Understanding the collective conscious or perspective of your workforce and how employees have been conditioned to view workplace events, provides the targeted insight to create any organizational shift!
Think about it, workforce views around change, performance management, career opportunities and learning development or even speaking up and sharing ideas will tell leaders a great deal about the conditioned workforce culture and individual perspectives.
For example, how have you mentally associated with the word “change” throughout your life, career or within the current workforce? Maybe you heard change your attitude, change your habits, change the way you’re doing that, typically the word is associated with correction. In other words, the underlying message can feel like, You’re Doing It Wrong!
How do people typically respond to that type of messaging? Defensively, right? Don’t believe me? Walk up to someone and tell them they need to change. Or, tell them they’ve changed and watch them become really confused about whether that’s a good or bad thing.
Any newly introduced project, program, policy or approach begun from “we need to change…” is built upon a foundation of fear. Fear that we are doing it wrong. It’s simple psychology and as employees our thinking is inextricable from our viewpoint. Anything built upon fear will naturally include corresponding protections. The protections while well intended often react to the symptoms, ignoring underlying causes. These protections are often what limits precisely what’s needed to change: creativity, engagement, focused-service, productivity and information sharing.
If we step back, we can see that, our level or extent to which we have an understanding of interpersonal awareness, consciously recognizing how we see the world, as well as, emotional intelligence, recognizing how we impact those around us; determines whether we may be suppressing, the very skills and competencies needed for change.
This makes me think of the famous Aesop’s Fable “The Wind and The Sun”. The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.
The messaging being “KINDNESS EFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY.”
Because our minds are so strongly conditioned to our environment, we not only view words based on our experiences, we also unconsciously pick-up behaviors by what’s exhibited in our environment. A new parent will understand this immediately when he or she discovers after some point in the child rearing relationship, “I sound just like mom!” (or dad).
They’ve been our example! Equally, our past organizational leaders have been the example for current leaders and employees. Unless conscious intervention takes place, current leaders and employees will adopt many of the behaviors and perspectives of the past leaders. This is especially true of leadership practices. However, like our parent-child dynamic, many of us have recognized things we would do differently and where we are conscious of those things we will likely do them differently. Inversely and seemingly obvious too is that, when you are not focused on doing something differently it is not likely to change. So, how do make we make appropriate change and shine a light on what we may not be aware?
- Purpose: Is it aligned with mission?
It starts with a little reverse engineering from your core purpose. You can do this by assessing whether your change initiative or leadership approach supports or detracts from the organizational purpose. Your mission statement can serve as your barometer for alignment, containing much of your articulated purpose.
2. Pulse: What is the majority view of the organization?
A single word may be positively by one person and negatively by another. This can happen within teams, organizations, same speaking societies and especially across different languages as well. Which reminds me of the famous story of Chevrolet attempting to sell their Nova in Mexico. Nova in Spanish translates to “No Go”. Probably not the best mental image for a method of transportation…Nova (no go)!
Yes, this really happened. A costly mistake for Chevrolet and others who throughout history do not consider their words or the underlying message as it pertains to the currently held perspective of the target market. In other words, know your audience. In this case, as a leader initiating change your target is the workforce and their perspective. If employees view change negatively and that is what is necessary to remain viable as an organization then we must develop an approach that eliminates resistance and creates maximum buy-in and engagement.
Engagement surveys, stay interviews and regular dialogue about the collective perspective are excellent ways to capture the data leading to a clearer picture of what’s important to staff and “how to meet them where they are” to make a change.
3. Perceptions: Does the message reflects personal and organization needs and perceptions. What’s in it for us?
Words can set a tone as we’ve seen but, it’s not always the words used but, the message implied or perceived by the words. In other words… (pun intended) we benefit by pausing to examine whether our words carry the message as intended.
We’ve all been there when someone misinterprets our intention, possibly due to our lack of clarity or possibly due to how that person has been conditioned to see the world.
Certainly we can’t account for all these variables and we would drive ourselves crazy if we tried. However, as we intend to create new and different ways of doing to reach and better serve our stakeholders, we’d be remiss if we didn’t consider the message of not only our word but, our actions too.
Many well intended initiatives, policies and cultural norms can unconsciously create discomfort for some workers. Something as simple as having a geographically dispersed workforce with little communication into the corporate office can quickly turn into “feeling the like the proverbial step-child”, when not involved in decision-making or considered in the impact of change. The resulting attitude or feeling creates even more separation, an almost defensive protectionism which, further isolates employees from feeling a part of the team.
The more the change is in alignment with purpose and core functions the easier it will be to gain support and actively engage staff in a change initiative.
Having the right words and the right message is not easy. It takes examination of the data, careful discernment of meaning and a true desire to understand the collective perspective of the workforce. This is where many leaders stop; being conditioned to think, authority is the same as leadership and the employees are just going to have to get on board. The thinking may be, “I don’t really care, this needs done and they better adapt to my way if they want to continue working here.” This attitude reflects a positional approach to leadership that expects compliance over anything else.
Does that sound like an approach that values the experience and intellect of our professionals?
As Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, iTunes and iPhone once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
So, the next time you are considering a major organizational initiative impacting employees, think- Purpose, Pulse and Perception, they can guide us to understanding, engagement and action alignment.
By: Ryan McShane, Vice President, Marc3 Leadership Solutions [email protected], marc3solutions.com, 410-688-5054
For a Free Assessment of your Leadership Team’s impact on Employee Performance, contact me here to schedule. [email protected], www.marc3solutions.com, 410-688-5054
Marc3 Leadership Solutions provides small to medium sized businesses Fortune 500 Level Resources, creating “High Performance Organizations” expanded capabilities leading to Greater Profit, Top Talent, and Outstanding Culture.