Behaviour is the Cornerstone of Strategy Execution

 

A story

That night I decided to have a steak with French fries and salad. Add a delicious (expensive) glass of wine and the meal was complete. I ate my steak and left my salad for last. But when I started my salad, I found a long black hair. So I stopped and called the waiter. Here’s what happened.
Me: Waiter, there’s a hair in my salad.
Waiter: It’s not mine.
Me: It’s not mine either.
Waiter: I’ll take it back to the kitchen.
—- After a couple of minutes the waiter returned
Waiter: I’ve checked and the hair does not belong to anyone in the kitchen.
Me: So what am I supposed to do with that information?
— The waiter apoligizes and goes to talk to the restaurant manager. Then he comes back.
Waiter: We’re sorry about this. The house offers you a glass of wine. And it’s an expensive glass too!
— I was happy about the glass of wine and looked forward to it. But then the waiter brought the bill – just like that – and gave it to me without saying a word. The glass of wine that I already had was deducted from the bill.

What we can learn from an everyday Situation

This is an everyday situation. A hair in your food, it can happen. And when it happend, the customer experience is not necessarily destroyed. It depends on how the person facing the customer responds to the situation. In this case he handled the situation badly on two occasions. I was not happy and will not return.
How an employee handles a customer depends on many factors. Competences and attitudes play a role. Social intelligence, flexibility, initiative, creativity, … all of these help to improve the customer experience. But there’s also context: apparently the waiter did not have the freedom to make a decision and make an offer to compensate.
So before we put the entire load on the individual employee, we need to check the context where people work.

20,000,000 chances to mess up

In service we have as many chances to create positive customer experiences as there are interactions. A retailer that has 20,000,000 customers who visit one of the physical shops, has 20,000,000 chances to do well or do badly.
And the same goes for digital customer experiences. Every time I use my bank app, I can have a positive experience or a negative one. And of course I can be delighted (in NPS terms that would mean that I give a score of 9 or 10 on 10) or not.

Confirmation of Strategy

The thing is that these experiences are a result of a strategy and its execution. Every time there is an encounter (a touchpoint) between customers and the service provider we can confirm, reinforce or weaken the strategy. And we know what customers do when they have a consistently bad experience or when experiences are inconsistent.
So when you enter a shop, a restaurant, a bank, … you could ask yourself what the strategy is. And maybe the answer to this question will tell you why you go there in the first place. But here’s the thing. It’s the behaviour of people that will determine the answer to that question. Even when the strategy is discounts or product excellence, there is no tolerance anymore for bad behaviour.

Behaviour should be consistent with the strategy at all times. Without this, any strategy will fail.

In the case of the story, the waiter seemed to be untrained and unprepared. His clumsiness got worse as he came back with useless information. He apologised very late and gave a solution I did not need. The fact that he responded in a transactional way, by trying to buy my satisfaction instead of giving me a better experience made it worse. So maybe the waiter is in the wrong profession, and lacks the talent to be in service. Or maybe the manager does not create the right context for people to behave properly. Either way, the behaviour was inconsistent with a customer-oriented strategy which a hospitality usually is.
 

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

Temples of Emotion and Rationality

Rationality

We like to think of organizations as temples of rationality. They gather resources to reach a certain target. Decisions are taken based on thorough analysis of the facts and evidence at hand. In those temples there is no place for emotions.
Well we could not be more wrong. Organizations are full of emotions. And very often these emotions get the upper hand over rationality, or at least both interfere.
Many companies even start through emotions. A longing to succeed, to beat the competitor, to arrive first, to impress, … And when organizations become more established, they build rational layers over the emotions. But that does not mean they’re still there.
People feel jealousy or disappointed when they do not get that promotion. People are frustrated when they are again in a time-wasting meeting. People coöperate based on personal preferences. People are proud of their achievements and of those of the organization. People are scared when something happens they cannot understand. People feel uncertain in the light of change.
It should not be like that, you might think. But it is like that. Whatever we try, emotions prevail. And when we try to control the emotional side of organizations, I think we are making thing worse. The answer to the problem of emotion is procedures, governance, hierarchy, rules, … And while these answers might solve some of the rational challenges of organizations, they do not deal with the emotional side. Organizations are temples of emotion, more than that they are temples of rationality.
Companies are Temples of Emotion

Emotions are there

If you think emotions are not that important, I invite you to think again. Ask yourself some questions;

  • Why has your leader defined certain targets. Are all of these rational? Are there other reasons for the strategic plan? What’s the real driver of ambition? It’s emotion.
  • Why is someone so keen on that promotion? It’s emotion.
  • How does a team work well together? It’s based on emotions.
  • Why have we hired this person and not another one? There are emotions at play.
  • What causes someone to be engaged? It’s emotions.
  • Have you ever hired someone who you do not like? Maybe. But if yes, how hard was it to work with that person? It’s emotional.
  • Why are there conflicts? Many of them find root in emotions. And if not, the consequences are emotional (check out this blog on conflicts).

All these questions refer to emotions.
And do you remember the last time you have started a job? How important was the hiring manager in your decision? Would you ever work for someone you despise? Probably not. And if you do, you will have to cope with your emotions. Going to work every day to work for a lousy leader will impact your emotions and engagement heavily (check out this blog on engagement).
Even decisions with high financial risk are taken based on emotions. For a complete review on that check this article. he reason for that is that rationality is bounded. People are not rational decision-makers. They do not decide on mathematics. There’s a lot of emotions at play anytime a decision is taken.
There is no point in banning emotions from the office. They are there. And it’s good they are there. Without them organisations would become human deserts where people would stop the normal natural processes.

Corrections

The question is whether you should take rational decision corrected for emotions or corrected by emotions? That’s a difficult question to answer. You will never have all information before taking a decisions. You cannot know the unknown. And yet, we are asked to take decisions all the time. Some techniques might help you to avoid decision biases (we usually think these biases are negative) and to increase the quality of decisions. And yes, anecdotal decision-making usually is cumbersome (check this blog on decision-making). So these help to make the decisions.
A variation of the question if we should take emotional decision corrected by rational elements. Some endeavours started like that. Columbus has sailed out, but he did not know what the journey would be like. He studied all the maps, and integrated everything what was known in his planning. And yet, he ended up in America instead of in India.
Could it be that if we let rationality go, we might have much more serendipity and innovation? Would we have more entrepreneurship and risk-taking? I believe so.

Flying to the Moon

Flying to the moon in 1969 was an emotional event, with an emotional decision behind it. Check this review on the Apollo Program and how prestige was at its origin. Using primitive technology the NASA got people on the earth’s satellite. They were beaten by The Russians who put the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into space. There was not really a grounded reason to go there in the first place besides overcoming a challenge and beating the USSR. Neither of these are rational reasons. But still, the decision led to a lot of other developments, and you could not underestimate the consequences of the race into space between the Russians and Americans.
Today, interest for manned space flight has waned. Space agencies resort to cheaper unmanned flights to gather information of space. They send smaller devices to planets and comets. And then there’s Mars. There are plans of sending people to Mars. It’s a long and dangerous journey. And the journey is one-way. 200,000 people volunteered. The fact that so many people show interest for a suicidal mission, is revealing. People are emotional beings. And emotions override reason, if not every time, still most of the time.

Embrace emotions

So it’s an illusion to build organizations solely based on rational design principles. Organizational designers and decision-makers must take into consideration that emotions are omnipresent. And the challenge is not to smother them, but to make use of them. Because they give people the sense that they are human. Also at work. So by acknowledging emotions at work, people are treated as people. And not as some rational derivative or reduction of humanity.
 
 

The one Way to kill Employee Engagement

 
There are many ways to kill employee engagement. Here’s a possible list:

  1. Do not communicate about the goals, vision, …
  2. Never give feedback about what people are doing.
  3. Check every move people make.
  4. Put yourself first
  5. Don’t apply the team/company rules on yourself
  6. Be dishonest.
  7. Make them ask for permission before doing something.
  8. Show no interest whatsoever in who people are.
  9. Talk negatively about the company.
  10. Do not care for wellbeing
  11. Put people under pressure as motivation technique.
  12. Leave the office before other people do (every day).
  13. Think it’s normal that people put in extra hours.
  14. Allow incompetent and disengaged people to stay on board.
  15. Make arbitrary decisions, don’t bother to explain them.
  16. Do not allow people to benefit from the company’s flexible work arrangements.
  17. Tell people they’re useless.
  18. Don’t show vulnerability, don’t allow others to show vulnerability.
  19. Never make exceptions.
  20. Always make exceptions.
  21. Hire people who are weaker than you.
  22. Insist on people doing things your way.
  23. Never surprise them.
  24. Don’t show respect for your customer.
  25. Talk negatively about your boss.
  26. Never apologize for things you’ve done.
  27. Never say thank you.
  28. Be a micro-manager.
  29. Measure everything.
  30. Rank & yank people.
  31. Don’t have team meetings. Do everything in one-to-one meetings.
  32. Don’t keep your promises.
  33. Forbid people to show emotions at work.
  34. Never talk informally.
  35. Manage people with to-do-lists.
  36. Don’t show courage in difficult times.
  37. Forget birthdays (of some members of your team).
  38. Hide behind the mandate that you (do not) have.
  39. Hide things from people.
  40. Don’t look into their eyes.
  41. Never help them when they are in trouble.
  42. Say to people you’d like to fire them, but that HR won’t let you.
  43. Never defend them when they are under attack.
  44. Don’t make use of their talents and strengths.
  45. Write them emails at night, asking for answers by 8:00 am.
  46. Keep files on them, and make sure they know this. Keep track of everything they do.
  47. Blame them publicly.
  48. Think the H in HR stands for Humiliation.
  49. Think you’re irreplaceable.
  50. Never ask how people feel.
  51. Take the credit for what they’ve done right.
  52. Be indifferent to their proposals and ideas.
  53. Think you have (to have) all the answers, and if you don’t, make them up.
  54. Ask people to sty late (Hey, you’ve ordered the pizza).
  55. Build a culture of internal competition (win-lose).
  56. Don’t trust people.

In one word: be a lousy leader.
 
 

Going against the Grain

Grain

Go against the Grain

The expression “to go against the grain” means to say or do things that are not usually said or done. One of the biggest organizational challenges is to develop a culture in which this is possible, or even encouraged (cf blog on the dissident voice).
But people who go against the grain are hard to handle for a manager. Very often managers are looking for comfort. They do not like people who do not follow automatically and who ask cutting knife questions. But remember that it takes courage to go against the grain. And if you give them the necessary space, they will be of great value to you and your team or company.

Why Someone chooses to go against the Grain

A first reason might just be personality and value-driven. Some people just do that. They will always question the status quo for different reasons. A lot of time these reasons will be positive. They just want to do well, move on, do better. They go the extra mile and they do not accept mediocrity or short-term solutions that will need to be revised later on. They tend to look ahead.
A second reason might be circumstantial. The circumstances force them to go against the grain. Everyone potentially can go against the grain. So if you see that someone does that, ask yourself what it is that makes him or her do that. If going against the grain is a new kind of behavior you should worry or at least be interested.
A third reason might be health-related. People who have been very loyal and have put their energy at the service of some cause, might get exhausted. They might get exhausted because they feel there is no appreciation for their efforts. At a certain moment they turn their energy against the very cause they have been fighting for. This is the essence of burn-out. If someone is in that case, the only thing a company should do, is take care of that person.

The Value of going against the Grain

Going against the grain means that the person willingly takes actions that are different from that what is expected. It goes beyond voicing dissidence. It’s like the salmon: going against the stream to reach a different target than the water. Most fish follow the current, the salmon does not. The energy the salmon needs to go against the current is tremendous. It takes skill and perseverance to do that. It’s just the same for people.

It takes skill and perseverance to be a salmon.

Companies need people who go against the grain. The reason is simple. These are people that are often the moral compass. They challenge mainstream ideas and do not take anything for granted. Oh yes, they are difficult to manage. But having them in your company creates value. Acknowledging their energy will simply give them more energy.
 
 

Towards a new World of We?

new world of we

Common interest versus personal interest

Have you noticed? There’s an evolution towards a “new world of we”. That’s a world where common interest comes before personal interest. Increasingly people are disapproving behaviours that go against the general interest. Even more, people are uniting to build new meaningful connections in which the general interest is dominant. Three examples illustrate this evolution. (1) The idea of the cooperative enterprise is back. (2) The past years have seen also collective action like the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street. But this has weakened. (3) And under public pressure governments are limiting certain practices that are at the origin of the 2008 financial crisis. These are interesting evolutions in a society that has focussed on individualism as basis for it organisation.

The old world of me

The new world of we is based on the (1) universal need to belong to something bigger and the need for togetherness and (2) on the increasing resentment of how the behaviour of some has changed the lives of many, for the worse.
Don’t be mistaken. The causes of the crisis lie also with the many, not only with the few. We as a society have taken many things for granted: cheap textile, cheap food, cheap consumer electronics, housing, two cars, consumption of social security benefits … Our entire society has been built on the idea of producing and consuming more and on earning more to be able to buy more stuff we don’t really need. We have come to define our happiness and even our identity on material expressions of ourselves instead of spiritual and social expressions. In the process we have lost connectivity and spirituality defined as belonging to a system, a community. Our society has become obsessed with growth instead of sustainable prosperity, possession instead of well-being, rights instead of duties. And there is this tremendous pressure to be successful, defined as being better and having more than the other. This competitive definition of identity is the core of the old world of me.
So my question is if this evolution towards a new world of we means that our behaviour is fundamentally changing. How many people are prepared to let go of some of the nice and comfortable (sedative?) characteristics of the old world of me? Does the new world of we mean that we are approaching a state of interdependence, in which ancient values of human kindness, compassion, ecological grounding, … will conquer greed?

The new world of we

The new world of we is not a world without differences. It’s one of equality. It’s not one of uniformity, but of diversity. It’s not a world of exclusion, but of inclusion. It’s not a world of anonymity, but of accountability. It’s not a world of indifference, but of tolerance and respect. It’s not a grey world, but a world full of colorful patterns. The new world of we is a world where people – citizens, employees, … – join in order to make things happen no one can do alone. It’s a world where people give before taking and cannot hide within a maze of public systems. It’s a world in which meaningfulness is the driving force.
The thought of coöperation and doing things that serve the general interest might be stronger than we think. It’s a matter of togetherness. Could it be a part of our natural reflexes?
If this is the case, how is it possible that the old world of me has become so strong? I guess we have been inspired by personal gains and not by collective gains. We have developed value systems that fostered egocentric behaviour. We have been idealizing personal success and independence above collective well-being, progress and prosperity. We might have underestimated the need for integration and inclusiveness and overestimated the cohesive capacity of society.

There is no society?

Margaret Thatcher allegedly said :

There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

This sentence has been taken out of context. She said also something else:

There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

I agree with that quote as much as I disagree with many other things that she has said and done. And I disagree with the statement that society does not exist. What is lacking in her definition is the “togetherness”.
For generations we have not taken full accountability of the consequences of our behaviour and we have burdoned future generations in order to enjoy many current pleasures. Sloterdijk calls this “futurism”. But let’s not forget, this futurism has been the basis of the material prosperity of many. It has also allowed companies to attract funds needed for research and development, innovation. But we have created a society that focuses on immediate pleasure, to be obtained by individual and competitive action. Moreover this is combined with a focus on entitlement: my flexibility, my rights, my prerogatives, … The idea of personal obligation towards the other has waned. So we are in bad shape.

Differences

The new world of we still allows for individual initiative and success. It applauds people who take on endeavours that create value. The new world of we allows for differences between people, but not for unjust inequality. The new world of we defines justice as fairness, like John Rawls did. It has no tolerance for people who ruthlessly take advantage of others. And it has compassion for those who are weaker. It has no tolerance for those who abuse social care systems or who do not put their talent into action.
But I am skeptical. The current model of the world is not that of interdependency but of independency. Looking at what made the West into the example for so many nations and cultures, Niall Ferguson, defined six killer apps: competition, science, property, modern medicine, consumerism and work ethic. Some of these killer apps are now causing the western world to break up. Competition has been the basis for progress in science, innovation, … but it has led to very destructive behaviours as well. Consumerism has led to a certain kind of prosperity but it is based on growth and depletion of natural resources and ecological devastation. And the problem is, that we cannot easily stop.
The new world of we might be the answer to many of the problems that humanity is facing. But there is one issue. We have to step in that new world together. And there’s the challenge. If we cannot evolve together towards a state of interdependency, and if we continue to excessively value independency and competitiveness above the social aspect of humanity, we shall not make it. The new world of we will be based on coöperation and togetherness. But like the sociologist Richard Sennet says in his book Together, coöperation is a skill. It takes an effort. And not everyone has the talent for it. The superficial communities of the web are caricatures of what the new world of we could be.

Interdependent companies in the World of We

Companies suffer from the old world of me. In times of networking, co-creation and intertwined economic processes the behavior linked to this old world is potentially harmful. Companies can join the new world of we by

  • involving employees more than ever; by focussing on what connects people.
  • creating policies that foster inclusion of people, employability, …;
  • developing practices of corporate social responsibility that are more than mere ethical window dressing or social tourism;
  • getting involved in local communities;
  • sharing know-how with people through networking, buddy-systems, open systems;
  • offering chances to people who have maybe a less privileged background and a difficult access to work;
  • focussing on the long-term and sustainable development and not the short-term maximisation …;
  • joining networks that have a common purpose that exceeds the company’s interests;
  • focussing on the personal accountability in a collective context.

Even with this new focus on the common, attention needs to be given to the person. By providing a context that enables people to experience professional and personal success, companies also contribute to the new world of we. Success must be meaningful. And what’s important: by focussing on togetherness and interdependence, companies will develop a sustainable competitive advantage.
Dialogue
In all this dialogue is crucial.  It’s a choice.
 
 
 
 
Reading
Fergusson, N (2012). The West and the Rest. London, Penguin Books.
Senett, R. (2012). Together. The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. Yale, University Press.
Sloterdijk, P. (2012) interview in De Groene Amsterdammer.
Thatcher, M. (1987). http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=106689

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

 
 

Energy Shortage?

energyBlack-out

In Belgium, a possible local shortage of electricity (an organized “black-out”) is menacing many companies, individuals and families, spread over 6 areas in the country. Because of this news, all actors have become fully aware of the risk of running out of light, electricity and even some basic infrastructure. The temporary closing of two nuclear power plants, suddenly made the people aware of their dependency of electricity and gas. Awareness is the first and necessary step for starting an effective change process.
Now consider this question: How do you prepare yourself for such an energy black-out?

  1. Personally: You gather relevant information. You foresee some nice candles and blankets in the house. You’re turning off some devices to save energy, … .
  2. The people around you: You inform your family. You share some best practices with your neighbours. You talk about the upcoming problem with your friends (maybe they can give you some advice too).
  3. “The house” : You consider structural measures to improve your energy consumption. You need to ask some questions. Is my house energy-proof? What are the alternatives? How can I gain some sustainable energy instead of wasting it? You can ask for a temporary energy advisor/coach who coaches you.
solar panels
(C) Franky242 on freedigitalphotos.net

Personal and Company Energy Level

Now back to business: What about your personal energy level? Do you feel still comfortable?  Are there enough provisions to go through the next reorganization within your company? And what about the general energy level of your colleagues? Are they aware? Are they pro-actively taking actions?
What can we as (HR) business professionals learn from the above phenomenon? Just consider the same question: what do you do to prepare yourself for not falling out of energy?

  1. Personally. You are individually responsible for driving your career. Sometimes you go fast and you’re using plenty of fuel. Sometimes you slow down a bit. Compare your long-term employability to the weather seasons. They also come in cycles. Your career goes from spring to summer, and from autumn to winter. And then spring starts again. Each season requires a different energy level. In what season is your career now?
  1. The people around you: As HR professional, you help to increase the skills and development of the mindset of the leaders in your company to become real people managers. They are the (energy) coach of their team. They should be aware of the long term employability of their team members. Leaders who are investing in the professional and personal development of their employees, are taking care of the structural energy level of them. They focus on the strengths of their people and are succeeding in discovering the unfold potential.
  1. “The house”: In order to anchor the structural energy level of the whole company, HR should also contribute to design “an energy-saving company structure” (just like the construction of a passive house). The result should be a sustainable collaboration culture, that is adaptable to multiple changes (both inside as externally driven). This means that organization structures should be sufficiently flexible. It also means that we don’t depend on function descriptions but mostly act based on roles and projects rather than on departments. And most of all, it means that there is trust within the company.

energy scale
How does your company rate on this energy scale?

 
Each house in Belgium that is for rent or sale on the real estate market must have an energy performance certificate.
How does your company should score on such a scale? Think about it. And manage your energy.