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Tag: what do managers do

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.

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What managers – and work psychologists – get paid for?

Every one would like to be a manager

In my years of teaching at Universities, I found students queuing up to learn management and personnel psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, etc.

Few though, had any idea what management entailed. And they are horrified when they find out.

. . . it is well paid, but . . .

The financial rewards are high. Yes, the trappings of good clothes, assistants, and international travel are glamorous.

I could say that “this is what is wanted in return for these goodies”. But that sounds like a bargain. You give us this – and we give you the rewards that you desire.

It doesn’t work like that.

On the surface, yes. Incompetent managers, who have themselves made a Faustian bargain, will tell you that your job is to brown-nose the boss. The website is full of how to impress your boss.  Well, the same skills will be valuable when you want to impress the gangs in prison-where you just might find yourself.

Management is NOT about impressing the boss. If you boss wants impressing, he, or she, is a pratt. End-run them. I suppose that is why most big organizations are run so badly. Most people understand this rule and end-run their boss.

Management does have a purpose

Management is about coordinating the various parts of an enterprise. I’ll give you an example.

Psychologists are part of general management

As psychologists, we belong to the general management function

Let’s take a real example. A few weeks ago, in an effort to stop a visiting friend from stepping into a busy street in Edinburgh, I took my eyes off my feet, tripped over some metal protruding out of the concrete.  I fell flat on my face.

It hurt, a lot. It was Edinburgh after all, so it hurt my dignity too. I looked drunk, which I wasn’t.

Fortunately, I didn’t break anything – including my glasses. I just bruised and grazed my knee.

My point is this. That metal has been there a long time. I am not the first to trip over it. It is a menace to the blind, the elderly, wheelchairs . . . and me.  A decent psychologist looks out for such situations.

Why? Dozen of city officials walk that street – they issue parking tickets, they inspect shops. How is it that a metal obstruction that trips people has gone unnoticed and unsorted?  A decent psychologist would look at the organizational structure that allows the error to occur and to persist.

This is the UK – we have ‘targets’ the way other countries have ‘bandits’.  An organizational psychologist would be alert to the consequences and their own responsibilities in the face of such a policy.  A decent organizational psychologist would bear in mind that his or her job is ‘general management’ – the way parts of an organization come together to form common cause.

When an accident happens, a relative junior will investigate what happened and why.  A relatively junior lawyer will review the legal liability.  A more senior psychologist thinks about the incident at a systemic level. They ask

  • Who follows up these incidents?
  • Who is responsible for minimizing these incidents?
  • What is the relative importance of checking for hazards on the pavement and checking for unapproved adverts, for example, which we have paid many people to do?
  • How did we get to the point that none of us have sorted out an obstruction on the pavement for years?

Within an organization, a psychologist will ask a manager why his or her subordinates have walked past an obstruction, again and again?

If targets are to blame, remove the targets! If the manager say that s/he has no authority to remove the targets, they have abdicated.  In a Weberian bureaucracy, they have said clearly “I cannot make the decision. Please refer to my superior.”   If they do not put your through, or make an appointment for you with their superior, then you only have one choice – to seek that appointment yourself.

If you are external to the organization, and their organizational structure is concealed, then go directly to the Chief Executive – with that argument.

This happened. I inquired from the public officer nominally responsible. They did not have the authority to solve the problem. They declined to refer me to their manager, which I understand is their obligation when they do not have the authority to resolve my request.

I now refer this to you  and ask you to direct it to someone who does have authority.

To psychologists, if these incidents are happening in your organization, you aren’t fulfilling your responsibility as general managers. Different sections aren’t meshing.

Bring it to the attention of a line manager, once. Once. Then go to their managers. And keep going. Politely. Sweetly. That is your job.

Psychology requires the exercise of authority, not brown-nosing a boss.

That is why not everyone really wants to be a manager .   .  . or a work & organizational psychologist

That is why a lot of students duck out of organizational psychology, once they get in to it.

Our trade is not only about earning money. It is not about brown-nosing a boss.

It is about exercising responsibility in accordance with the law. Pay bonuses that lead to recklessness or metal protuberances in the pavement, are prima facie evidence that the common cause of the organization is being neglected  If they aren’t resolved on first raising, that is prime facie evidence that some general staff are asleep.  To put no finer point on it – problems that persist are prima facie evidence that people earning much beyond 25K are stealing their wages.

That includes us – psychologists.  It is our job to raise these matters and insist they are resolved.

That’s why, after all, a lot of students don’t want the job.

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Do your customers love the way your professionals work with each other?

The play, the actors, an ensemble, the essence, the audience

Today, I heard James Roose-Evans describe how he directs a play.

And I thought about leading groups of professionals when each brings their own expertise.

It is so different from working with people who hope to fill our shoes one day.  We have such inadequate language to describe how something magical and intangible but definitely palpable and recognizable comes out of our interaction and is so pleasing to our customers.

What do you think?

“I love working with actors. What is exciting, at the first day of rehearsal, when you have a whole group of actors from different backgrounds and different expectations and techniques and the director’s task is to weave them all into an ensemble in order to convey the essence of the play and share it with the audience. It is a very exciting journey that a director makes with the actors.”

Transcribed from BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 16 September, 2009.

“James Roose-Evans founded Hampstead Theatre 50 years ago. He has written 17 books, including the bestselling Inner Journey: Outer Journey and Experimental Theatre and has directed many plays, including the award-winning 84 Charing Cross Road. He is a non-stipendiary Anglican priest, founded the Bleddfa Centre for Creative Spirit and continues to lead meditation classes. His autobiography, Opening Doors and Windows: A Memoir in Four Acts is pubished [sic] by The History Press.

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Work psychology: 2008 AD

Do you know what work psychologists do?

Thirty-one years ago, I decided to study psychology.  And for 28 years, I have practiced as a work psychologist.  Can you imagine my surprise when some readers said this blog was their first encounter with my esteemed trade?  So what do we do?

What do we do all day?

I love being a work psychologist and I think it is important for you to know I go to my ‘office’ every day with a spring in my step, looking forward to the people I will meet during the course of the day.   Most of our lives are spent ‘on the road’.  We usually work at our clients’ factories and offices, and we need strong arms to carry around briefcases laden with confidential papers.  When you see us, we are likely to be taking part in some HR exercise – recruitment, selection, or team-building, say.  When you don’t see us, we will be reconciling paperwork, doing computer work, or talking to senior managers about the direction of the company, and ways to organize, lead, up skill, confront challenges, and look after each other.

Why do clients hire us?

We deal with the pulse of the organization.  Ideally, we want everyone to enjoy their work as much as we do.  There is fascination in what we do, but little mystery.  Our understanding of how organizations work has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 100 years.  The last ten years have been particularly interesting as the limits of old ‘mechanical’ organizations have been reached and we’ve begun to embrace the fluidity and flexibility of the internet.

The psychologist’s role is to bring to the party up-to-date information about the way work practices are changing around the world, hands-on experience of changes in other companies, and deep commitment to supporting you as you think through changes in the immediate and foreseeable future.

What is special about what we do?

Just looking at us work is not sufficient to see the value we add.  You can see us talking to people – lots of people do that!  You see the briefcases – a prop?

The key to what psychologists do is deep training and ongoing exposure to work situations around the world.  When we talk with you, we are not asking whether we like you.  Nor, are we are asking about things we want.

Our interest is in accurately understanding your motivation and your circumstances, reflecting them against the changing world of business and work, and helping you work through the mix of emotions you feel as you cast your story in terms of today’s economic conditions – globalization, credit crunch, and new technologies.

This is a complicated process.  Even in the simplest business, we have on the one hand the things we want, and one the other, ‘what’s out there’.  And that gap in knowledge is not all we cope with.  When we really want something, we feel fear and trepidation.  Our job is to stay with you while you work through your anxiety and take the first step towards what will ultimately be success and very deep satisfaction.

Psychologists understand this process, see it is normal, and are there to help steer you through all three questions: you, your opportunities, your emotions.

When we work in most modern businesses, 5, 10, 15, 10 000, 100 000 of us are going through the same process.  When I decide, for example, to pursue my story in certain ways, my actions change your circumstances.   The key to good organization is that the give-and-take between us as we follow our own dreams strengthens us individuals and as a group.  Therein, the discussions we hold with senior managers.

Some case studies next?  Do let me know if I have made it any clearer what we do for a living!

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5 businesses encountered this week (and it is only Tuesday)

I love being a work psychologist

I became a work psychologist because I love learning about organizations and what people do. What makes a business tick?

It’s only Monday and here are five picks of whom I have encountered this week (and it is only Tuesday!)

Geographer who locates supermarkets (location, location, location)

Valuer of cars in Russia (great when it freezes and plenty of work until the insurance market matures)

Broker of Nepalese art (deep relationships with artists = supply chain management)

Furniture retailer in Sudan (steady as she goes – continuity and cost leadership)

Retail banker in Sri Lanka (get that customer served – be reliable and dependable)

What I do (my core competence, if you like)

HR always seems so obvious to people in the business.  If it works well, it becomes part of the “taken for granted” set of value assumptions in the underwater part of the cultural iceberg.

Non-formally trained business people take for granted what they do, twice over.  What they seems natural, it also seems childish not to know.

The fun of being a work psychologist is drawing out the assumptions business people have held for so long that they haven’t mentioned them or talked about them to anyone for a long time.

What is it like to have a conversation with a work psychologist?

I am having fun. What do business people gain from talking to me?

  • My interest is a mirror where they can see how their business runs.  They enjoy the experience and are reassured and steadied as they work in other areas that may be shaky.
  • Talking aloud to an appreciative listener allows them to put into words what they have been acting on, but not thinking or saying.  Often we don’t realize what we think until we say it aloud in the presence of someone else.
  • The principles of what they are doing are now out in the open where they can inspect them, consider them, and consider how relevant they will be in the future.  The valuer in Russia, for example, has trained valuers in distant city so he can take advantage of the current boom in valuing assets.  He also knows the boom will peak in a few years.  He is perfectly aware of both facts but may allow the situation to drift if he does not say what he knows aloud in front of someone else.

Why a psychologist and not someone else?

A business person talks to many people – their banker or their associates at the pub.  Why and how are we different?

  • We draw out the assumptions about HR.
  • We are trained to challenge gently, and reveal those long taken for granted assumptions that operate like the underwater part of an iceberg – essential to the visible business but deadly if forgotten.  A friend or banker is concentrating on what they need to hear, not on what the business person needs to hear themselves say.
  • We deliberately restate assumptions clearly so they are on the table for discussion and sharing with other people – new employees, bankers, and people we are talking to during times of change.  A business person talking to a psychologist in any setting, say a conference, a training room, an interview, should come away feeling invigorated.  They should feel clearer about what is important to them and confident that the important things are being attended to.

And it is only Tuesday!  This is a great job.  People are endlessly fascinating when they are talking about a job they love and do well.

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Group consciousness: the goal of leaders and organizational theorists

Without good governance, life is solitary poor, nasty, brutish and short

So said Hobbes of countries.  This philosophy also underlies organizational theory.  Without good structure

“.  .  .  organisations, particularly large ones, are not very conscious. There is not some malign [in]efficiency at the core of them, rather semi-conscious shuffles and bodges in various directions, which are beyond the ability of any single individual to do much about. I think that animal-herd behaviour is much the best model to describe collective humanity, however intelligent and aware the individuals within it may be.”

The goals of organizational stewards is to help us be aware at an organizational level

The goal of those of us who are organizational stewards is to create organizations that are aware at an organizational level.  How do we know what we do and the effects of our actions?  This has been the subject of organizational theory since armies began and certainly since Henri Fayol wrote down how to manage the managers in his coal mine at the turn of the century.

The “cleft stick” approach in classical organizations

Until the emergence of the internet, we concentrated on designing the communication systems within the organization on a “cleft stick” basis.  Who spoke to whom?  Who had the right to decide?  Who must be consulted?  Etc, etc.

To bring it all together, we followed the apex of the organization and indeed one of the most important rules of organizational design was showing the link between each person and the person at the “top”.

We all know how well we did on the ‘classical organization project’.  Most organizations were not stewarded well and there was little attempt to manage communication properly.  Even where communication channels were well designed, in reality, information was often not passed around as it needed to be ~ sometimes with horrendous results.

The networked organizations

The internet creates another way to provide group consciousness.  We can all talk to each other directly; and we can use search engines, such as Google to find information much more quickly than ever before.

Google is an example of a company run this way (see Gary Hamel interviewing Eric Schmidt on YouTube).  There is no need for the cumbersome organizational structures of the past precisely because there is another way of creating group consciousness.

New skills for organizational stewards in the networked world

It takes new skills, of course, to develop this raised consciousness.  We are very likely to be savvy as internet users and creators.

  • We also have to understand how to read the results of the internet – judging provenance and the reliability of information.
  • We have to read the mood.
  • We have to learn to influence through this medium.
  • And we have to show that we can deliver results in the ‘real world’ through this new organizational ether.

It is time to develop the curriculum!

Who is in?  These are the questions that spring to my mind.  Who is working in this field?  What are the classical case studies?  What are the central ideas?  What are the best ways of exploring the ideas?

What is the best way of generating consciousness in the field itself?

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Eric Schmidt talking to Gary Hamel

Listen (no pun intended – 70 minutes).

 

Notes:

Eric Schmidt is the CEO of Google.  Gary Hamel is a Professor of Management at Harvard.  Schmidt’s main message is that leaders of innovative organizations like Google must listen, listen, listen.  A good listen!

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The essence of leadership is follow me

Even if it is only out of curiosity

Now who said that? Colin Powell, I believe, speaking to HR managers in the UK.

Culture, attitudes, behavior

My friend Steve Roesler at AllThingsWorkplace posted today on workplace culture, and how hard it is to change behavior. This is a central topic in social and organizational psychology. Can we change an attitude without changing behavior? Can we change behavior without changing culture? What sustains culture?

Earlier today I read a similar article in TimesOnLine on whether politicians can change British drinking culture by decree.

David Aaronvitch used a neat phrase:

“Fashion, popular culture, whatever you call it, found a way round authority, because it didn’t depend upon authority, or even upon establishment approval.”

This is the same phenomenon that Steve is talking about: informal culture and power. Should we despair as the TimesOnLine suggests? Brits are drunks – live with it and laugh at politicians nannying us again? Can cultures be modified?

How do we change patterns?

My social media friends will phrase this differently: can we organize viral campaigns?

I think we often put the cart before the horse.

Change effects tend to be spiral, or recursive. In other words, the change creates the change. And a forward change can cause a backward effect, necessary for the forward change.

So why the cart before the horse? We want the cart to be moving along with the horse following.

To get change, we have to join in. We have to be there in other words. We have put ourselves out there and be changed in the process. We have to believe that cart is worth pulling. We have to notice when it starts to roll back and judge whether to roll with it or dig our heels in.  We have to believe in it enough to feel the harness rubbing . . .

It is the linkage that is critical.

Being a player

In organizations, it is the willingness to be a player: to really put our money on the table. Willingness to win and to lose with everyone else.

  • Are we willing to sit at the table and make tough choices? And be accountable for the consequences?
  • Do we believe in our people enough to be accountable on the bad days?
  • Can we have the courageous conversations about what is truly rotten?
  • Can we accept the challenge about how we have treated people?
  • Can we do all of this will only one end in mind – keeping the group there for its members?

We don’t want to be talked at.  We want to talk with people who are also vulnerable in that their pride, future, pleasure, is also at stake.  We want to talk seriously with people about why we are doing this, whatever this is, and authentically discuss what is at stake for everyone.

Can we link our our futures to that cart?

Leading from within

This is the competency that HR Managers struggle with.

This is the competency that I hope social media managers will learn early ~ to be a player.

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