Why we all should be Luddites.

Luddites

The Luddites

A friend of mine once said “I’m such a Luddite“. I had never heard of Luddites before. The Luddites were a group of textile workers who protested against the mechanization in the textile industry in the early 19th Century in England. The new machines had left them jobless. They had been replaced by lower-skilled and lower-paid workers that could run the machines. The name comes from James Ludd, who had destroyed two machines himself.
The Luddites did not win. There resistance was quite massive, and still they did not win. 200 years ago the army was used to break that resistance. The resistance was isolated, in one industry. And it could not stop the introduction of new technologies at that time.

A Shift

There are fears for our future. I don’t think we will have a jobless future, like Martin Ford suggests. However, we will need a different approach in the talent market (see my blog on the jobless future and on Humans and Robots). We are experiencing a shift, comparable to the shifts we had when the wheel was invented, print was introduced, the steam engine changed the industrial world.  Today digitalization disrupts many traditional industries.
There are robots that mow the lawn, automated vacuum cleaners, drones, … The technological progress means that robots can emulate a human’s sensory and cognitive capabilities. Companies are integrating artificial intelligence in more decision and service processes than ever. Almost every activity can to a certain extent be performed, supported or enhanced by some kind of robotics or artificial intelligence.

Are the Luddites back?

So if that’s the case, should we expect the Luddites to return? There is something like neo-luddism. It’s a word that stands for the resistance against technology and consumerism. You could say that it’s a movement of resistance against blind innovation.
But I do not see this happening. Any (technological) revolution will be met with some resistance. Two centuries ago, the Luddites were just one example of this. Usually it’s the people who have the most to lose, who will resist. But at the end, the (r)evolution takes place.
And compared to former changes, changes today take place faster than before. There is no time for resistance. Look at Uber. They have grown so fast. And there are massive protests by taxi-drivers in cities where Uber enters the market. And yes, Uber adapts. AirBnB complies to local regulations. But they are not stopped.
Could there be new Luddites standing against digital technologies? Where are they? The funny thing is that the resistance against technology uses technology to resist. We are being attacked by hackers, worms, bots, Trojan Horses, Viruses, … and they do one thing: they make technology better and more robust.
What if a worker would stand next to a humanoid robot and is compared to it? What if a worker is sacked and replaced by a robot who does his job better or cheaper? What if we would have jobless factories?
Well, there are factories that have very few people in them already. This did not happen overnight. Highly technological process plants have only few people in them. Labour has been replaced massively by technology. And if there is reindustrialization in the West, it’s of a highly automated nature.
New technologies will change society, will destroy jobs and will also create new jobs. It has always been like that. We can use new technology to our advantage, to create a healthier, safer, cleaner society. Stopping technological evolution would be like asking humanity to stop breathing.

Make it better

But the thing is, we need to reinforce ethics in that evolution. We are on the brink of enormous breakthroughs but we risk to forget humanity. We can make automated war drones, but they dehumanize war even more. War becomes a video-game. We can find medical ways to prolong life, but do they preserve human dignity? We can close down plants and delocalize, automate, … but is the alternative better? Why do we still have child labour? Why do we still have people working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions? Why does the ILO have to stress the importance of decent work? We know that inequality threatens social stability, and yet it’s growing.
Change is a challenge. Our society is shifting. But it’s not only through technology. There is a lot of tectonic friction emerging because we are evolving at different speeds. And maybe some people will be the violent Luddites of our age, but they will not stop evolution. Therefore, we should all become ethical Luddites. This only means we should remain critical towards those evolutions. It means we should act responsibly and try to assess the impact of the shifts that take place and build in measures to avoid negative societal or ecological consequences. The purpose is not to stop that evolution, but to simply make it better. The word “Luddite” could be a badge of honor, and I believe my friend has used the word in that way.
Luddites
 
 
 
 

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

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.

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.
 

A big Mouth full of Passion

Passion

Big Mouth

So big mouth, I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror shaving that morning more than a year ago. I was about to face the workforce of the plant where I worked as a plant manager and tell them that the owner (a large corporate) was about to announce that they intended to stop operations at the plant. Now is the time to put into practice all the stuff on leadership you have been reading and preaching about,  I thought.
At the outset let me say the inspiration for this article comes from what the +200 people of the factory taught me in this process of change. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to embark on this journey with them, to them all the kudos.
Now more than a year later I want to share with you some of the lessons I have learned along the way:

  • Optimism

    In many articles and texts on leadership you read that a leader needs to be optimistic and almost at all cost. I have to, not disagree as such but add some perspective or a dimension of reality as it were. I think a leader has to believe in the vision. And he needs to believe in what needs to be done to get there. And he needs to have a clear path to achieving that vision. In so doing he or she creates a belief that what the change is doable, possible. These are qualities that are essential if an organisation is to make headway.

     Lesson learned: Don’t confuse this with mindless optimism.

  • Honesty

    The announcement fell like a thunderbolt as it was totally unexpected given the track record of the plant performance. Almost immediately I realised that people raised their heads and put their shoulders back and took on a mantle of “we are not simply going to accept this – we are going to fight for our right to survive”. In our past and future journeys we need to overcome many obstacles and challenges. Tell the truth and be open. Reality can be worked through and taken on.

    Lesson learned: People are much tougher and resilient than we give them credit for. Facts are so much less damaging than rumors.

  • Plans change

    There isn’t just a plan A and a plan B. There are multiple versions of a plan. It surprises me that the alphabet only has 26 letters, as it simply isn’t enough in trying to manage all the versions and extrapolations of the plans made. You have to be agile and responsive. Having a plan cast in stone while the circumstances around you are ever-changing and fluid just isn’t going to help.

    Lesson learned: It takes courage to acknowledge and tell everyone that the plan is no longer working or relevant. It’s a bit like addressing a bad decision. These are the moments of reflection when the “no confidence” risk is highest. So prepare well and make sure you have critical support from influencers and key stakeholders.

  • Uncertainty

    With the announcement of potential cessation came a flood of uncertainty and the rumour mill started. Everyone knew someone who knew something or had an opinion. Whether you consider yourself a manager or a leader this is a mission critical phase. You have to actively manage expectations. Fact is that with a successful carve-out of the plant from a corporate to a new owner the uncertainty doesn’t stop. It just moves you from one uncertain situation to another. And I believe this is true of most business today. Every minute, day, week you have to think what if and what next!

    Lesson learned: It’s business people, you move from uncertainty to uncertainty. The key is managing expectation and keeping the communication fluid and relevant. Talk the game on the shop-floor – a notice in an email box or on the notice board is nothing more than information.

  • Unexpected champions

    At this time of change you need all the irons you can muster in the fire. You should not rely only on the dependable, reliable and predictable team members that you traditionally have used. A change and uncertainty on the scale of this needs something more.

    Lesson learned: Look for the quietest person in the room, harness the platform of the outspoken and give the loose cannon something to shoot at. Don’t exclude anyone of these stakeholders, they are invaluable in helping you move the crowd along.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

    At a time of such dramatic change and uncertainty with the rumour mill working overtime you have no option but to up the ante and spend time talking, re-talking, emphasising and gathering feedback, opinions and ideas. And don’t rely on the formal organization and hierarchy. Every time you revert to this channel you effectively install a filter in both directions.

    Lesson learned: If it’s written it’s information and not communication. And there is no substitute for looking a person in the eye and getting a nod of understanding to keep you going.
    And the last lesson learned: You can’t falter….as a leader be prepared to feel lonely.

Passion

If you can’t do it with passion you can’t do it at all. You cannot get others to believe if you don’t believe it yourself. That is why the vision has to be clear and consistently and constantly communicated. Otherwise the mission itself won’t be clear. And if the vision itself has no integrity best to let it go. For the record, I want to categorically say that chasing of the money as the goal has no integrity about it.
It’s now more than a year after the announcement and just under six months since the new investor placed their confidence in our team. Unlike most corporate carve-outs this is more like a new start as the business has had to develop new products for new markets in a very short time period. We certainly are by no means out of the woods and there is still an immense amount of work to get through. I remain confident that we have the wherewithal to achieve what most have thought to be nigh on impossible. Why, you might ask? There is no simple answer to that. I have to believe it is because the purpose is common, the goal noble and the pride in endeavor sincere. For me personally it’s about making sure that the +200 people I’m blessed to work with get the best chance to secure a future for themselves and their families. Our value mission is:

  • SATISFIED employees working in
  • COLLABORATION with suppliers & service providers to
  • DELIGHT our customers while
  • ENGAGING with our community and providing
  • ATTRACTIVE returns to our shareholders

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:

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.

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 

Resilience, the ultimate mindset for change ?

Resilience
Resilience is relatively new in the change management – vocabulary.
Kurt Lewin has developed a traditional model for explaining change. His model is known as “Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze”. It explains the three stages of any change process.
Lewin uses the metaphor of an ice block. If you have a large cube of ice but want a cone,  what do you do? First you melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you solidify the new shape (refreeze).

Ice and water, the first two steps of Lewin's model (resilience)
Ice and water, the first two steps of Lewin’s model (resilience)

  • In “unfreeze” you will feel loss, regret or grief.
  • “Change ” is an in-between time. You will feel uncertainty, confusion, and questioning. You are out of your comfort zone. You can’t see a path forward.
  • In “refreeze” you move into a new beginning. It’ a time of energy and excitement. Here the future becomes clearer.

Continuous change.

Today, there is no  “refreeze” anymore. We are continuously in the middle phase. The change phase.
Or you could say these 3 phases continuously repeat themselves very quickly. You can hardly see any cubes or cones in these cycles. The only constant is change.

Managing continuous change ?

Can continuous change be managed ?
A lot of leaders try to do so.
They develop change overviews. They spread change over consecutive quarters of the business year. Green, orange and red indicate how concrete changes on the field are corresponding to the change goals.
They appoint a project leader, responsible for implementing the change. The project leader sets up a change team. The change team does all that needs to done. Or it makes sure other people will. The team wants to guarantee that the change gets implemented.
Of course there’s also the “human” side of change. People will not always like or agree when leaders declare that the change is done. People need to be listened to, given attention and coached. Certainly when change becomes very tough on the emotional side.
I’m convinced that all these initiatives are necessary. I’m also convinced they approach change as something that will “stop” someday, after the project ends. At that moment a “new” period of rest and stability will start. Someday the last topic on the change overview will indeed turn into green. The change project will formally be declared “completed”. The day after however, a new change will present itself.
You need more than just some management models, to keep on doing this. Every human has his/her limits.
You need resilience. You need resilience. But what is resilience ?

Resilience

Resilience allows you to return to the original state. It’s about you, not the organisation. After being stretched, compressed or bent. Resilience allows you to recover from adversity. Developing resilience is highly desirable in today’s world.
In his book Resilience “Managing at the speed of change”, Daryl R. Conner outlines five characteristics of resilient people. They are positive, focused, flexible, organized, proactive.

    • Positive

      Resilient people are optimistic and self-assured. They perceive life as complex but filled with opportunities. Optimists believe defeat is temporary. Its causes are not their fault, but rather due to unfortunate circumstances. Pessimists believe defeat will last for a long time. They blame someone, including themselves.

    • Focused

      Focus means having a clear vision of what you want to do. Focused people write down their goals and describe obstacles. They focus on the strategies they will use to find solutions for problems.

    • Flexible

      Flexible people are adaptable to uncertainty. They name their fears when facing new and intimidating situations.

    • Organized

      Organized people approach ambiguity in a structured way. They creatively plan, carefully set priorities and engage in deliberate action steps.

    • Proactive

      Being proactive means you engage change and not defend against it. Proactive people take the offense and not the defense. They take calculated risks. They apply lessons learned from experiences, to similar challenges facing them.

Developing resilience

Years of research into the nature of resilience have created a solid understanding of it. And how it develops. To develop your resilience, here are some key qualities to develop. (Inspired by Al Siebert)

  • A playful curiosity. Ask lots of questions. Play with new developments. Wonder about things, experiment, make mistakes, get hurt, laugh. “What is different now ? What if I did this ?”
  • Constantly learning from experience: assimilate quickly new or unexpected experiences. Facilitate being changed by them. “What is the lesson here ? What early clues did I ignore ? The next time that happens I will…”
  • Quick Adaptation. Be mentally and emotionally very flexible. Be comfortable with contradictory personal qualities. Be strong and gentle, sensitive and tough, logical and intuitive. Be calm and emotional, serious and playful, and so forth. The more the better.
  • A Solid self-esteem. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. It determines how much you learn after something goes wrong. It allows you to receive praise and compliments. It acts as a buffer against hurtful statements. While being receptive to constructive criticism. “I like, appreciate, and love myself.”
  • Good friendships and loving relationships. People are more stress resistant and are less likely to get sick when they have a loving family and good friendships. Loners are more vulnerable to distressing conditions. Talking with friends and family diminishes the impact of difficulties and increases feelings of self-worth and self-confidence.
  • Honest expression of feelings and emotions . Express anger, love, dislike, appreciation, grief, etc… Do it honestly and openly.
  • High tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Being able to work without a job description, is a good role model of professionalism. Bring stability to crises and chaos. “How can I interact with this so that things turn out well for all of us ?”
  • Empathic reading of others. See things through the perspectives of others, even antagonists. Win/win/win attitude in conflicts. “What do others think and feel ? What is it like to be them ? How do they experience me ? What is legitimate about what they feel, say, and do ?”
  • Use intuition. Accept intuition as a valid, useful source of information. “What is my body telling me ? Did that daydream mean anything ? Why don’t I believe what I’m being told ? What if I did this ?”
  • Have a talent for serendipity. Learning lessons in the school of life is the antidote to feeling victimized. Convert emotionally toxic situations into emotionally nutritious. Convert misfortune into good luck and gain strength from adversity.

“I would never choose to go through anything like that again, but it was the one of best things that ever happened to me.”

When you can imagine this quote coming from you, you are probably developing your own resilience very well.

Being resilient

You need more than resilience to get the change done. Resilience needs some management skills as well. There is nothing wrong with that. Continuous change will make you aware that managing it is key during your career. Resilience will  make you successful in it. Without getting desperate, without negativity. Resilience will help to avoid this trap.
 

Vision is what you need. Not eyes.

Vision

Reverence

I love music. I often find inspiration in the lyrics. Sometimes a song provides inspiration, a last missing piece of a puzzle.Take “Reverence” by Faithless. One phrase really took my attention. “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb49W1u7QaY

“You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”

A while ago I finished a three-day teaching assignment in Algeria. I took part in an MBA-program, organized by the “Business School Netherlands”. The participants and I went through some co-creative sessions. Topics were Strategic HR, Leadership and Coaching. We had great conversation. Sometimes we were totally aligned. But some moments I saw doubts and surprise in their eyes. At other moments the surprise was all mine.
Once we had a fantastic experience of flow. We were talking about our ideal corporate environment and culture. And about the gap between the current reality and that ideal situation. To close this gap we tend to introduce HR and Leadership strategies. These look surprisingly simple at first sight. All we need is vision. Then the rest will follow.
I was not too sure about that. I wanted to go much more in detail. I wanted to explore the link between vision and strategy, between strategy and policy. I also wanted to analyse the role of leadership. But during the breaks it became clear to me why they kept on talking (only) about vision. They started telling me about the situation in Algeria. Algeria is a country in full development. There’s a gigantic need for education, management, leadership, vision and many other things.

A guided Tour through Algiers

My great participants also honoured me with a guided tour through Algiers. They told me not to look around too much. They said  the place is run-down and dilapidated. They kindly invited me to look at the potential of the place. To see that  there is a need for a vision for the future. They asked me to just close my eyes during taxi drives and to feel and listen to what was happening on the streets.
I saw some run-down buildings and streets. But still the people working in that neighborhood did not seem to be bothered or depressed by that. On the contrary. They seemed to work very hard. They seemed to have a mission in their mind. There’s the problem, my hosts told me. People work very hard, but they seem to have difficulties to see beyond just looking after their families. There is no vision on how to develop the country. No vision of  the future. No vision on how to contribute to that. No national identity.
People use their eyes to “see” the here and now. But they lack a vision. They don’t even need their eyes to do what they do. They can do their work and live their lives almost blindly.
But they do need vision to look further. And a vision can lead to true and lasting change in their country.
What do we need for building such a vision? Or maybe we should ask a different question. What keeps us from developing a vision? Often it’s about culture or habits. The conversations during the tour confirmed some research on Algeria. This brought me to the following 3 thoughts on managing change, the Algerian Way. And by looking at the Algerian way, one questions also the own approach.

  • How does a manager realize change?
  • How about the sense of time?
  • How do manager and team relate to each other?

1. Being a (Change) Manager in Algeria

“We can only dream about modern management”

“They are not managers, they act like family. But you already have family. One is enough.”

Being a manager in Algeria is a challenge. Or maybe not. Management is conservative and hierarchical. It’s defined by a strict definition of roles.

  • Conservative behaviour (e.g. dress codes and general conduct) is commendable.
  • You have to show and demand the proper respect for position, age and rank.

It is necessary to understand this hierarchical system. People believe their managers got their promotion because of their greater experience. It is not right to question any of his decisions. And managers should not even consult their employees before deciding. Managers are often paternalistic. Professional relationships between managers and employees usually overlap with personal relationships. They act like family.

This kind of leadership culture does not really stimulate change. Change is often seen as a threat to society and to the company. So managers are generally averse to change. Changes must be seen as positive for the ‘whole’, not just for the individual.

Of course change does happen. But managers in Algeria need to take into account that change will take longer than planned. And group effort will be the driving force behind it. The group will thoroughly assess the change and everyone needs to agree to it.

Let’s be honest.  I was not able to change the group’s conviction. Not one model I showed could change their mind. But at least now the participants are aware of other existing approaches. And that’s essential. Because now there is awareness and eventually a willingness to start a journey themselves. And through this awareness and willingness they could influence their colleagues, managers, companies and their society.

2. Approach to Time

“Patience is what you need to know about and practice”

Deadlines and time are fluid in Algeria. Patience is key. Essentially in a culture of relationships, you need to take the time to get to know someone. Don’t rush. If you do, you may jeopardise any future coöperation. It’s advisable to stress the importance of agreed deadlines and how not keeping them may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Algeria to avoid confrontation over a missed deadline. The main purpose is to maintain a positive atmosphere within the team.

Some managers who have experienced global and intercultural environments, may have a different appreciation of the need of timing and deadlines. They will more likely try to meet them.

3. ‘Boss’ or Team Player?

“We don’t play, we respect and try not to be embarrassed”

Due to the hierarchical setup, it is important that the manager maintains his/her role as ‘boss’. In this way (s)he instills the necessary respect. When the manager needs to work collectively with his/her team however, it is important that he states this need and encourages the team to cooperate openly.
If an individual contributes sub-optimally, the manager needs to deal with this carefully. It is essential that the employee does not feel embarrassed in front of the colleagues. The rest of the group needs to feel able to continue to take part.

Is Europe so much different here ?
Also in my culture, corrective and even positive feedback about the performance of an individual employee is not appreciated when given in front of a whole group.

Change as compromise.

Any successful change will necessarily come from the inside. Even if it’s triggered by the world outside. Successful change will always be a compromise between necessity and urgency, and the respect for these three cultural features. Unless of course a radical event would take place.
Again I asked myself if Europe is so much different ?
Do we like change that much? Isn’t change for us often a matter of compromise as well.  Do we not accept compromise against better judgement?  Will change not pass easier if it happens in respect of our habits and values ? It is like that unless some dramatic event would take place. In that case change simply occurs. Period.

How are we doing in Europe ?

I left with the impression that Algeria still has a (long) way to go in becoming a so-called “modern” place of business. My group asked a confronting question: how are we doing in Europe ?
I would hope better. But alas. We know our own depressing corporate architectures. As we know our own conservative reflexes.
We may perhaps not want to see them because we think we have a good and solid vision. But then again, You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.