Saturday, 30 May 2009

It’s no secret: mantras, slogans and recipes don’t work!

In his May 28 Business Growth Tip , COO Stephen Lynch says that he’s “become a bit jaded” with the many business books he reads. “Gimmicky book titles that promise much but deliver no actionable value, empty platitudes presented as if they were profound and original ideas, the so-called “secrets” of celebrity leaders. . . . . . . ”

I’m with Stephen. To me the popular literature on business, leadership, and management seems to pander to the gullible market for success-magic. It has little effect on actual organisational behaviour; on business execution; on actually doing things differently to get a different result.

The academic literature isn’t helpful either: typically descriptive with narrow causal analysis, it may be fine for increasing understanding (amongst academics at least) but if there was any direct link between understanding and changed behaviour then university Business Schools would rule the business world.

Even the best of the popular Business Management literature seems to bang away monotonously at the KPI mantra –repackaged management-by-objectives (MBO).

Mantras, slogans and recipes don’t work! There is no short list of steps that will actually change your business. That’s because change is opportunistic: the opportunities are in the chaotic, ambiguous reality that surges and flows around and under the apparently orderly surface of conventional business practice. That’s the world of interpersonal communication.

In a recent professional coaching conversation we discovered, once we got beneath the stock answers and platitudes, that the keys to business coaching success are in insight and transformation (discontinuous shifts in perception and behaviour). These phenomena are serendipitous, not the product of hard-grind managerial planning and control systems.

That’s not to dismiss planning and control. It’s to say that if business success lies in change then the key is in whatever enables us to swim gracefully and purposefully in comparative chaos and ambiguity.

And that’s where the management literature, popular or otherwise, doesn’t seem to go. It’s stuck in a simplistic model of science: of laws and formulae, of controlled, deductive, causal reasoning. That’s not sufficient in the dynamic, complex world of interpersonal relationships that are at the heart of business and change. It’s interpersonally that people actually make new sense of chaos and ambiguity.

But how often in “Business” books do you see any mention of interpersonal communication strategy? Seldom, I reckon. There’s plenty of attention to ‘positioned’ communication in sales and marketing, but scant attention to interpersonal communication at home except perhaps in putting policies-and-procedures-in-place.

Here are a few tips: pay attention to the verbatim detail of communication behaviour. Reflect together on the detail of what people said compared to what they thought. Learn to communicate assertively. It’s an art that's not normal in Management. Assertive communication behaviours can be learned but the process is slow and determined and you'll need all the help you can get from your work-mates.

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