Make more money by promoting a sense of belonging in your firm: A manifesto for HR

I don’t do pain, even in my imagination

In my last post I described an exercise for testing the depth of our positive attitude: write a novel about myself and make myself feel pain.  I tried it.  It was hard!  I’m glad to know that I am not a masochist.

But I learned a little.  I learned that we hate to lose our ‘role’ and that I hate to be around people who are just pretending to have a ‘role’.  From there, I found myself listing the HR procedures for increasing belonging and the metrics to show how much value these procedures add to a company.

A manifesto for HR!

My worst nightmare

My worst nightmare is being in zombie-land.  I hate being in places where people have become cynical and at best are just “deteriorating as slowly as possible“.

Of course, I don’t really hate it ~ I am terrified by it.  We are terrified by anything which assaults our personalities.  I’m an INTFJ or a shaper/completer-finisher/resource-investigator.  I don’t do incoherent, lazy, out-of-it.   I may be misguided.  I may be slothful about many things.  But I will always have a purpose.  If I am going to be rudderless, I do it on purpose!

Our nightmare is not to have a role

This was my insight from the novel-writing exercise.   We are all terrified by the prospect of not having a role, or not belonging to our communities and workplaces.  We are very sensitive to rejection.  Even the nuances of rejection send us into a flat spin.

Many things that can lead us to feel that we don’t belong

A lot of things can lead to a sudden feeling that we are out of place.

  • Our general confidence
  • Policies of the firm which signal who is in and who is out
  • Cliques and favoritism
  • Mismatches with our own hopes and dreams
  • And storming – good old crises of confidence

Recraft your way to belonging

  • Heaps has been written in the last few years about recrafting jobs to meet our personal needs.  A waitress tenderly sweeping the floor of the cafe with good music playing in the background is recrafting her job just as the young guy who also works there recrafts his job by trying to sweep as fast and vigorously as possible.  Both put their personal stamp and sense of meaning on the job.
  • Poet David Whyte gives the same advice.  Begin with the ground, the hallowed ground on which you start.  Find meaning and belonging in what you already have and build from them.
  • Positive psychologist,  Christopher Petersen calls expanding from what we have “building a bridge while we walk on it”.
  • And for a good speech showing this is not just for me and you, but for the smartest and the brightest, listen to Dr Rao on Googletalk (YouTube).

Recrafting when we feel rejected

It is tough to recraft when we feel rejected though ~ for this reason.  We hate being rejected and we are loathe to admit that we have been excluded.

  • One, it hurts.
  • Two, we catastrophize and think that if this person rejects us, then everyone else will too.
  • Three, we worry that if we dismiss rejection, we may dismiss feedback that will help us manage future relationships.
  • Four, we catastrophize and think that if this relationship is not worthwhile, none will be worthwhile.
  • Five, we worry that the information that we have been rejected will be used against us!

Rejection put us in an emotional spin and bullies know it!  They’ll use rejection to keep you off balance.

That said, how do you work on finding the good in situation when you are feeling lousy?

Recrafting when we we are afraid

I would say we should do three things.

  • Make an objective assessment of the situation, as clinically as any staff officer in front of a paper map miles from the front line.
  • As you are not sitting behind the lines and you are actually in the thick of things, do as you would in battle. Move yourself, everyone else and everything you need out of the firing line.
  • Consider all the options including the options for negotiation and resumption of pleasantries.

This is really hard to do.  Believe me ~ being rejected by people like employers and teachers, on whom you depend, will frighten you almost as much as getting shot at.  In many ways it is worse.  You can allow yourself to be frightened by bullets as long as you act responsibly.  But to admit you are being “dissed” by your own side rips the guts out of you.

So you do the three steps: you take defensive actions, you try to be pleasant, you take time to make an objective assessment.  And guess what 90% of your energy is going into defending yourself from your own team!

Time spent on mending relationships in a firm

You are now being defensive and so is the next person and so is the next.  Guess what?  Anyone who wants to overrun this outfit, or take on this company, is going to win!

The firm is now in peril

This is my biggest nightmare.  It is quite clear once the spiral of defensive starts, the only thing allowing this firm to survive, is the incompetence of the opposition.  Anyone wanting to ‘take’ them would only have to distract the staff more for the whole ‘shooting match’ to fall apart.

What is the alternative to a firm where we are all watching our backs?

Inevitably, things do wrong in companies.  People do bump against each other quite unwittingly.  Feelings are hurt.  If we want to be successful (survive),we need to establish is a working culture where people are able to deal with shock and surprise without passing it down the line.

How do we stop defensiveness spreading?

Good HR departments, generally in larger firms work hard to keep a positive atmosphere  (I did say good.)

  • Good firms develop strong systems to minimize the management by whim. The reason they do that is to remove the objective threat to one’s employment that accompanies disagreements.  When there is no objective threat, then people can attend to mending their fences.  Good firms don’t allow people who are party to any “dissing”, in either direction, to take part in decisions about each others employment contract.
  • Good firms go to great lengths to manage the assimilation process ~ known as on-boarding or induction. They work with people through the forming, storming and norming stages and then take a watching brief during the performing stage coming back in when there are changes in a team or when someone leaves.
  • Good firms take some trouble to build diverse teams and to educate people why they need the very people who seem very different from themselves.  HR also takes some trouble to make sure that a team is not made of people who are too similar too each other and that the important bridging roles of team player and chairperson (the lazy roles!) are also present.
  • Good firms insist that everyone has an active career plan which is reviewed with you openly by committees chaired by senior members of the firm.
  • Good firms monitor diversity assiduously and keep a watchful eye on the formation of cliques.  HR is quick to intervene to minimize behavior that is rejecting and removes people’s attention from their own job.
  • Good firms design jobs carefully making sure that is is easy to get down to work (autonomy), that growth is possible in the job visible (competence) and that jobs allow us express ourselves meaningfully (relationships).  Work has goals, feedback built into the task itself, adequate resources, dignity, respect, physical safety, contractual safety, mentors and coaches.  We don’t want people so confused about how their jobs fit into the wider whole that they cannot think straight.

This is what I do for a living

My job is to make a system so that we are able to work together even when we are rubbing up against people.  I will see the effects of my systems in several ways:

  • People attempt to resolve difficulties without fear of their contracts.  People take the initiative; people don’t use the employment contract as a threat; negotiation of the employment contract is kept separate from other decisions; there is no fear in the organization or cynicism.
  • The output of people does not vary significantly when they move from group to group.   Nor does the output vary between people with different demographic characteristics.
  • The time taken for people to settle into the organization is known and the process is monitored and taken as seriously as quality on a Toyota assembly line.
  • Everyone has an active career path, we are mindful of who should be seriously thinking about progressing onto other firms, and we treat their onward progression as part of our competitive edge.
  • Deployment of individuals is not only done for and to individuals.  Teams are deployed so that they are balanced.  They are given time to bed down and their boundaries are respected.  Team work is not disrupted without investments being made in the time it takes to reestablish a team.
  • We have designed each job so that it has clear goals measurable by the incumbent, they can see how well they are doing and they can step-into the job in an orderly way sharing their successes publicly with others.

HR Metrics

To monitor my system, I have metrics on each process.  I also monitor HR Costs/Sales in each business unit and over time.  When people have the time to attend to their jobs, I would see small improvements in the ratio.

Take for example, the HR Costs/Sales ratio in manufacturing which is usually around 10%.  If people are able to do their job only 10% better, then the ratio will increase from 10/100 to 9/100 or done the other way from 10/100 to 10/110 or a 1% in Gross Profit.  That is generally going to be “pure” profit ~ that is, it is money that comes available for new equipment, training and even medical insurance and holidays.

When we are making more money because we aren’t worrying, then that is good profit indeed!

We do what concerns us and we are terrified by its loss

So it seems making a role for everyone comes from greatest concern -that we are going to have to sit around faking it.  That  led me to think that everyone wants a meaningful role.  Not everyone wants to sit around making meaningful roles. Who would make the money if we did?  While other people are off making things and selling things, it is my job to create an organization where we can get along without needless friction.

An emotionally healthy company requires good systems.  We must be able to work without fear.  Problems must be refereed as they arise and early.  And we must trawl our systems looking for emotional bruising that is getting buried.  If we continue to hide the casual rejection of people “because we can”, it will eventually cost us our livelihood. While we are all protecting ourselves from each other, our opposition will be taking over our business.

Simply, I am doing my job when you are able to do yours and I do this job because I cannot imagine what it is like to live defensively all day long!

PS I still don’t think I did the exercise properly.  It is very hard to imagine pain ~ even on a make-believe character that looks, moves and talks just like us!

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Poetry to remind us that withdrawing doesn’t solve rejection

Is is easy to retreat from life

Barack Obama said of his natural father – he had difficult life because he did not reach out to people.

When times are difficult, we tend to retreat from the world.  When we are unpopular in the playground, we pick up our toys and go home.  Then we really have no one to play with us.  Do you know that people who are lost in the bush or surrounded by fire actually hide from their rescuers?  When times are bad, we may be tempted to hide.

We may be rejected but it will help us little to go this way

“I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.”
By Linda Pastan, a new poet for me.
When we are out of sorts with the world, we must ask ourselves how we can change the conversation and fall in love with life again.
When we are feeling bruised, we might also remember “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver.  “You do not have to walk on your knees for 100 miles through the desert . .  You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves . . Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh, and exciting ~ over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.
UPDATE:  I’ve just found this old post and link to a tremendous poem on living with fear
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Make your team ~ break your team ~ it is in your gift

Psychologists know that IQ matters at work

I am a work & organizational psychologist and I might even administer an intelligence test to you if you apply to one of my clients.  I can promise you one thing.

No matter who the client is, or what they do, it will matter if your IQ were 25% higher or lower.  That is an big enough change to be important.

Psychologists are also learning that rejection is devastating to our ability to think straight

Yet, the way we are managed affects our IQ by that amount – 25%.  According to Ray Baumeister, all of the following will cause your IQ to plummet by that amount.

  • If you suffer from subtle slights because you are a member of a minority.  Being called ‘girl’, being excluded from social events, not being looked at squarely in the eye – all will reduce your IQ.  You can think of others.
  • Feeling that your employment is insecure, will reduce your IQ.
  • Not being consulted on matters that affect you will reduce your IQ.

So why do managers manage this way if IQ falls so precipitously?

Most likely because bad management is like a neurosis.  If I am scared of snakes, then I won’t go near them and I will never learn how to interact with them safely.

Bad managers become anxious about performance, snarl and snap, and make their staff anxious.  And performance falls confirming their worst expectations.  Rinse and repeat and they never learn how to manage well.

But is it right that managers are allowed to assault people psychologically?

Not IMHO.  Employing people does not confer the right of psychological assault.

Reducing people’s IQ by 25% does not just affect their behavior at work either.  It affects their driving, their parenting, and their understanding of wider issues.

Big firms who use psychological tests should be asked to show that they are not assaulting their staff.  That is a regulatory burden I know, but I understand that Scandavian countries have ‘happiness’ legislation in place.

I’ve also worked in places where the ethos is that ‘if you can’t afford to employ, then don’t’.

25% reduction in IQ is a shocking number ~ but there is a plus side.

Manage well, and you have a competitive advantage of 25% of IQ!

A cheerful staff who feel they belong will turn into innovation, creativity, problem solving, fewer errors and better ideas.

That’s money in our pockets.  I hope Baumeister also experiments with the reverse proposition.  Create a sense of belonging and show higher team performance!

Leading with psychology: belonging is the first competence

We can only change successfully when we belong

As a young work psychologist, I was lucky. I graduated just as Zimbabwe achieved Independence and I joined the work force when investment was high and change was rapid, far-reaching and positive.  Everything was being turned inside-out and upside-down, but in an climate of hope & expectation.

The business conditions of today are not that different – except that there is little hope & expectation. Other than Barack Obama, we don’t have leaders who are able to point us in a general direction and say “that way guys”.   And we don’t have investment flooding in. Times are tough. Failure and blame are in the air.

This bring us to a little-talked-about issue in change management. We can only change successfully when we belong.

Rethinking the work of managers

This week, McKinsey published a report on re-energizing senior managers. I almost didn’t read it. Why do I care about senior managers who created this mess, I thought?

That is precisely the point. They can’t think straight when no-one cares about them.

  • Yes, it is clear they made the mess. They know that.
  • Yes, it is clear that whatever business models they used in the past must be wrong. They know that.

But, they can only “step-up-to-the-plate” and help us work out the new rules when they know that we will accept them as they are – not all-knowing.

Remember for a long time we’ve treated managers as if they are all-knowing. We’ve given them conspicuous lifestyles because we wanted to reward this all-knowing.   And now they are not all-knowing, who are they?  What do they contribute? How are they supposed to function?

They are paralyzed.  The only way to unlock the paralysis, the only way to gain access to the skills and know-how that they do have, is to give them permission to be sort-of-knowing.  They cannot function unless we show them as they belong – as they are.

Where does belonging begin?

McKinsey write their report for CEO’s which leaves a second point unspoken. These are hierarchical organizations. The junior people do not decide who belongs and who does not. We don’t give permission to anyone to be anything.

In hierarchical organizations, the process of signallng belonging begins with the Board, goes through the CEO, through the senior managers to the managers and, only then, to the front-line.  Of course, this begs the question of who soothes the Board.  Well, we’ve hit on the fundamental weakness of hierarchical organizations.

Until we have sorted that out, the lesson for senior managers and change management scholars is that change will never happen unless everyone feels they belong. The first competency required of managers in a hierarchical organization is signaling that belonging. I have never seen that competency in an assessment center. It should be there.

How do we communicate belonging?

The American psychologist, Baumeister, can demonstrate in a lab that we are all up-ended rather easily.  He asks people to play a computer game.  Half are treated nicely by the computer.  Half get snubbed.  Those who are snubbed don’t look in a mirror as they leave.  We are that sensitive!

Should we develop thick skins?  I haven’t seen any experimental work but I’d be willing to bet that ‘thick-skinned’ people feel snubs more deeply.  They just pretend to themselves that they don’t and become even more boorish.  We’ll let the lab rats test that for us.

The point is that in give-and-take of life, we do get ‘up-ended’; we do get snubbed.  Our internal equilibrium is upset.  At that moment, reassurances that we belong are invaluable.  Leaders who can accept our misery for what it is, without making it worse by threatening us with expulsion, are invaluable.  From that starting point, we can figure out what to do next, and spread the sense of belonging along to the next person.

How can develop resilience?

Not by being thick-skinned, that’s for certain!

Probably in three ways:

1.  Understand our deep fear of being ‘cast-out’.

People who need to cast-out others are deeply worried about their own status.  We need to reassure them of their worth before they will be more compassionate towards others.

In plain language:  Ask, why is this person being such an [insert your favourite word here]?  What is s/he worried about?

2.  Work with others

We are human!  When we have had enough of someone’s carping & complaining, get people who believe in the person to work closely with them.  Build the teams that form naturally and step-back to make the links between the groups.

“To be clear”, as politicians seem to have become fond of saying, I am not advocating you put up with bad behavior or subject yourself to hours with someone who depresses you.  I am suggesting proactively putting together those people who reassure each. Then when the group is positive, link it to another positive group.  In that way, you remove yourself from provocation and provide positive alternatives.

In plain language:  When you cannot deal with someone, find someone who can.  What counts is getting along, not demonstrating our right to a temper tantrum.  Indeed, when you throw a temper tantrum, we have to ask the question under #1 – what are you afraid of?

3.  Take casting-out very seriously

We aren’t running a TV reality show.  We should only cast someone out when it is very clear that we will really be able to achieve a positive state and knowing that once the positive state is achieved, that we can invite them back in.  Tough criteria but the only criteria that tests whether or not we just throwing a self-indulgent wobbly.

We should make casting-out such a serious event.  We should document it and hold people accountable for getting it right.  I once taught with a Professor from West Point. He told me that if a student there fails, there is a full scale inquiry. The students are bright.  The Professors are good. They have the resources they need.   System fail – what went wrong?  The ethos, I was told, is that you don’t choose who you go to war with.

When we make casting-out difficult, then we are motivated to find other solutions and we may be well pleased with what we find.

In plain language:  Make casting-out rare and hard, so you can’t treat it as a cop-out.

4.  Look after your ‘interiority’

We have to keep ourselves emotionally fit.  Just as we eat, sleep, wash and exercise [do you?], we need to keep ourselves in emotional balance.  It sounds silly to say that our first job is to be happy.  The truth is that emotion is contagious.  When we are miserable, we make everyone around us miserable.  When we are in a good mood, we much more able to make space for others and much more likely to find unusual ways to get along – even if we don’t like each other very much.

But happiness takes hard work, and ironically, discipline.  We are happier when we take time to reflect on the day and get to the point that we are summing up and thinking about what went well and what we should do more of. We are happier when we spend some time in the morning thinking about what is important in life and allowing the pressures of the day find their smaller place under the greater umbrella.

In plain language: We are much more likely to be knocked off-balance when we are too busy to find the time to be happy.

5.  Build a strong positive network

And we do need to remember that we are all sensitive to rejection.  We need to cherish the social support that we get.

A neat trick that most people don’t know is that giving support is almost as good as getting support.   So when your support networks are thin, help others.

Help the person who is obviously stressed-out-of-their-heads at the airport or railway station.  Smile at the rude guy in a paroxysm of road rage (while you are wondering why his wife stays married to him).  Fake like they are human, as the saying goes.  You feel better.  And they calm down.

In plain language:  Don’t network for gain.  Network because it is fun.

Belonging in plain words

We can only function when we belong.  We can only lead positive change in awkward times when we like the people we lead. Sometimes they can be hard to like.  So our friends help us out and work more closely with the people they can bond with and we can’t.   Then we can link positive groups to each other.

We have always known this, but it takes the ‘crisis of capitalism’ and a ‘McKinsey report’ to bring it all home.  Remember that senior manager may still have a big car, but he (or she) no longer knows whether s/he are coming or going.  Someone has to settle them down.

In the meantime, connect with people who are positive.  Connect people to each other.

We will succeed in direct proportion to the amount that we trust each other.