Monday, 18 April 2011

Who do you think you are?

Who you think you are is affected  by the context you’re in and it affects the behaviour of those around you. Who you think you are at work is affected by your assumptions about what your work role means and the cultural dynamics of the organisation.

This was highlighted for me recently by a client’s story:

For as long as I’ve known him my client’s been disappointed with the performance of his sales manager. The sales manager hasn’t achieved the potential indicated by his personality profile and successes outside work. He’s good but not great.

Yet recently he showed brilliance, but not in the usual work context. He and my client were at a supplier’s international conference. My client, unable to cope himself with all the relationship building opportunity and expectation, totally delegated half of that to his sales manager.

The sales manager’s performance in that context was vastly improved from normal. Had my client not known the sales manager’s underlying personality profile, he’d have been worried that his sales manager was on drugs of some kind.

My analysis: that goes to show what’s possible if you can change the organisational context. Next step is to raise the experience to consciousness and deliberately seek to change the local (internal) context to enable that brilliant performance back home.

I recommended my client tell his sales manager how amazingly effective he had been in that outside setting. Then ask him how they could together work to change their behaviours and assumptions to enable the sales manager to tap that previously hidden strength.

He’s done that. The sales manager was surprised and pleased to have been caught being brilliant. They are deliberately working to change their relationship and the organisational dynamics. My client is taking the lead by being accountable to his sales manager for changing his own behaviour.

Who you think you are can turn innovative, curious, dynamic and effective people into comparatively conventional, apathetic, dull and ineffective drones; turn considerate, reflective and humane people into insensitive, bullying manipulators (and vice versa). (For more on bullying see What to do about workplace bullying)

You are just as susceptible to those affects as those around you. Reading about and understanding that effect won’t immunise you. If you’re the boss and your people are behaving badly or unproductively then the change starts with you deliberately changing the way you behave.

That’s probably going to be difficult because who you think you are is deeply engrained. (For more on that see Why good people behave badly in organisations). The good news is that it’s difficult for everyone so you don’t have to become a saint overnight to steal the march on the competition.


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