“The reality of life is that while staying put is without doubt the most comfortable for the short haul, it is in fact the highest risk strategy of all.” – John Harvey-Jones. We live in an era of constant change. This has become a cliché that everyone recognises, heaving a sigh before carrying on as they were whenever they can! The reason for this is that, although we know there is constant change, it is not coherent and often only temporary. Take the example of changes due to technology. Because of technological improvements, we should be able to work smarter, and use the technology as a trusted servant. Instead, most people find that it means learning how to use some new software, but does not really reduce their workload, or encourage them to work differently with their colleagues. Yet the original intention behind such improvements was to enable people to use their time more effectively, and work differently. So what happened? Most organisations have not thought through the implications of constant change, and so still work to the old premise of looking for ways to stay put for however long they can, before introducing a change that will establish a new status quo. They are still geared for staying put, not for change. This is true of our education, our training, and our way of life, so for many people, change is an unwelcome interruption, not a welcome move forward. How do we move to being geared up for change? There is another ‘revolution’ taking place, in the working practice and culture of organisations. Change is inevitable. It need not be a crisis but can offer new opportunities. Change takes place more rapidly than ever, yet few of us have had any preparation in the art of dealing with change, whether in our personal life, our work, or in our wider social circumstances. Coping with change and the events of change is a neglected skill.
Most organisations have undertaken some major changes in the last few years, both structurally and technologically. All such change is necessary, but for it to have a lasting positive effect, it is vital that it is supported by a reinforcing culture. This means that the vision and values of the company, in practice as well as in theory, need to match with the paradigm of change, so that the people in the organisation receive a clear message that change is now a constant in the organisation, and that the culture supports them in developing their ability to work well within the new paradigm. It is inevitable that working practice will have to change. The leading edge will be where people have learnt to work together in a more effective way. Only then will re-structuring and re-processing show their full benefits. Only then will change be something to delight in, rather than to fear. Reinforcing organisational development.The purpose of organisational change is to increase the effectiveness of the company. This can only be achieved in the longer-term, if the behaviour and attitudes of people change, so that they are geared up to continually look for ways of increasing organisational effectiveness. The attitudes and behaviour required. The characteristics of those who support and thrive on change have been well researched. They include:- delight in change constantly learning flexible innovative taking responsibility working co-operatively being resourceful valuing differences in others looking for opportunities to develop. These characteristics are also the characteristics of those who are excellent in what they do. THE META MODEL OF CHANGE The Meta model demonstrates that healthy change in individuals, teams and organisations does not have to be about tackling all the problems. The model demonstrates that fast/healthy change can be facilitated by noticing and growing what is already excellent in an individual/team/ or organisation. The theory is that by taking this non-linear and unusual approach ‘the problems’ reduce of their own accord, as we grow what is excellent. This suggests that positive change can be accomplished quicker and more easily with the Meta approach than traditional linear ’cause and effect’ approaches to problem solving. The process of developing towards the ideal What would it be like if it were perfect? Why should we make change happen? What have you already got towards the ideal? What else could you do to move it on? What obstacles are there and how do you get past them? What are you going to do now? This is the Meta design principle for change programmes, and is applied in workshops, coaching and consultancy on change. It is also Meta’s approach to organisational diagnostics and co-creation with the customer.
Excellent organisations, change.
WORKING TOWARDS THE IDEAL ORGANISATION – 04
Where do I start?
The question of where do I start is one that many of us face all too often in our lives. We read or hear about something that inspires us or prompts us, personally or professionally, get excited about the possibility of making things better in some way, and then grind to a halt.
It is so hard to decide what exactly to do, how to fit it in, and even worse if it will require some change to our routine! How many lost dreams do you have in your kitbag somewhere, delayed until they might be possible, or you win the lottery!
When we decide that we would love to make our place of work a place where people want to give of their best, and where quality and excellent service are automatic, it feels exciting and inspiring. Then we look around us at all the stuff of everyday work, and all the problems we notice with the product, the people, the processes, and feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what we already have to deal with, never mind adding more!
We can of course have a go, and this is what we often hear praised in people who are considered to be entrepreneurs, because they devote all their time, energy and concentration into making their dreams a reality. What we don’t hear so much about is:
- The cost in terms of their personal lives for many of them
- The majority who don’t make it through to a successfully achieved vision, but give up along the way
I believe that we can make it much easier for ourselves and also make it more likely that we will get to where we want to go. All that is required is that we find someone who will give us some support and help in the transition from where we are to where we want to be.
Why don’t we ask for help?
The idea of using someone else’s help is not an automatic one with most of us. This is because we learn fairly early on in our lives that it is a ‘good thing’ to be independent and do things for ourselves. In fact, it goes further than that: it is seen as some form of failure to need other people’s help. Rather than being a way of empowering ourselves, and enabling ourselves to be more effective, asking for another’s help is seen as a sign of weakness and an admission of failure on our part.
This is made even worse by the historical attitude to needing help in work. It is worse than just a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you are not up to the job, and possibly even a career stopper. Most people are told that they need help because they are perceived to be under-performing in some way, and they would prefer for it to be quick, easy and forgotten about as soon as possible.
I still remember when an organisation I was working with had decided that all their managers should be coaches to their teams, in line with the trend at the time for trying to get managers to adopt a less authoritarian style. They gave them a few days’ training in coaching methods, and assumed that the coaching style of managing would follow.
The result was that instead of calling people to their office to lay into them for something that wasn’t good enough, the majority of the managers started to call people to their office for a ‘damn good coaching’, and then laid into them in exactly the same way! Those people were as keen to avoid coaching as they had been to avoid being laid into before, and would laughingly say to me that they didn’t mind what I did with them so long as I didn’t coach them.
More recently, there has been some acceptance that executive coaching may be a good thing, and may even be a sort of status symbol, like having your own psychiatrist. Yet the idea still lingers on that coaching is a remedial activity for people who have problems, and those executives most likely to have coaching agreed are the ones who are not ‘fitting in’ as well as they might with the culture of the company, or who are under-performing in some way.
The importance of a coach
What nonsense! We all know that there are times when another’s perspective is invaluable, when another’s challenge is just what we need to get us moving, and another’s support keeps us going when we are not so sure of ourselves.
The word coach was first generally used in a sports environment, and the purpose of the coach was to enable someone to reach their peak performance. Sometimes that meant challenging them on their weaknesses, but it also meant helping them to exploit their strengths, and become even better than they thought they could be. The coach cared and believed in the person’s potential, and gave them another perspective on what they could achieve, and ways of getting there.
Some of us can use our friends in this capacity. They are the person who helps us to see that things are not as complicated as we thought, or who prompts us to dare when we were thinking of giving up, or who just comes to the class or gym with us, and helps us to keep going. Some friends are better at this than others, because they will vary in how much they run their personal agendas on our issues, and they will vary in their skill in asking us the right questions.
At work, few of us are lucky enough to have someone who can genuinely fulfil this role for us from within the organisation. Although some managers are good at the role, they will almost inevitably have some of their own agenda running, and colleagues may be a useful sounding board, but most of us prefer not to let them know either our doubts or our dreams, in case they use the information in some way.
The recognition that this ‘ally’ could be invaluable in helping us to achieve even more has led to a proliferation of professional coaches, particularly for leaders at work. As with anything, the value of the coaching depends on how skilled the coach is and what he/she holds to be the purpose of what they are doing.
At Meta we have a lot of experience of coaching at executive levels, and we believe that coaching is a vital tool for those who want to achieve excellence in their leadership and for their organisations.
The benefits of coaching
An excellent coach will prompt you to:
- Re-awaken your dreams or dare to dream of possibilities
- Clarify exactly what you want as outcomes
- Decide how you can begin to turn your dreams into reality
- Identify what you already have that you can build on to achieve your dream
- Challenge your pre-conceptions about the obstacles involved
- Begin to move towards what you want
- Keep going when things slow down or seem to be blocked
- Delight in your progress
He/she will also provide the objective yet caring view that can help us to see from a different perspective, and will encourage you whenever you need it. The coach’s intention and attention is entirely with you and the outcomes you want, and they have no other agenda. They also come with no judgement of you, so you can bring any topic to the coaching and they will deal with it with the level of importance that you give it.
An example of how this works would be the recently appointed MD who wants to have an excellent organisation, but thinks that the staff are not really up for it. To begin with, we established what he meant by an excellent organisation, so we knew where we were headed. The challenge was then in defining the role of the leader in such an organisation, and his recognition that he was not playing that part. Talking it through enabled him to define his role more clearly, and begin to put that version into practice.
His examples of how the staff were not coming up to scratch were not ignored, but we started instead from what they did well, and then looked at how he might build on that to achieve what he wanted.
Within 3 sessions, he had a clear role description, a set of principles for the organisation to live by, and a strategy for encouraging the staff to become more committed to his vision for the company. As he said, he would have started by getting discouraged by the lack of response from the staff, and probably given up if left to his own devices. Yet he had come up with all the answers, and just needed the prompt of someone else.
Finding the right coach
To gain these benefits, we need to ensure that the coach is right for us. For example, I know that I need a coach who will challenge me and stretch my thinking – sympathy needs to be there, but not running the show.
It is essential that you ensure that the coach is going to fulfil the role you require of them, and that means that you need to be clear about what you want from a coach.
At Meta we believe that there are some vital qualities and principles that underlie coaching, and we do not accept anyone to work as a coach for us without this underpinning.
Principles of coaching
- The coach is there to enable the person to uncover their own potential and wisdom
- The coach works with the other person’s agenda and commits to helping them achieve their outcomes
- Coaching is only appropriate if the person genuinely wants to enhance their performance and/or that of their organisation in some way
- The coach makes no assumptions about what is best for the person or the organisation, whilst ensuring that they check that the person’s own ideas will really work to achieve what they want
- The content of a coaching session is confidential and any reporting of it is with the person’s agreement
- The coach helps the person to not only find solutions, but also to identify how they found them, so they can use the same process for themselves in other situations – second level learning
Notice that this set of principles is very similar to what we would expect of a trusted friend.
Qualities of a coach
If the coach is to be useful to you, he/she needs to be the sort of person you can trust and feel comfortable with. Their personal qualities are paramount in this, and to accept someone you are not sure about is to reduce the likelihood of the coaching being as useful as it might for you.
The excellent coach is someone who:
- Has integrity and values
- Is excellent at asking the right questions
- Can maintain a level of objectivity while at the same time being clearly ‘on your side’
- Genuinely cares about what you want to achieve
- Is non-judgemental about your present skills and believes that you can achieve what you want and maybe even more
- Is willing to work with you in a way that works for you, rather than imposing a method on you that doesn’t really suit you
- Ensures that you always feel that it is a safe environment to explore in
- Ensures that your action plans are achievable and realistic, so that you do not get overwhelmed
- Helps you to recognise your unconscious as well as conscious decisions and motivations
- Is available for you on an informal basis as well as the formal sessions to give support and encouragement
- Takes every opportunity to enhance what you gain from the coaching, so that you grow as a person in as full a sense as possible, and achieve the changes you want for yourself and for your organisation
Notice that an executive coach does not need to be an expert in your particular field. In fact, this can be a handicap to their objectivity, as they are more likely to believe that they know the way to do things if they are an expert in sales, manufacturing etc.
What they do need is an understanding of the principles of good leadership, planning and implementing changes, and what makes an excellent organisation work.
Using a coach
So you have found an excellent coach who suits your requirements. What help can they give you?
- Enhancing your skills as a leader
A coach can help you to establish what you are good at and what you would like to be even better at as a leader. He/she can also help you to identify easy ways of enhancing your skills, and building on your strengths. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you are used to keeping a tight hold on what is happening in your area, and have decided that you want to delegate more effectively, you may need to work through how this can be achieved without you or others feeling uncomfortable.
- Establishing your vision for the company
A coach can help you to stretch your thinking on what’s possible as a vision for how you want your organisation to be, whether that is a department or the whole company. He/she can also help you to find ways of beginning to turn it into a reality, identifying strategies, priorities and actions. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you have never offered an explicit vision to your colleagues and engaged them in it, you may not be sure how to go about this.
- Deciding on and planning for changes
A coach can help you to make a coherent plan for changes you want to instigate, and ensure that they are presented in a way that makes sense to others as well as to you. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you have not before instigated successful change in people’s behaviour, as opposed to training them in a new process, you may need to explore what will help you to really capture people’s hearts as well as their minds, so that they truly engage with the change.
- Finding a way of improving the working practice in the company
A coach can help you to ensure that you have considered all the aspects of making successful improvements to working practice, so that it is not just regarded as another initiative, and is taken on fully by the people involved. You may also need some help with areas that are less familiar to you. For example, if you think that some people will resist the improvement, you may need to explore how to make it irresistible for them!
- Any other business!
This list is not exhaustive, although it probably captures the main themes we come across when coaching. The beauty of a good coach is that you can take almost anything you would like to tackle to them, and they will work with you on it with gusto!
All of us have our moments of inspiration and desire to make things better for ourselves and our organisations. Too often, they drift away, buried under the everyday demands on our time, and the difficulty of turning an idea into reality.
There are lots of ways we can help ourselves and our organisations to become the best we can be. We can read books, attend seminars, talk with colleagues, go to workshops. And we can take advantage of the chance of having a personal coach who will help you to make it more possible to achieve your dreams. After all, it is well known that getting physically fit is far more successful when you have a personal trainer, who designs the programme specifically for you, and encourages you to keep going!
Coaching is not a remedial exercise – it is one of the most powerful ways of making it easier for you to grow your own skills as a leader and a visionary. It enhances the likelihood of you becoming the best you can be, and enables you to really grow your organisation in a way that is coherent and thought through. Have you found a coach yet?
Leadership, excellent organistaions
THE IDEAL ORGANISATION – 04
From the very beginning we at Meta have been fascinated by the concept of the ideal organisation. The company was formed with the explicit intention of putting the ideal into practice, to check out how the ideal works in practice. What do we mean by the ideal organisation? Well, firstly we established the criteria for the ideal organisation:-
- People love to come to work, they feel valued, and treated like a grown-up. They are encouraged to give of their best, and are continually growing.
- Customers love the organisation. They feel respected and liked and are also treated like grown-ups. They know the organisation is honest with them and can be trusted. They also know the company will always deliver on its promises.
- Suppliers also like working with the organisation. They know that both their work and their humanity will be respected, and that the organisation will deal fairly and honestly with them. They are also encouraged to experiment, and supported in growing their own business. The relationship is one that is truly valued on both sides.
- The organisation is completely ethical. There are a clear set of values that are lived to, with no shady areas of compromise to get a deal, either internally or with customers and suppliers. The organisation is as transparent as it can be.
- The company has a clear identity supported by a brand that people admire. Every contact made, every decision made, every piece of marketing reflect the brand and values in the same way, regardless of who is involved. When different people compare their stories about the organisation, they have the same characteristics.
- The organisation runs smoothly. Whilst absolutely embodying a strong people focus, it also has simple and effective systems and processes which enable and support this focus. It delivers a professional service that is responsive to peoples’ needs. Every system and process is designed with common sense in mind, so that it’s easy to use.
This list of criteria is not something we have made up in some ivory tower. Our research into what people would consider to be the ideal organisation has been ongoing for over 15 years, and many others have also been exploring the same topic for even longer – see references for some other research.
The fascinating part of our research is that the criteria seem to be universal. We have asked people at all levels in a whole variety of organisations, and even different cultures throughout the world, yet the variation in response is minimal.
We have also researched from the customer and supplier perspective looking at both individual views and corporate views, and again found a remarkable consistency.
This suggested to me that there is something very strange going on: we can all agree on the criteria for the ideal organisation, yet we continue to work in ways that prevent us from having that ideal organisation. What is that about? In Meta we call this the tacit conspiracy. We all know what would work, yet we perpetuate working practice that is not effective in making us want to be at work. We think that this is because we follow the example set by others who have already accepted the pattern of how you need to be at work, assuming that there must be some good reason for it. Because no-one questions it, the normal working practice continues to be a reality that most would prefer to be able to walk away from. Hence the attraction of things like lotteries!
It is this big gap between the ideal and the reality of most working practice that led to the next set of questions:
- What is required to turn the ideal into reality?
- What stops us from doing so?
Requirements to turn ideal into reality
When we have explored with people what would need to happen for the ideal to become reality, they usually begin by suggesting that it has nothing to do with them. However, most of us have occasionally experienced the ideal in practice, if only in part, and when we ask people to remember such experiences, they begin to realise that maybe we all have a part to play.
For example you may have worked in a particular department where everyone loved to come to work. As you explore it, you realise that the ‘tone’ of the place was established by how everyone tacitly agreed to treat everyone else. The boss often sets the tone, but I have known places where the tone was set by someone else, and the boss just got caught up in it.
Or you may have worked with somewhere where the care for the customers was genuine and heartfelt, and the staff felt at the end of the day that they had done a good job, because they had done something to make life easier for their customers.
We all do have examples, even if they are not the most common experience of work. And even if you haven’t actually worked somewhere that gave you direct evidence, you will have been to a pub or restaurant where the atmosphere told you that there was good practice going on there. And it is often just a few of the characters in the place who change how it feels.
So what exactly makes the difference?
- 1. Leaders rather than managers
Traditionally people have been managed, that is, they are given tasks and checked on to ensure that they fulfil their tasks. The control in the workplace has been very similar to the control in the school room, and since that has been most people’s previous experience, they accept that that is how it works, even if it doesn’t feel right.
Leaders are those who give people the guidelines and the goals, and then trust them to achieve. They inspire people to give of their best and set the example of how to work effectively themselves, rather than giving our rules and instructions.
When senior staff are developed to be leaders rather than managers, the whole organisation benefits.
- 2. A vision that makes sense of everyone’s role and responsibility
If I know how what I do contributes to the success of the organisation, and that my part is vital to that success, then I am more motivated to play my part as well as possible, and more likely to recognise that without my part, others cannot do theirs successfully.
Success is more than short-term profits however. People need to feel that they are doing something worthwhile, that does more than just earn money, for them and for the company.
I remember working with a company that provides a form of power. When we talked about how selling their power to people and businesses could be seen as worthwhile, we got lots of examples of communities and businesses that relied on their form of power, and couldn’t exist where they were without it. The managers I was working with went back to their business units and talked about this aspect of what their business was about with their staff and reported that both they and their teams found it really useful to enhance their motivation.
- 3. Empowerment
This word has been around for a while, yet we still do not generally put into practice its real implications. I referred earlier to the fact that many managers treat us as if we were still school children. This implies a lack of trust in our ability to act like grown-ups, take responsibility, and actively do our best. Yet we manage to behave like grown-ups in our personal lives – at least most of the time!
When an organisation decides to trust its employees, there is a significant change in atmosphere. (See Ricardo Semler’s book ‘Maverick’ for an example of what I mean). Most people are trustworthy and want to do their best. At Meta we see how motivated and excited people are when they truly believe that their managers will trust them to help make the business work. The fear of giving this trust seems to stem from a belief that people will ‘take advantage’ and of course, some few will – but they are only the minority.
- 4. Communication
If there is one thing that every organisation seems to have problems with, this is it. Wherever we go, we hear people say that there is a lack of communication in their organisation. And all too often, the solution is seen to be to give more information. This is not what makes the difference.
Communication means to share something with someone else. It is more than information, it is a feeling behind what is being presented. We believe that this feeling comprises two parts:
- That what is being communicated is based in honesty and a genuine desire to keep people fully informed of the things that matter
- That the person communicating wants to make this a dialogue, and is open to what you have to say as well
At Meta we believe that good communication is based on establishing real relationships with others, through ordinary conversations which form the basis for being able to talk about anything in a genuine way – like we do with friends. We also believe that it is impossible to have good communication without being willing to play straight with people.
- 5. Accessibility
Do you see and speak with your boss? Or do you wonder what he or she is doing all day, and have to book 3 months in advance to get 20 minutes with them?
When the boss is around and available, when their commitments are clear and make sense to everyone who works with them, when the boss knows who you are and what you do, then people feel that their work is valued.
When they can ask a question, admit to a mistake, discuss an issue, then people do their best and get on most of the time.
There is sometimes a fear that people will devour the boss’s time and be completely dependent, or that if the boss is too ‘familiar’, then he/she won’t be respected. Yet those bosses who do go for a drink with the staff, wander around and have a laugh with people, tend to be both respected and have effective teams who work well.
- 6. Learning
As human beings we were designed to continually develop and grow. As children, we learn enormous amounts very easily. Then we go to school and learn that learning is difficult, and often meaningless or irrelevant to our lives!
A decade ago, there was never—ending talk of learning organisations, yet we didn’t really succeed in putting the theory into practice. Maybe we made it too complex. All it really means is that everyone is encouraged to share what they know with others, and to experiment to increase their knowing. We do this naturally when we know that it is OK to not always be right, when we are allowed to risk sometimes, and when we are allowed to talk with each other!
- 7. Systems
These differences are even easier to achieve if the systems of the organisation support what you are doing. For example, truly flexible hours as a system supports a team who are allowing for individual personal needs whilst maintaining the quality and productivity of their work. Otherwise, they have to cover up, when they are making that allowance and break the organisational rules. However, there are examples of where a coherent business case has been put forward to change a rule, to allow people to work more effectively: in fact this was the major role played by trade unions originally.
So the common conclusion is that turning the ideal into reality requires people to start thinking and acting differently, and everyone can play a part.
What stops us?
There are, I believe, four major myths that prevent us from making the simple changes required, and they all link to cultural norms that have somehow become viewed as facts.
- 1. Businesses need to be constantly ‘streamlined’
We work in a world that views everything in a short-term way. Companies are judged by their performance on a quarterly basis, not over the long-term, just as governments are judged on what they have achieved in their few years’ term of office.
To keep the profits high, companies are always looking for ways to cost-cut, so that the profits look good for the next quarter or year.
And there is no doubt that reducing staffing is a good way of achieving a reduction in fixed costs and therefore increasing profit. Presently the favourite trick is to move jobs to countries where labour is cheaper – the latest in a list of ways of achieving this short-term gain.
Yet it takes little common sense to notice that these ‘solutions’ really are short-term gain only. The effect within the organisation can be devastating, and many of those which have taken these short-term actions have not survived and thrived in the longer term.
Those who remain in the organisation after a bout of ‘streamlining’ are affected almost as much as those who lose their jobs, and these effects have repercussions for the business.
- People lose their trust in the business and concentrate on keeping their heads down, or look for jobs elsewhere
- Those who stay lose their passion because they see no point in investing their energy in a place that could get rid of them
- People get more responsibility than they van possibly carry, and end up stressed and ill or under performing
There are examples of companies that take a different approach ( see ‘Nuts’ by the Friebergs to find out about how South-West Airlines tackled difficult times). When people care about their organisation and are allowed to help to make it work, they create changes that are sustainable, rather than short-term.
- 2. Doing the right thing is commercial suicide
It is interesting that the recent high-profile examples of companies engaging in unethical and illegal practices may help to shift this myth! Nonetheless, there is still a tendency to equate commercialism with some lack of transparency and honesty, as it would adversely affect customers’ view if they knew that you had problems of any sort.
This translates to an individual level: managers not being honest with their staff, sales people fudging their figures, people blaming colleagues and shifting responsibility.
Yet when people explore the evidence of their own experience, they tend to find that these organisational and individual behaviours lead to:
- being found out and suffering the consequences
- demotivation of staff
- lowering of morale and productivity
- increasing levels of distrust and deceit in all sorts of ways.
There are organisations that are successful and ethical – the two are not mutually exclusive. An example would be Triodos Bank, who engage in ethical investing. ( see www.triodos.co.uk)
- ‘I am powerless to change anything’
It fascinates me that the majority of people at work believe that they cannot change how things work. This includes senior managers and whole departments, not just those at grass roots level.
I believe that we have been educated to feel powerless. As small children, we come into a world full of rules constructed by others and are educated to conform to the rules rather than question their validity. We learn very quickly that what seems obvious to our common sense may not be the rule at all, and that questioning the rules is not allowed, so we learn to say ‘it’s not my fault’ rather than ‘what can I do about it?’.
Yet most of us have shown that we can change things and have changed and evolved ourselves. We have formed and built friendships by taking first steps. We have created our own homes to be pleasant environments on tight budgets. We have found another job when we were being treated badly or unfairly. We may even have challenged the status quo: not accepting poor service; standing up to the bullying boss or peer; demonstrating for human rights. The changes that have happened in the world and the social fabric have happened because people have acted.
For example, it is people who caused the Berlin Wall to come down, and a peaceful revolution to happen in South Africa. And it is people who are making enough noise to make the government think twice about allowing GM crops to be grown here, despite the pressure from the multi-nationals involved.
And when people feel powerless at work the results are:
- They don’t suggest simple things that they have identified that would improve the work they are producing, thus help themselves and the organisation.
- They snipe at others to make themselves feel a bit better, thereby creating a poor, mistrustful atmosphere
- They don’t take responsibility, and look for something or someone to blame
Yet when people realise just how powerless they feel, they make a different choice. We at Meta do an activity with people called choice points. It asks people to decide what choice they would prefer to make regarding change, for example, and gives them a range, making the point that choosing to be passive in the situation is also a choice, even if unconscious. Most people prefer to chose to take an active position, rather than be a victim of circumstance.
- 4. Non-conformists are unwelcome
Many years ago, in my youth, I was told by an education inspector that I was a really good teacher, but that I might not pass my probationary period because I had an unconventional approach! This is a prime example of the way this particular myth is supported and passed on. We have confirmed for us the belief that stepping out of line will lead to negative consequences in many ways throughout our early lives. From early on, we realise that most parents and teachers seem to like us and approve of us when we conform to their rules and expectations, even though from the child’s viewpoint, many of their rules seem daft! For example, we are told to eat all of our main course up, so we can ‘earn’ our pudding. What if I don’t like it? And what if I don’t particularly want my pudding? But we learn to follow the norm – no wonder so many people are overweight!
Then we begin to realise that there are more general expectations: that we pass exams at school, marry, have a good job, behave politely. Despite protestations to the contrary, these still apply. Just think how many 30 years olds are asked when they are going to ‘settle down’ if they don’t fulfil the norm!
At work, it is accepted that you don’t ‘rock the boat’ if you want to get on. If you have an induction, you are told the formal rules of the company. Then you embark on the real learning curve of fitting into the unwritten rules: how you behave in meetings, with your boss, with your colleagues, with the opposite gender, in terms of your productivity or level of service you offer. At Meta, we call these the operating principles, and make explicit that they are a powerful tool that can be actively decided upon to become a tool for positive change rather than a negative influence on how people behave.
The daft bit is that we won’t generally even stand out in a positive way. Managers won’t treat their staff better in case the staff think they are a soft touch, and their peers think they are not strong enough. People aren’t respectful and helpful to their colleagues, in case they get taken advantage of, and aren’t seen as getting on with their job! This is something we call the tacit conspiracy: we all tacitly agree to behave in ways that don’t work, rather than challenge the practice and suggest the more useful ones that we know would work. It absolutely denies common sense!
Yet we all admire, maybe envy, the non-conformists: the boss who has a laugh with you, rather than staying distant; the colleague who challenges the piece of nonsense being given as fact in the meeting; the one who comes up with a much simpler way of achieving the same effect. And the growth and development of organisations actually depend on these people, because without them there is no innovation.
Furthermore the non-conformists are frequently the high achievers, long term. They are likely to encourage others to give of their best, and be influential in changing the status quo. They also create a space for others to move out of their strict conformity. If we maintain the myth of needing to fit in, we are likely to get:
- A serious lack of creative thought, which leads to entropy, particularly in a rapidly changing world.
- A dulling down of people, so they are less motivated in what they do.
- The most talented people leaving the organisation because they see it as a straight jacket
- A loss of passion and drive in the organisation
The power of the myths
The power of these myths rests in 2 things:
- 1. There are examples that support the myths
We are all able to find evidence to show that they are true. There is no doubt that there are examples of:
- The company that didn’t ‘streamline’ to meet the demands of the stock market for short-term cost-cutting and ended up folding because its share price collapsed
- The company that folded because the owner ‘naively’ decided to trust people and be honest
- The time when we really couldn’t change what was happening and we were made to feel again our powerlessness
- The non-conformist who was ostracised and ‘punished’ for their lack of conformity
What we forget are the many counter-examples that exist, and also the negative consequences of maintaining the myths.
- 2. Cultural acceptance
These myths are perpetuated by our cultural norms, reinforced by upbringing, education, and stories. This means that we take them in and learn how to work with them at an unconscious level, and mostly don’t question them. It becomes automatic behaviour with us, not consciously chosen.
When we do consciously question their validity, we may intellectually agree that they are myths, and are not very useful. But we still have the automatic patterns of behaviour that maintain them.
So it takes a lot of conscious effort to shift the automatic behaviour despite our intellectual acceptance. It’s like deciding to be a swimmer rather than an athlete. We make the decision, and then have to really work hard at retraining our muscles for the new activity, until we automatically use our swimming muscles rather than running muscles.
At Meta we talk about getting different behaviours ‘into the muscle’ rather than just intellectually accepting them, and then falling back into old habits.
There are, of course, some other obstacles to us turning our ideals into reality, such as:
- Systems that reward those who conform and are self-serving
- Legal obligations
- Bosses who make or lives hell if we don’t fit in with their way
- The pressures to achieve and compete
However, we believe that if we tackle the myths, the rest becomes much easier. It is our choice to invest power in the myths, and whereas children may not be able to challenge them, however silly they may appear to them, as grown-ups we can certainly decide to use our common sense instead!
WHAT HELPS US
Despite all the obstacles to us making the ideal organisation a reality, there are some strong counteracting forces, which support us in making the move, should we chose to do so.
While it is useful to identify and acknowledge the obstacles, it is far more useful to use our energy on the areas that will facilitate our move to the ideal way of working. These are the areas that we will explore in depth, as we build this website. The main elements are:
- Natural preference
When we stop and consider, most of us would prefer a different way of working, so we are willing to explore how to.
- Clarity of vision
When offered explicitly the ideal of working practice, it is attractive to most people, so spelling it out is vital
- Committed leadership
When the boss genuinely wants the ideal, then others also feel allowed to move towards it
- Explaining the rationale behind wanting to move towards the ideal
When we bother to point out how the move will make life easier and more fulfilling for people, we get a buy-in to give a start to the process.
- Working together
Most people are already working in teams. If they work together and support and encourage each other in moving towards the ideal, they speed up the process considerably.
- Making the move easy
The movement towards the ideal is not linear, it is cumulative, so anything positive will contribute to its growth. When people are given easy steps to take, it encourages them to take more.
In Meta, we have focussed our attention on researching all the ways we can find to help make the process of moving from ideal to reality easily, whilst taking account of the obstacles caused by the myths.