Sunday, 20 June 2010

How to be understood

Rule # 1: expect to be misunderstood. Mostly, we assume that understanding is normal. Wrong. Ask any spouse, sibling, parent, or lover. 

Successful service-sales and service-delivery people for instance, have woken up to this through competitive pressure, grinding experience, and objective analysis. Then by deliberate, focused action they have changed their assumptions and their behaviour.

They know the cost and risk of misunderstanding is high. They manage that risk by specialising and standardising their processes; by building durable interpersonal customer-relationships for learning and forgiveness; and continually seeking to delight the customer.  It becomes second nature – tacit.

But put those same sales and service people in a changed environment, even slightly different, and they can easily come unstuck. That now-tacit knowledge that has served them so proudly may well not work in the new environment.

This has been highlighted for me in my health service business development work. The New Zealand health services sector is in turmoil: yet another major government policy driven re-organisation; around the sixth in eight years.

This time it’s to vertically and horizontally merge and integrate health services. This when competition has been king and professional collaboration suspected as feather bedding; fear and loathing have become strong undercurrents in relationships between health professionals and their managers, between managers and between the managers of different organisations.

Competitors have become entrenched in their niches, adapted and fine tuned to the bureaucratic motivations and behaviour of their health sector customers, while the health professionals immersed themselves in their consumer relationships. 

Suddenly these competitors have to merge and join up.  Can they communicate to achieve that productively and innovatively? Fat chance! Misunderstanding reaches new heights: evidence, real and imagined, of defamation, misinformation and skulduggery is everywhere in an environment of fear and loathing. Even longstanding trusting relationships are suspect.

Mergers and join-ups that do occur are suspected as, and at least some are, driven by self interest and political gain, and as a result are slow to be productive in the essentially collaborative, professional, vocational world of health service.

So what can be done? Answer: expect to be misunderstood and take the time and trouble to find shared understanding in shared metaphor (stories) and experience; shared purpose; joint projects. Trust is found in action not argument.

Share your perspectives and reflections on that joint action by sharing stories. Be more than two dimensional “role holders.” Share stories about yourselves.
Remember you are dating with marriage in mind. The time to invest in the durability, mutual productivity, and enjoyment of that potential relationship is at the outset. Sacrifice “task” progress to build shared understanding.

The guy/woman you find so frustrating may not be a linear analytical, task oriented, conventional high achiever like you. He/she may think in pictures, think laterally to solve puzzles and make sense of seeming confusion; thinking that’s likely not crucial in the production environment that you have excelled in, but is crucial in a fast changing environment.


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Are you crazy?!

You’re a senior executive under pressure. You sense things are getting out of your control. Things are going wrong unexpectedly despite all your strategic planning, focused KPI’s, and reporting systems.  Solutions that worked in the past no longer seem reliable.

But you can’t admit it because you’re an executive and executives know what to do. You anxiously  work longer and harder  but the stress and anxiety begins to erode your resilience. You can’t sleep. You can’t relax without a drink.

What do you do. You can’t admit that you’re ‘losing it’. That would be managerial suicide. If you go to your GP and get diagnosed with stress disorder you’ll be uninsurable. It’s like you’ve caught the modern equivalent of leprosy.

So you try to fix yourself: self medicate, read self-help books; look cheerful; stay positive; fight harder; focus. You have no option because if you can’t fix it you’re done for. You career is stuffed.

Conservative estimates have 20% of the population, executives included, suffering such health damaging stress and the related physical and mental effects. Realistically the figure’s around 50%.

If you’re one of those 50%, what can you do? Where can you go? The good news is that you can get well without a psychiatrist. If you take action before you crash you can recover quickly and fully.

There’s no single fix. You need to tackle the problem from several different angles. Quite likely you need skilled confidential advice and coaching. Maybe you have a good friend you can confide in. Many high achievers don’t have friends that good.

The Recovery approach to wellness is a practical, holistic, proven effective way to not just cope but to quickly be even more effective than you have ever been before. 

News: Executive Depression on Increase - Corin Dann interviews Challenge Trust CEO, Clive Plucknett on NZI Business Breakfast TV (click this link)


Monday, 7 June 2010

In step with Management.

Left, right, left, right, left. Is good management Left or Right?

Neither ‘of course’. Management is apolitical! Right? Management objectively, dispassionately maximises value for shareholders.

In a recently broadcast video clip from a few years back, BP’s CEO, addressing what looks like an MBA seminar, says “BP has spent too much time saving the world and it’s time to get back to maximising value to shareholders.” 

A super lucky survivor of the BP’s recent deep-sea rig explosion and fire (he jumped 100’ from the rig into the oil covered burning sea because the life boats had already gone) reported that despite clear evidence that the rubber blow-out seal had been seriously damaged, with consequent serious risk of blow-out and fire, Management decided not to stop and fix it. There was pressure to  be ready for BP officials due to visit  the rig to celebrate the success and recognise the project’s safety record! It’s like a re-run of the Challenger disaster but massively more destructive.

The survivor reported  officials were on the rig when it blew up. Maybe it was the officials who broke strict protocol and abandoned ship (and many crew including the captain) before accounting for everyone.

Managers are in charge, right? They have authority to hire and fire right? Who’s anatomy’s on the line if things go wrong? The manager’s, right? Who makes the decisions? Managers, right? Who’s job is it to know and be right? Managers’, right? If you’re wrong or you don’t know you’re not fit to be a manager right? Right! Yeah, right.

These assumptions are endemic in many (perhaps most) organisations despite espousals and ‘systems’ to the contrary. They are made by both managers and managed alike. These assumptions persist despite overwhelming evidence that they are not only unproductive but are destructive except perhaps in large scale replication where people are  no more than substitute machine parts. 

Are these characteristics and attributes of capital “M” for Management hallmarks of  the (political) Right? Are the critics of Management lackeys of the Left?

For instance, those who question the wisdom of Management are typically assumed to be questioning established authority; to be ‘bolshie’ – politically Left.

Management tends to favour maintaining established values and hierarchy:  characteristics typically regarded as politically Right.

Those who advocate and live collaboration, sharing, and collective responsibility are typically regarded as  politically Left.

Management practice generally  promotes individual responsibility and reward; characteristics typically regarded as politically Right.

Even Christianity seems somehow to be identified with the political Right even though Christianity questions authority and promotes sharing community, at the same time as it promotes traditional values and individual responsibility.

It seems to me that good management and Christianity are neither Left nor Right and may actually have a lot in common.

Much of contemporary popular management literature effectively plagiarises Biblical wisdom. Take for instance vision and purpose led business; discovering and playing to individuals’ strengths; discovering the engaging, innovating power of doing good things together; selling goods and services and optimising supply chains through genuine, mutually serving relationships and collaboration; individuals’ responsibility to maximise the value of their talents.

The sooner we remove the blinkers of political stereotyping and get seriously down to the work of turning the Word or words into living reality, the better.

How many environmental and economic catastrophes does it take for interrelational behaviour-change to be explicit in every organisation’s top five strategic priorities? When will specific interpersonal behaviour-change figure in everyone’s KPIs?

Pretty damn soon I hope.