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.

 
 
 

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.
 

HR strategy: Control + Alt + HR function ?

snale - HR Strategy

HR strategy, the discussion.

I’ve been in HR now for more than 15 years. In all these years the “strategic” role of HR has not been out of the debate.
Through the years I’ve noticed that this strategic role is complex and intangible. I will not try to define and describe the word strategic in this blog. You could check other literature for that. I am looking for what defines the strategic role. And I would like to answer the question how HR could become more strategic in the future.  I am aware it’s not perceived as strategic today.

The management team

There’s a perception that being a part of the management team is the most important indicator for the strategic nature of an HR manager. Only when you’re on the team, you are strategic.
But this is nothing more than a perception. I’ve known HR managers who are member of that team but who were not strategic at all and vice versa. So it’s not that. So it’s not team membership. Could the strategic role depend on the person?

The person

If an HR manager is not perceived as being strategic, surely it’s due to his or her own behaviour. There is one key question. Does the HR Manager have enough power to influence the strategic decision-making ?
Being able to influence is always an advantage. Sometimes it might be necessary. But it’s absurd to limit the strategic power of the HR function to the personal impact of the HR Manager.
So it’s not team membership or the HR Manager’s behaviour. What then is the determining factor for  HR to become strategic?

The functions and roles

Dave Ulrich has introduced one of the most influential models in HR. He clearly described 4 roles for HR. HR was to become next to the administrative expert also a champion for the employees, a change agent, and a strategic partner.

The 4 HR roles, inclusive the HR strategy role.
Dave Ulrich’s model of HR

This offered a framework that helped HR departments to develop into what they are  now. Various people fulfill the different roles within the department. Those people need to collaborate with one another and with the internal client.
The focus on the internal client cleared the way for the HR business partner. This is a generalist who functions as a single point of contact for the internal clients. This function also integrates a change driving and strategic dimension.
So here we were and are.
HR finally became a full function, covering the four roles. And the people in  HR departments started integrating the strategic dimension in their roles. The strategic HR role was born.
Was it ?
If all of this were true, why hasn’t the discussion about the strategic role of HR not stopped? Why have certain HR functions dramatically felt the crisis? Why have they been hit by serious cost cutting? Why was HR unable to turn the continuous “noise” about its HR strategy into satisfaction ?
Could it be that we have forgotten the people?

The people

Employees and their managers do not benefit a lot from the fact that the HR function is strategically positioned. That’s because there’s a long way between the definition of a strategy and the experience in the field.
Suppose your manager:

  • is a member of the management team.
  • supports and communicates the HR decisions to the own department.
  • is actively participating in the HR decision-making process.
  • has the active support of an HR business partner.

Then chances are that

  • the implementation of the HR strategy will go ahead smoothly
  • you will effectively feel “something” of what the HR strategy is all about.

But even then. Interpretations, convictions, emotions and misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities between the business and HR could spoil the party.
Should we conclude that an HR department can be as strategic as it wants, but that at the end of the day it’s the people who mess up ?
Absolutely not.
If people perceive the collaboration between HR and their department negatively, there is a problem. People do not experience the  HR strategy as intended. In that case HR has seriously messed up.
HR and the company face a huge challenge here. An HR strategy can only be successful if there’s a good collaboration between HR and the line managers. And I’d take it a step further. The line manager should become the real owner and executor of the HR strategy in his/her department. The HR business partner can give support and not drive the HR agenda. It’s about coaching business people towards HR (strategic) decisions. The HRBP should not take this decision him/herself.

The people processes

So the line manager is responsible for HR. And the HR business partner has a supporting and coaching role. We cannot expect our line manager to set up a “mini HR team”. That would not work. That would only lead to ineffective fragmentation of the HR function.
But line managers manage a lot of processes. So they can also manage HR-processes if they’re supported by experts and coaches. Some examples are:

  • Recruitment
  • Performance management
  • Outflow of weak performers
  • People Development
  • Team building

Let me introduce a new process the business could perfectly drive: the HR strategy process.

Control + Alt + HR function

HR Strategy is about the continuous improvement of people processes. It’s driven by the business. HR is no longer a function. It’s a process, driven by the business.
How do we have to understand these processes?
Some examples. Improvement of:

  • Hiring. How and where to attract our future talents ? Business people  know the market better than HR people.
  • Talent acquisition and development processes. Which competencies will we need within 5 to 10 years? Business people  know the future needs of the customers better than HR people.
  • Industrial relations. How can we convince the unions better than by telling them how the business is working ?
  • Internal communication. How can we integrate social media in the existing employee communication platforms?
  • Retention. How can we use the output of exit interviews more appropriately?
  • Team building and collaboration. How can we better deal with conflicts in our teams?
  • Leadership development. How will our own leadership have to evolve if we want to stay successful ?

Imagine managers becoming responsible for driving and managing these people processes. They are not only responsible for driving existing people processes but also for co-creating new ones. Of course, they are supported by colleagues and HR.
Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 20.13.24
I think these managers will be much more willing and able to:

  • see the HR strategy as their HR strategy
  • make it much more concrete for their people.
  • transform employee’s negative perceptions about HR into transparent understanding of it.

That is the real meaning of strategic HR.
 
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