how people were placing you in their hierarchy? How might your relationships be impacted by this exercise and revealing your view, your hierarchy?

We are naturally hierarchical. We compete. We try to get ahead. We judge success, we judge our position in the community, in society through hierarchies. It may be house, car, qualifications, money, job, pay grade, job title, grades our kids get at school, social ladder, societal groups we belong to, the universities our kids go to…

In most organisations there is a discrete hierarchy. An organisation chart. A boss, a team. Leaders and the led. Managers and the managed.  Pay, rewards, benefits, maybe where your office is, or the door you enter by, the technology you get given, or where you can eat? These are all symbols of the hierarchy.

Yet how easy would it be to create that hierarchy amongst friends, colleagues, neighbours, when they knew you had created it?

Strange that we live by criteria, structures and frameworks we find hard to own. Difficult to be honest about. Struggle to take responsibility for. There is both comfort and discomfort with hierarchies. Yet they are seemingly in our human psyche. A need to know where we stand in the group and a fear of what that might mean and the judgement that comes with that.

So would you “hire Archie”?  Could you?