Realism: Pessimism's worst Enemy.

Optimism and Pessimism rule

I am fed up with all those messages about optimism on twitter. It’s like you have to be optimistic. I choose not to be. I am a realist. And I am fine with that. But it seems not done.  You are an optimist (and you’d better be!) or a pessimist. The glass is half full or half empty. The glass cannot be… “half”. One cannot look at it both ways.

Optimism versus pessimism, and realism.
Optimism versus pessimism, and realism.

 
Where is the realist was in his story?, I asked somebody.  I am getting frustrated about his absence. The answer came after a few seconds. Had I pushed a sensitive button?

“You certainly must be a pessimist hiding behind so-called ‘reality’… I know your kind…”

After this jumping to conclusions, my appetite to continue the conversation had gone.

In praise of pessimism

I let go of the topic until yesterday. I was happy when @koenfucius tweeted about pessimism. Finally a different voice. @koenfucius tweeted something very interesting.

I could not believe my eyes. After so much “forced” optimism in my timeline, finally there was “another” voice. I totally concur with this quote from an article by Bryan Appleyard.

Sadly, pessimism gets a bad press. Because it is assumed to be the same as, or an inevitable aspect of, depression. As the happiest and most well-adjusted person I know is a devout pessimist, I find this idea ridiculous. My friend delights in life precisely because he expects nothing of it. If he happens upon something good or beautiful, then it is a bonus, a miracle. His days are full of discoveries and consolations. His sense of humor is hilarious. Mostly a knowing nod of recognition to bad news and false hopes. One of his favourite expressions is the typically vintage “Mustn’t grumble”. He is, I need hardly add, a joy to be with.

I love people who put optimism into perspective. They do not say all the time how wonderful everything is. I appreciate good doses of “low expectations” now and then. And I love it when a good sense of humour comes on top of all this. I would not dare to use the word cynicism.

Pressure

You can feel the pressure to be optimistic everywhere. This is certainly the case on social media. Look at the endless twitter feeds about the wonders of everything. Check the groups on facebook full of people gathering together to save the world and spread beauty by gathering together. This is not just irritating, it’s sinister.
But, for me, the most perverted story on optimism came in the form of a book on management. Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Smile or Die”: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.
Although I live in Europe, I’ve read this book. I was glad the article provided by @koenfucius also refers to it. Specifically because Barbara finally “allows” one magic word that I have missed so far. You can find it in this quote, in bold and italics 😉

She points out that the neo-optimism to which we are now subjected is not, as many claim, some foundational American value. The US Declaration of Independence and the US constitution are neither pessimistic nor optimistic: they are realistic – above all, about human nature.

What a relief. My natural preference has finally been accepted by someone. Realism is part of the media vocabulary.

Realism in corporate Life

But is realism also part of corporate life ?
I know very cynical corporate leaders, who are not pessimistic at all. That does not make them optimists.
I know very positive corporate leaders, who are not… optimistic at all. That does not make them pessimists.
The corporate reality is much more nuanced than any school of optimism could be. And definitely when it tries to be on social media.
I think the following elements are crucial:

  • Corporate taboos:

    A taboo seems to exist around pessimism, also in companies. One is not allowed to be pessimistic publicly. One can imagine however what happens behind the screens, certainly in times of economic crisis. The more one feels the push towards collective positivism in public, the more one will embrace the “other side” in  private circumstances.

  • Bad will versus corporate good will:

    A realist on social media is confronted with a lot of bad will. Once you add a third party, you screw up the beautifully designed classification pessimist-optimist. Then you are no longer a friend in social media.
    Companies have more mercy. It’s not tolerable to be pessimistic. But everybody will understand and align with you when you say you have a realistic point of view on things. The positive people in the room may be irritated by not enough optimism. But instead of criticizing, they will help you in rephrasing some of your bullet points in more optimistic phrases. They will even do this during the meeting. We are a great team after all. Thank you guys!

  • Naivety:

    Let’s not be naive. As optimistic we want to be we’re all humans. And humans have the annoying habit to be human. Certainly when business, private life or both are under pressure. Then we will just be who we are. Nothing more, nothing less.
    Some will fall back on their natural optimism. I respect that if it’s authentic.
    Some fall back on their natural pessimism. I respect that too but that would be a pity.
    Some go back to realism. I respect that, if it’s true realism and not an undercover operation for hidden optimism or pessimism.

Integrity is the conclusion

Just be yourself. Try to be as positive as you can. Don’t overdo if it does not feel right.
Allow yourself to be realistic when you should, without the prejudice of pessimism.
Pessimism is realism’s worst enemy. But allow yourself to be pessimistic when you must. You’re human. Pessimism can be powerful. To feel the contrast with the other moods can be a great learning experience.
 
 

Johari reveals your blind Spots.

About the Unknown

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence.

Donald Rumsfeld said this during a press conference. I believe it was about the war in Iraq. I don’t know if he was aware about it, but with this quote he played with a framework that I like:  The “Johari Window”.

 The Johari Window

The Johari window is a technique created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It helps people to better understand themselves and their relationship with others. It was Charles Handy who called this concept the Johari House (Johari: Jo + Hari, parts of names of the developers) with four rooms.

  • The Arena is the part of ourselves that we see and others see.
  • The Blind spot contains the aspects that others see but we are not aware of.
  • The unknown is the unconscious part of us and is seen by neither ourselves nor others.
  • The Façade is our private space, which we know but keep from others.

And if we translate these house and rooms into a window, it looks like this
Johari Window

Confrontation

I use it to confront people and help them to accept and understand the “blind spot”. This is an area of things you do without having a clue. And for others it’s very clear.
Or what to think about the “unkown” area. Here are the things that do exist in the relation between you and the others, without anyone consciously knowing about them. That’s pretty scary if you ask me.
The other parts are more conventional. Things that are clear for everybody in the “arena”.
Things you consciously choose not to show or share with others. So you are the only one to know the and you choose to keep them behind your “façade”.

Purpose

What is the purpose of using this tool ? I sometimes use it during feedback exercises.
I start such a session with an “empty” Johari window. Ideally, during the conversation chemistry rises and there is trust. On those moments, my interlocutor and I may get inspired and we are willing to “open up” more than in usual circumstances.
That is generally the moment where the Johari window is really inviting to share with each other:

1. Feedback

Feedback about what is clear for you about the other, but what may not (yet) be clear for the other. This will certainly help the other to become more aware and develop on those blind spots.
“You really talk a lot… If there is one hour available, you talk 50 minutes in general”
“Really… Good lord… I was not aware about that, thank you…”

 2. The things you’ve always chosen to hide.

You should never feel obliged to share the things you’ve always chosen to hide and certainly when it’s about your private life. But a moment may arrive when it feels as the right thing to do. Then you’ll share things you’ve never shared before with that person. Not only as a token of strong trust,  but much more because it simply feels as the right thing to do, on those moments.
“Well, I have never shared this with anyone here before, but the reason I have difficulty in dealing with people having a lack of patience, is because my ex-husband was like that as well. And the divorce has been quite painful, and still is… So it’s certainly not an excuse, but you may understand my behavior better now… I am sorry”
“Oh no need to apologize, thank you for the trust. This must be difficult for you… And yes, this will make life easier, by at least understanding the cause…”

3. Anything else ?

Any other concerns, impressions, convictions, emotions or observations that come on the table. They may stimulate awareness on the things you and your interlocutor do not know consciously about. But that have impact on the relation or collaboration between the both of you.
“I am not exactly sure why, but it seems like every time we talk about the branding of the new product, we get distracted… we never make an action list, we never succeed to focus…”
“Yes, indeed, now that you mention it… That is true, indeed… And yes, why is a good question… I don’t know… Are we believing enough in this new product ourselves ? We all said yes in the meeting, but we had a lot of discussion before that… I thought we had that behind us, but perhaps, we haven’t yet… I am not sure”
“Oh, glad we you have the same impression… At least we can talk about it now more openly and perhaps find out the real issue sooner or later”

Conclusion 

My suggestion is to actively invite each other to discuss these kind of topics. To make use of the Johari window. By filling it in together, and by repeating this exercise at regular moments, you will visualise and achieve a great evolution. Topics that were once all closed and unknown are now much more open. You are aware and invited to explore further.
This movie clearly explains once more.

 
 
 

Learning coaches are not life coaches

learning

Learning Coaches ?

I am working for an organization that wants some of its employees grow into learning coaches. The ambition is to generate a pool of them. These learning coaches will help to develop

  • the learning processes of their colleagues and of some external partners;
  • a learning culture, simply by starting to coach learning processes.

Logical Levels

This week I explained the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts to them. I love to work with this framework. I think it:

  • represents in a comprehensive way, a complex environment of aspects such as identity, mission, values and behaviours.
  • clearly distinguishes single loop versus double loop coaching.

Learning, and the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts
Learning, and the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts

Let me briefly explain that. Single loop coaching requires coachees to profoundly reflect on the “what” and “how” of questioned areas. Double loop coaching requires reflection on the “why”, the purpose and drivers of the “what” and “how”. Sometimes double loop level is also called the meta level: the why of the what and how.
When I explained this topic, a participant asked a very interesting and prompt question:

“This is very fine, Karl, but are we as learning coaches even supposed to discuss these “heavy” topics with the coachee ? I do not feel comfortable to question someone’s mission on earth, you know… Shouldn’t we just keep it to learning.”

I could have thanked the Gods for that question. Let me try to share some parts of my answer.
When your coaching role is clearly devoted to the challenges your coachee has with learning, you should stick to that role.  Then you are a coach for the learning process of the coachee.
But.
The way coachees learn, as for all other things in life, is not isolated. It is part of their entire life. It’s not only about the skills they (do not) develop, about the what and how of their learning. It’s also about why they learn something. What is their purpose of their learning ? How does it fit into their personal mission?

Example

You are a learning coach. You have observed that your coachee seems to struggle with excel.  In spite of the fact (s)he has already done a few trainings and has practiced a lot, there is no progress.
Lately (s)he has come to you to share concerns about the own learning and lack of progress made in excel.
A question could be: What precisely is difficult for you in Excel ?
An answer could be: Well every time Nadia is trying to explain me to make macros, she gets nervous if I don’t understand or do it quickly enough. And it has come so far now that I do not dare to go and ask her anymore…
A new question could be: I hear two things now: excel and Nadia… How do you want to continue?
An answer could be: Well if Nadia would just have a little more patience, I could ask all I want to ask and make progress.
Question: I hear you say you need a bit more patience from Nadia. How do you deal with teachers lacking patience, more in general, when you try to learn something?
An answer: I hate people not having patience. It reminds me of a my ex. (S)he was even worse. I am sorry, I simply cannot stand that. Should I even be telling this?
Question: You may tell, if you like so, and I will listen. We will certainly try to understand the impact of that situation on your today’s learning. Because that’s the purpose here.

Observation.

The coachee is not talking about excel anymore. (S)he will very soon start talking about very personal and perhaps painful aspects of the private life.  The coachee’s values will certainly be part of that. His/her mission may even come in.

Critical part for the coach

As a learning coach it is critical:

  • not to follow the coachee in the content of the “new” story.
  • however to listen extremely carefully to it.
  • to interpret it taking a learning perspective. What elements about the ex and about patience could be relevant for the coachee’s learning process ?
  • to share your interpretation with the coachee.
  • to ask the coachee if it’s correct and to confirm or correct if needed.
  • to go ahead then based on a validated summary of all you’ve heard. What impact does all this have on the way you learn today from people with a lack of patience ?

Connecting the why with the what/how

At this stage you’ve connected the deeper why of the excel problem (the why had no link with Excel) with the what and the how (failing to make progress in Excel). You’ve done that without going in detail on the content of that deeper why. You’ve only listened and summarized. Your next question did not go further on the why. It made the coachee turn back to the what and the how.
Learning coaches should only be interested in the learning process of the coachee.  That is how learning coaches can work with the logical levels on double loop level without going into the detail of certain topics. Doing so would lead the coachee very far away from the learning purpose.

Powerful

The participant seemed to understand my answer. As matter of fact the entire group was very silent all of a sudden. I asked if they were ok. Yes they were, but it was clear that the introduction into double loop coaching and these levels, had opened a new perspective and awareness for them.
Some eyes started to shine as if they were saying: “Why haven’t I seen this earlier ?” It’s the power of coaching.
This video shows an excellent summary of the Logical Levels

Entrepreneur vs Employee

entrepeneurAre you an entrepreneur ?

I remember the day I applied for an HR Services Manager role in a FMCG firm. That was 13 years ago. This blog tries to bring that memory back to life.
The notion of entrepreneur was apparently very important to my future boss.
The what?”, I asked.
That is already a good sign”, he replied. “You ask what it’s about. Most candidates do not. They simply nod their heads. I often get clichés or some examples when I ask what it means for them to be an entrepreneur.”
So I repeated my question. “What does entrepreneurship mean to you in the role of an employee ? You’re not looking for a freelance HR Manager, right ?”
He smiled. It appears he had a concern. He was worried about the job I had then. I was HR Business Partner in the financial industry. My future boss was wondering about the habits, the culture and the way things were getting done in that industry. He perceived the banking and assurance industry as rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic. And clearly the company I was applying to, wasn’t like that at all.
I listened to his concerns.
Then I told him about the context of a merger and the related change I was working in. I talked about the uncertainties I had to deal with every day. I described how often it was up to myself  to be creative,  to find solutions, and to take decisions. Last but not least, I told him I had to work with colleagues without having any logic or formal line in the organisation.
Then he replied: “You can tell me everything you like. I can’t check all these things. But I clearly feel your huge enthusiasm talking about this. Are you sure you want to quit your current job ?”
Yes, but for other reasons, as I explained earlier.”
OK, Karl”, he said, “let me just explore a bit further your own story about being an entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship for Employees

“First of all”, he continued, “it is important that you do what your job description suggests. Let there be no mistake about that. But then again, that is not enough”. (From here on the quotation marks are omitted).

Two job descriptions

I would appreciate if you’d have two job description after a year in the job.

  • the one in front of you now;
  • another one that you create yourself. You don’t have to write this one down, but it definitely should exist and be visible to everybody.

The job you create yourself, could at a certain moment replace or even overrule the official one you have on paper now.
See it like this. As you have an HR background and as you are applying now for an HR function, I recommend that you use this job content as guideline. Certainly in the beginning, when all is new and you still need to find your way,

Continuous challenges

However once you’ll have found your way, I expect you to create new challenges.  And I want you to consult with me about them. Challenges can be about:

  • roles
  • job content
  • ways of working
  • initiatives
  • projects
  • strategies
  • collaborations with colleagues or external people
  • responsibilities.

Every time we meet, I’d like you to present at least one idea to enlarge, enrich, change your job. And I want you to tell me about at least one error you’ve made.
Quite frankly, I am much more interested in coaching you on those aspects than on your performance in the job as it is described. This being said…
I interrupted him with a smile. Yes, you want me to do the job as well.

The Engagement

Already on the way back, my future leader called me. He asked if I could come in the evening for a last meeting with the CEO. And I was kindly invited not to screw things up because I was number one on his list.
Guess what the CEO asked ?
The conversation repeated pretty much what my future leader had said about the expected entrepreneurial spirit. At the end of the meeting he made me a formal offer. I gladly accepted.
The first year I worked there, I thoroughly explored my entrepreneurial skills. My new colleagues really showed me all the corners of the room. I loved it!
Let me try to summarise these skills.

The skills of an employee-entrepreneur

  • Be hands-on.

    Some tasks are not part of a formal description. But someone needs to do them. Do not hesitate to do them yourself. Especially when you see no one else is picking them up.

  • Ask internal/external “strangers” for help.

    You can’t know everything. Certainly not when it’s not your job. So nobody will ever blame you for asking what you don’t know. On the contrary. They’ll appreciate it. So ask people for help. Also include people you do not know yet.

  • Read and act in between and across the lines.

    Your territory is not somewhere on the organisation chart. Your territory is the large group of people all working for the same company, or on the same projects. Network and have conversations with them regardless their function or place in the organisation.

  • Have courage.

    You’re doing things you’re not used to do.  Sometimes there’s nobody to call and ask how to go ahead. So you may have to take decisions yourself. Take risks, make errors and assume the consequences. Your boss may disagree with your final decision. (S)he will usually agree that the presented options were reasonable for the situation at hand.

  • Be results-oriented.

    Take ownership of many things. You want to complete them successfully. The result (the “what”) is much more important than the “how”. Of course within the context of common sense. You are a can-do person. You cut through and resolve problems others run away from.

  • Grow fast.

    Your judgment becomes stronger and more powerful with each experience, decision or failure.

  • Be energetic.

    You are full of enthusiasm and energy. You consistently generate results that are higher than expected.  You are fully committed to the organisation, its goals and its overall success.

  • Supervision.

    You perform effectively with limited supervision. You are able to self-motivate and set priorities with minimal guidance.

  • Multitask.

    You are flexible to create and accept new assignments and responsibilities. You can take on more than one role until these tasks can eventually be assigned to others.  You’re also willing to do things that others with less responsibilities or skills will take over in later phases.

The environment of an Employee-Entrepreneur

Of course this can only work in the right environment. An employee can only become an entrepreneur if the company encourages him/her to be an entrepreneur. I have known organisations that prefer you to do your job within the lines of your job description without exploring other areas. And that’s fine if organization and employee agree on that and find happiness in it.
Briefly, I think a culture that encourages people to become an entrepreneur, should have the following elements:

  • the belief that teams of entrepreneurial employees do better and work faster than teams of traditional employees would.
  • the willingness to accept mistakes, conflicts and chaos, than a traditional employee environment would.
  • a coaching style more focused on potential than on performance.
  • a reward policy that prioritises success in special initiatives, and not success in the normal job.
  • a very safe and trustful relationship with the direct leader.

I went through an intensive learning curve in this company. This would turn out to be priceless later in my career.

The skills of a real Entrepreneur

You’ve learned how to be an internal entrepreneur. How can you transfer those skills into being a real entrepreneur in the real market ? This is an important question e.g.  when you become consultant after a corporate career.
To be continued.


Continue reading “Entrepreneur vs Employee”

Hiring for Engagement: The Triple C Approach.

Hiring Process and Methodologies

I have always wondered about the “process” aspect of hiring. How does the process aspect relate to the “human” aspect. Or are both just the same?
In most cases applicants go through a standard process. This process consists of various phases, like  a few interviews (with HR, with the future hierarchy) and an assessment. During this process hiring recruiters use certain methodologies, like e.g. STAR or CBI. The approach is not always clear to the candidate. Ideally the candidate should get feedback about the conclusions.
It’s important to understand that this process creates convictions and emotions about “each other”. The mind and the heart work together. In my experience the heart makes the last call to hire/get hired or not.
I have nothing against these approaches. I think they offer tremendous added value. I do not immediately see many better alternatives.
However.

Challenges

Often you are looking for aspects like:

  • the willingness to do the “extra mile” or go “through fires”.
  • the profound feeling of belonging to the living body (metaphor for the team or organization).
  • the capacity to outperform spontaneously without watching the clock.

I am not sure any standard hiring approach will give information on those aspects. I suggest an approach that builds a relationship that fosters performance and retention from the start. The way to do this is to add three simple human “informal” steps into the “formal” process: contact, connect, contract. I call this the triple C approach.

 Triple C of Hiring: Contact – Connect – Contract

Hiring triple C

  1. Contact

    The very first contacts are critical. This is regardless of the used hiring channel. The first contact creates first impressions in both directions. High quality personal contacts (in mails, over the phone) and follow-up are crucial. If something goes wrong in this phase, it’s unlikely you will ever get to the next phase.

  2. Connect

    In my experience this the most essential and critical phase. Slowly but surely me (candidate) and them (employer), become us. The chemistry enables early collaboration before the signing of the contract. The candidate starts thinking for the company and can imagine being a part of it.
    In this phase the hiring manager makes considerations about both competencies and fit. He or she is more competent, but with him or her there’s a better “fit”. More personal reflections get the upper hand. Formal processes and objective recruitment criteria seem to wane. This creates the basis for trust, engagement, the extra mile, excellent integration and even retention.
    The team and organization become willing to adapt to the new colleague. The team is willing to accept the imperfect fit to the original job description. How do you know this? It’s when planned one hour meetings take two hours. When you get to meet more people than initially planned. When this happens you and the body of the organization start to merge.
    If all goes excellently here (not just “good), there’s a big chance for a contract offer.

  3. Contract

    This is just a formality if the contact and connect phase were as excellent as described. Of course salary and other conditions are important (remember when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys). But they will never have the same impact as the human connection established in an early phases.

Process + Humanity

The triple C approach adds humanity to formality. If you want to engage people from the very start, you need to allow for human interaction and considerations.

Fear and faith, excellent Allies.

Fear and FaithTough social times

Belgium is going through tough social times. November and December have been particularly intense in terms of manifestations and strikes. And it may not be over yet.
Union leaders say that people are very worried and afraid for all the (possible) consequences of the government’s intentions. They say it was not really difficult to mobilize their members to strike. Union members are – according to the union leadership – very ready to strike.
I fully respect the worries and emotions of people but I doubt whether strike is the proper solution. We’re not going to solve that in a blog. But the aspect of fear occupied my mind this week.

Fear

Why are people afraid ? Is it fear that drives them into striking ? Why don’t they have faith ? Faith that using other ways (e.g. dialogue instead of strike) will lead to better solutions ?
And if there isn’t any faith or trust left between unions and government, how has it come that far ?
Many questions. No simple answers.
I use sometimes the “SCARF” framework, developed by Dr. David Rock in 2008.
It explains that when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF) are at stake, our brain releases reactive energy. Our brain makes us use our energy in trying to defend and keep what we have. “Let’s not loose !”
 

Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework
Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework

Whenever the same aspects seem to be improved (the opposite of being at stake), also exactly the opposite happens: our brain releases proactive energy. Our brain makes us highly engaged and collaborative to adopt the change. “Let’s win !”
So we move away from the change in the first case. And move towards the change in the second case.
Any simple communication on change can be enough to start this movement. Our brain continuously screens for physical, social threats and rewards. It tries to decrease danger and maximize reward. It makes decisions about everything you interact with in the world.
This is important to understand:

  • Resistance may take various forms. One can fight (e.g. by striking) or flee or freeze. It is not a rational process. People react out of their emotional brain. They act threatened and feel being victims.
  • We use rational statements to articulate our preferences but tend to rely on our feelings when we actually make choices.

Fear drives us away from change. What is needed to drive us towards change ? Even if the change may impact our SCARF negatively ?

Faith

The faith of winning on the long-term, if we’re prepared to “loose” on the short-term ?
The faith that dialogue instead will bring us faster and more efficient in that future ?
The faith that together (unions and government) everybody wins more and faster than each one staying on their own SCARF ?
I get the impression this necessary faith or trust is no longer where it should be between parties. Have some people chosen for radical self-destruction ? I do not understand why the efforts to restart dialogue and trust building, have been so low on the priority list for such a long time

What is needed to reinstall this faith ?

  • Vulnerability

    So far we’ve seen very “macho” behavior: government versus unions and unions versus government. What is going on behind the macho-masks ? Fear at both sides ? The feeling of being powerless ? The conviction the “other side” needs to take the first step ? An honest and vulnerable declaration, like “please, let’s stop this, please let’s listen and talk to each other” may help. No matter from which side it’s coming. Let’s hope these things do happen behind the screens.

  • Empathy

    Does the one side really cares for the other ? And for the general benefit ? Is the government truly feeling the worries of people ?
    Are the unions truly worried about the economy on the long-term and about necessary efforts to be made ?
    We need both to survive: happy, engaged people, embracing change, and an economy to work in.

  • Listening

    In stead of yelling to and fighting with each other on the streets, one could consider to listen. Listen, not to reply, not to give solutions on the short-term, not to recommend, not to decide, and certainly not to judge. But listen, just to listen.
    And even if we do that, I think there is still a long way to go. But at least we will be going towards each other, and not away from each other.

Fear and Faith are Allies

Fear and faith could be excellent allies to make us move from the “away” side to the “towards” side. Vulnerability, empathy and listening are the keys for a successful marriage between fear and faith.
 
 
 
In this movie David Rock himself explains the SCARF framework.

Amusing ourselves to Death Valley

death valley

It’s not about death. It’s about our honeymoon.

Ten years ago my wife and I had our honeymoon. We travelled to the west side of the USA. We did a fantastic tour, starting in LA, going to Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and back to LA. As it was our first time over there, we dit all the “obligatory” sites. Not that it felt that way, because I was almost literally “away from this planet”.  Seeing the stunning beauty of nature and overwhelming environments, e.g. the Grand Canyon.
We also did Las Vegas and Death Valley.

Las Vegas

Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley
Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley

Of course everybody knows Las Vegas. I have questions about the extreme decay and artificiality of this city, literally in the middle of the Nevada desert. How is this possible? I asked myself all the time walking over the strip. Well, it is. It was also a perhaps once in a life “must-see” for us. So we did see it. And we enjoyed it

Suzy

In all this overdo one particular story of Suzy, a waitress in our residence, touched me. You can imagine I am also in my holidays busy with human resources. I noticed she had been very friendly to us during breakfast. Of course, she wants her tip, I thought… But when I forgot to give a tip at the end of the breakfast ( I honestly did not do that on purpose, in Europe there is no such necessary habit), she simply stayed very friendly. In fact, precisely because she continued her behavior, I thought all was ok.
A few minutes later we were getting in our car for our next stop (Death Valley, close to Las Vegas). My wife asked me if I had given a tip. No, I had forgotten the tip! And exactly that girl Suzy had been so very friendly to us.
So I returned to give her a very nice tip and offered her 1000 apologies.
She thanked me and started smiling happily. I asked how she voted with the working circumstances in Las Vegas that are not always optimal. Clients are extremely demanding and spoiled. The competition is killing; the temperature too.

Suzy’s team

She replied: Well, I work in a fantastic team of people who have suffered together some serous shit. And we made it. Things go better now than a few years ago. Our boss is giving us total trust. Sometimes this brings him into trouble with his own hierarchy but he proceeds and so far they let him. Last but not least, there is a lot of humour, sometimes there hear us laugh together at the other site of the strip. Yes, we try to laugh our stress away, together, literally. Sometimes it’s about total nonsense, but if feels so good to laugh together….

And now i am going to share your tip with a colleague who yesterday had exactly the same situation. But she was less lucky. We do that sometimes…

You are kidding ? I thought. No she wasn’t. She waved us out and went to her colleague
You can imagine that, during the ride afterwards to Death Valley, I was very silent. As I am very passionate about engagement and happiness on the work floor, Suzy had just given me a course replacing all the books ever read and blogs ever written. My wife asked me if I was ok. I said yes. Well, she knows me well enough to figure out what was going on. A rare combination of deep reflection and a slightly smiling face… we were on vacation after all 😉

Death Valley

I was not ready at all for Death Valley after this experience. For those who do not know Death Valley. It’s a must see because there is literally  nothing to see. There wasn’t even a sign indicating we had arrived. The landscape became dryer and dryer. Fauna and flora had vanished already some time ago. There was just erosion, a lot of white salt and one road. The contrast with Las Vegas could not be bigger. And the thought that people had created Las Vegas in this very environment became quite morbid. Temperatures up to 50 degrees centigrade. The brochures recommended us not to get out of the car to walk on feet. Some visitors wanting to do a “small tour” and leaving their car on the road, take enormous risks. They also recommended not to use the air conditioning all the time for obvious energy reasons. And to take in extra water.

Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley
Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley

Jeremy

Anyway, after driving about 20 kilometers in this environment, we were still not sure we had found the place… there was no sign. You can’t miss Vegas, but you can miss “nothing”. To our surprise there was a very small restaurant. The only one it seemed later on. We entered, ordered water and asked if we were already in Death Valley. Jeremy, the cook, answered we were almost out of it again.
Ah, ok, so this was it ?
Wasn’t it dead enough ? He asked.
Sure, sure, but now we’ve done it without “officially” knowing this was it.
That must be horribly frustrating indeed… I heard him thinking cynically.

Jeremy’s team

Then he introduced us to his team. As we were probably the only customer of that day, they were really glad to see “someone”. They all started talking about their life, their homes, their work in this restaurant, and their travelling in the USA.
Then I made a very stupid mistake. I asked if they would not rather work in Las Vegas. It’s a place were living surely is more comfortable than in Death Valley.
Never ever ! they answered in chorus. My wife looked a bit embarrassed.
I did not have to do a lot.

Joe

A man named Joe started talking. He was an African-American.
This is really the only place where nobody ever looks at me or treats me as a “black man”. Perhaps because there is nobody anyway. The brotherhood that we’ve built together here is phenomenal. We have to here. There is nothing out there. We’re up to ourselves. If we don’t continually support each other, and that goes further than professional life,  we’re all dead. And you may take that literally. We make fun, we thoroughly know each other, we are also an amateur band. When we have a conflict, we have a rule that the younger always takes the initiative to solve it. When he does so, the older start first with appreciation for his courage and listens intensively to the younger. That way, both generations work on their weaknesses: courage for the young. Listening for the experienced older. We recruit extremely carefully and exceptionally, you can imagine. Every new person must truly 200% fit in, or won’t make it.
So, for as far as someone can be happy in this place, I truly am. I would never want to switch Vegas. This kind of thing, simply does not exist there.
At that moment he boss interrupted: hey Joe, listen, we’ve truly enjoyed the show but would you please do us favor and drink your beer. Ours is gone already man…
And they all started laughing… The other side of the valley couldn’t here it. There is no other side. But I was – again – completely gone!

Two totally different places, one lesson.

Two totally different people saying exactly the same:

I want to be here because  I am happy here. And because I cannot imagine having equal fun, support and appreciation at any other place.

In both cases a specific context contributes to this:

  • a leader behaving in a certain way
  • a very intensive collaboration, co-creation and true friendship within the team
  • lots of humor
  • the awareness and gratefulness about these unique circumstances.
  • and so many other, invisible, unspoken but extremely important small things.

 

Other blog to read

Do Happy Cows give more milk?
This is not my movie, but it gives a clear impression of the trip anno 2012

 
 

Ready or not, Transition comes.

Tranistion comes

Transition and resilience

In an earlier blog on transition, I wrote about resilience. Resilience offers a way of dealing with continuous change. Or with transition, as I like to call it. I believe in the power of resilience. I have experienced it can make a real difference. There isn’t  a framework offering a real “grip” on continuous transition. If models do not offer support, guidance or, grip, we’re delivered to ourselves and to our resilience. Then transition becomes much more something to “live with” than to “manage”.
But there’s an interesting exception: the 3 zones of transition, by William Bridges,. It’s a framework about transition, not change. By writing about resilience I realized that this model acknowledges that

  • transition is permanently ongoing
  • transition happens almost „organically“

Many other models desperately try to manage, carry out and „close“ change as if it were the sum of ongoing projects. This model does not try to manage anything. It tries to understand transition.

3 Zones or phases

Bridges explains transition by 3 zones or phases:

  1. The zone of ending, losing, letting go.
  2. The neutral zone.
  3. The zone of the new beginning.

The border lines between the zones are not calculated “milestones”. They are “lines”. Nothing more. They could be at any other place in this graphic. Where they are is not important. It is very important that they’re there. They underline more the ongoing and organic character of transition, than any traditional model on change (management) ever would or could.
 

The 3 zones of transition by William Bridges
The 3 zones of transition by William Bridges

What are these zones standing for ?

1. Ending, losing, letting go

Changes includes losses. These losses can be about: (1) comfort and security, (2) familiar people and environment, (3) networks and resources, (4) expected outcomes, (5) power, influence and territory and (6) expertise.
How do you deal with losses ?

  • Don‘t be surprised when there’s overreaction.
  • Acknowledge the losses openly.
  • Define what is over and what is not.
  • Treat the past with respect.
  • Let people take a piece of the old way with them.
  • Accept the reality and importance of subjective losses
  • Listen with empathy.

2. The neutral zone

The neutral zone is a time when all old certainties break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore. Anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different. The „old“ is gone and the „new“ is not here yet.
There are some dangers in this neutral zone:

  • People‘s anxiety rises and their motivation falls.
  • People miss more work than at other times.
  • Old weaknesses, previously patched over, rise again.
  • People are overloaded. They get mixed signals.
  • Systems are in flux. Priorities get confused. Information is badly communicated. Important tasks are not done.
  • People might become polarized. Some want to rush forward and others want to go backward.

How to manage the neutral zone ?
Normalize the neutral zone. Create temporary systems for the neutral zone. Strengthen intra-group connections. „We are all in this boat together.“  You can install  a monitoring team to offer a point of access to the organization‘s grapevine. This team can also correct misinformation and counter rumours. It should enable bottom-up communication and show the organization wants to know how things are going for people. Finally, the team needs to check plans or communications before their announcement.
You should use the neutral zone as creatively as possible.

3. The new beginning 

A new beginning will take place only after people are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things the new way. People want beginnings but fear them at the same time. You cannot force new beginnings according to your personal wishes. You can only encourage, support and reinforce them.
People need 4 P‘s to make a new beginning:

  • Purpose
  • Picture
  • Plan
  • Part to play

 
This nice movie summarizes it once more.
 

Politics or Polethics ?

nachtwacht

Are Politics negative?

Does an organization without political games or hidden agendas exist? If  I would ever see such an organization, I’d be very surprised. Political behavior is of all times and places. And it’s often seen as negative.
Why is that? The term refers to things we usually don’t like:

  • Manipulation, abuse of people or entire parts of an organization for the sake of one’s own interest.
    “(s)he simply use fear to manipulate, to have that position.
  • Putting the own interest before the company’s interest.
    “(s)he is only thinking about his/her own agenda”
  • Lack of transparency.
    “of course (s)he will say yes in your face, but behind your back…”
  • Lack of trust
    “Watch out for him/her: (s)he’s a very political player !”
  • Willingness to take “bad” decisions if they contribute to personal ambitions.

Politics - Machiavelli
Machiavelli wrote about Politics in “Il Principe”

This behavior reminds us about what Machiavelli described in his “Il Principe”. This kind of political behavior is the total opposite of  authentic, serving and vulnerable leadership. Is political behavior always negative ? Are the reasons to act politically always negative ? Are there other ways to be political?
I have met several leaders who were not “like that”. They did not fit the profile of the politician. But they were quite good in politics.
They shared with me an important reason why they were leader. Precisely because they had political skills.

Are Politics about skills ?

Is political behavior suddenly “promoted” from something evil into a skill ? Lominger defined political savvy in this way.
You have political savvy if (1) you can maneuver through complex political situations effectively and quietly, (2) you are sensitive to how people and organizations function, (3) you anticipate where the land mines are and plan your approach accordingly and (4) you view corporate politics as a necessary part of organizational life and work.
It is not just a skill. It is a necessary part of corporate life. It allows you to anticipate land mines and plan your approach accordingly. These two aspects drew my attention.

  • Corporate life

    Lominger talks about corporate life, not work. Life on the work floor and in the boardroom is about a lot more than performance, organization charts, KPI’s, logical decision-making. These things are visible. There are also invisible things like hidden ambitions, goodwill, emotions, conflicts. In order to live a happy, successful (corporate) life, you need to deal with both the invisible and visible aspects. You need skills that allow you to go beyond the visible. Political savvy is one of those.

  • Anticipate land mines

    Corporate savvy allows you to anticipate land mines, not set them up. You do not need to become a politician like Machiavelli described politicians. But there’s also no need to become a victim of land mines that have been set up by others. Is that it? Mastering corporate politics is necessary only to avoid becoming the victim of games other people play? And it’s about not setting up intrigues and land mines yourself ?

It took me several years of experience to find out myself what it’s all about. It’s not about finding out when you are (not) allowed to enter the political arena. It’s about finding out the most effective way of achieving your objectives.

The informal organization

The first blog I published on hrchitects.net was about the informal organization. I wrote about the way things get decided and done in an organization. It often differs a lot from how the formal organization works. Real power and real collaboration between colleagues make the difference. But they are often not visible in the formal organization. You need savvy to see them, to mobilize them, to make use (not abuse) of them. Name it informal savvy or political savvy. It’s not about the name. It’s about mastery of the skill.

Polethics

You may find this a play of words. I believe corporate politics can be very ethical. If they are, I call them polethics. You have a choice how you deal with difficult situations like how you achieve team and company targets (not your personal ones). You can choose what to do when personal ambitions, agendas, or emotions  get in the way. You can choose between complaining (becoming a victim of “their” politics) and the path of polethics:

  1. Choose to participate in the political arena, when it seems to be ‘the only way’.
  2. Define a strategy, partly formal, partly informal.
  3. Design various scenarios of how you can proceed. You can be sure things will go a different way,  but a man well prepared…
  4. Mobilize those parts of the (in)formal organization that are willing to help reaching the objectives.
  5. Reach for your objectives.
  6. Celebrate the victory (in ethical corporate politics).

This movie summarizes it:

Houston, we have some conflicts!

conflicts
I have been coaching some people through conflicts recently. I saw them taking up various behaviors. Going from yelling to each other, to manipulating each other. To end up simply avoiding or even physically running away from conflicts. And there was me, trying to fix things.
No, of course not. Only the partners in a conflict can fix it. For themselves and for each other. My mission was to make existing conflicts “visible” and somehow “negotiable”. I do this by coaching team members; first individually, and then in group. I learned once more that conflicts art part of our work and life. One cannot live or work without facing conflicts now and then. Conflicts are very normal and human. They have always existed and they will continue to exist. Even better: they should always exist!
Conflicts can be of very high value! They can trigger breakthroughs one would never have without conflicts. (And sometimes they make you write blogs). It’s hard to imagine when you’re busy having fights, that the long-term conflicts cause changes, including positive ones. Many people will probably agree. But in a real conflict,  people are not very enthusiastic. We can see the benefits of conflicts, but we are usually not too fond of going through them. We don’t like conflicts in general.

Conflicts

What is in fact a “conflict”? My personal definition: Any situation in which your concerns, desires, needs, ideas, values, or objectives differ from those of another person. So it is possible that two persons are in conflict with each other without any visible demonstration of it. Conflicts are a natural part of life and no one’s “fault”. Their results however are not naturally predetermined. They may:

  • escalate and lead to unproductive results;
  • be resolved and lead to even better performance;
  • be avoided and continue to exist ‘underground’;
  • take many other forms, change of form, and go on for years…

Two basic reflexes

Once there is a conflict, what happens usually? We naturally respond to conflicts in one of these wo ways:

  • You want to “get away from the conflict”. You become aware the other person has e.g. another vision. You become aware that sooner or later this will cause frictions. For now you decide not to do anything and just wait and see. Or the other person clearly states his/her vision is “obviously” the only one correct. You seriously disagree and would like to react, but for now you decide not to…
  • You are ready to “take on anyone who comes your way”. Imagine the same person with a differing vision. You walk straight to him/her, telling clearly you disagree and that you expect him/her to follow your vision.

None of these two responses is good or bad. They are personal responses. They must never be judged. It’s very important however that we learn that we can choose. We can and should intentionally and deliberately choose our response to conflicts.

Conflict management

You can indeed manage conflicts by choosing how to deal with them.
Conflict management starts from the principles that:

  • Not all conflicts can or should necessarily be resolved;
  • A set of styles and modes allows to decrease unproductive escalation and increase productive outcome.

By choosing a conflict style and modes, we are more likely to solving the problem at hand.

Conflict styles and modes

Source: Introduction to Conflict Management, Thomas & Thomas
The two basic styles of all conflict-handling modes are “Assertiveness” and “Cooperativeness”. Assertiveness indicates your willingness to push through “your way”. Cooperativeness indicates your willingness to go for a “common way”.Within the framework of these two basic styles, there are five conflict-handling modesYour conflict mode is in general the result of your skills and the situation you’re in.
 
Thomas Kilmann Conflicts

  • Competing

    “My way or the highway”

    The competing mode is high on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is appropriate when quick action needs to be taken. When unpopular decisions need to be made. When vital issues must be handled, or when one is protecting self-interests.

  • Avoiding 

    “I’ll think about it tomorrow”

    The avoiding mode is low on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is great when you have issues of low importance. To reduce tensions and to buy some time Or when you know your limitations and allow others ownership.

  • Accommodating

    “It would be my pleasure”

    The accommodating mode is low on assertiveness and high on cooperation. It’s a good mood to show you’re reasonable. To develop performance and to create good will. It also helps to retreat and maintain perspective, or to keep peace. Some people use the accommodating mode when the issue or outcome is of low importance to them.

  • Compromising

    “Let’s make a deal”

    The compromising mode is moderate on assertiveness and moderate on cooperation. This mood is ideal when issues of moderate importance need to be resolved. When resolution needs to be reached with equal power and strong commitment. When temporary solutions are acceptable or necessary. When there are time constraints and competing/collaborating have not worked…

  • Collaborating

    “Two heads are better than one”

    The collaborating mode is high on assertiveness and high on cooperation. Recommended when solutions need to be integrated. When learning needs to happen and when perspectives needs to be merged. Or when commitment needs to be gained or relationships need to be improved.

Nothing new ?

I am quite sure this framework is not  a “revolution” for most people. They have learned through life and experience to deal with conflicts in certain ways.Less sure for me is if they’re happy all the time with their way of dealing with conflicts. And if they are aware it’s all about choosing an appropriate mode. It’s not about always reacting in the same way, because they’re used to that.
Are you most of the time consciously choosing one of the possible modes ? Or are you adapting to how others make choices ?
Do you have a preferred mode you use more than the other modes ? Are you happy with that mode ?
All these modes are “ok” on condition that you make conscious choices, each time you use them. If you don’t feel happy about this, it probably means you should choose differently or vary a bit more in the use of the modes.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2P9jW4_Q8s
Choosing and being able to adopt other styles, requires of course some skills. I will write about these skills in one of my next blogs.
 
So in the meantime, Houston, we have some conflicts. And that’s OK.
 
 
Read also on hrchitects:
Conflict equals Opportunity