Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Road to Davy’s Bar

In an earlier blog post I shared a quote from Charles Handy about sensible organizational behavior that I just love. I promised I would share his parable of change called The Road to Davy’s Bar. It’s a long quote, but I hope you find it as useful as I do.

The Wicklow Mountains lie just outside Dublin, Ireland. It is an area of wild
beauty, a place to which, as an Irishman born there, I return as often as I can.
It is still a bare and lonely spot, with unmarked roads, and I still get lost.
Once I stopped and asked the way. “Sure, it’s easy,” a local replied, “just keep
going the way you are, straight ahead, and after a while you will cross a small
bridge with Davy’s Bar on the far side. You can’t miss it!” “Yes, I’ve got
that,” I said. “Straight on to Davy’s Bar.” “That’s right. Well, half a mile
before you get there, turn to your right up the hill.”

His directions seemed so logical that I thanked him and drove off. By the time I realized that the logic made no sense he had disappeared. As I made my way down to Davy’s Bar, wondering which of the roads to the right to take, I reflected that he had just given me a vivid example of paradox, perhaps even the paradox of our times: by the time you know where you ought to go, it’s too late to go there, or, more dramatically, if you keep on going the way you are, you will miss the road to the future.

….. The world keeps changing. It is one of the paradoxes of success that the things and the ways which got you where you are are seldom those that keep you there. If you think they are, and that you know the way to the future because it is a continuation of where you’ve come from, you may well end up in Davy’s Bar, with nothing left but a chance to drown your sorrows and reminisce about the past (pp 49-50, emphasis added).

Handy then describes a powerful concept about the basic nature of change called the Sigmoid Curve. The logic of the Sigmoid Curve is burned in my brain – stay tuned because I will share it sometime soon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What do you profess?

Yesterday I talked about the things that I “profess” when I teach organizational behavior. These things I profess represent my core beliefs about the practice of my profession, which I see as developing future leaders and managers.

To be honest, even though I have professed these things for years, yesterday was the first time I have ever written them down in a single and concise list. Some of the beliefs I listed developed decades ago, while others really only became central to my philosophy in the last few years. I anticipate, in fact hope, that my now stated beliefs will continue to evolve as my understanding of what makes people tick at work continues to develop as well.

So what do you profess?

What are your core beliefs about how to achieve excellence in the practice of your profession? If you were given the opportunity to speak on a regular basis to people what were interested in or new to your profession, what would you tell them? Are your core beliefs consistent with and help you daily accomplish your purpose?

If you are like me, just getting this stuff on paper might be pretty tough, and getting it to a point where you are comfortable with it might take numerous iterations. Try to get your list to the point that you could share it with others with both clarity and conviction; there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that you truly believe these things and feel very strongly about them.

What is it about what you do, how you do it, and why you do it that makes you authentic and compelling? Get to the point in your clarity and conviction that your hope would be that whoever heard you “profess” these things would remember them forever.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My bottom line

Tonight is the first meeting of another 3 week course in organizational behavior. Even though this is my bread-and-butter course, I only get to teach it in the summer because of my other teaching obligations. But I LOVE this course because students are continuously surprised about the power and relevance of the material. There are very few courses where students can walk out and apply the material in their lives today.

Early in my career I was fortunate to be in a small group meeting with the president of the Academy of Management. Someone in the group asked him his advice on how to become a better teacher. His response was simple – have something “to profess”. Belief in and care for the message matters, and people respond positively when you speak from your passion.

Here are some of the main things I “profess” when I teach organizational behavior:

· We usually only notice the behavior of other folks at work when they have done something wrong or unexpected. When that happens, we automatically search for an explanation for the behavior we just observed. Our knee-jerk reaction will be to blame the individual, but the real explanation for the behavior will always be a combination of some things about the person (e.g. personality, attitudes) and things about the system or process (e.g. training, staffing, equipment) which they do not control.

· System or process factors, more than person factors, are the strongest drivers of behavior at work. But it is easier to blame people than to fix systems. If you want to be the most effective leader you can be, stop blaming people and fix your systems.

· People are an open book. Over time, if we know what to look and listen for, people will reveal to us their personalities, attitudes, and values. But for this to have value, we have to be informed observers. If we can’t “read”, we will miss the story. We need to understand our people so that we can encourage them to partner with us to fix our systems.

· Personalities are relatively fixed and stable by the time folks get to us as adults at work. We can’t change people’s personalities, so don’t even try. But we do want to understand personalities, first our own, then the personalities of those we work with, so that we can adjust the thing we have the most control over – our own behavior.

· Attitudes, on the other hand, are not fixed and can have a strong effect on performance. We need to listen for specific attitudes (e.g. satisfaction and commitment) so that we can take specific actions to change those attitudes. The most effective ways to change employee attitudes are always found in changes to the system (e.g. job re-design, better training, and a change in rewards).

· Purpose is powerful. Make sure you and the folks you have been given the privilege to lead clearly understand why their work matters.

· Do the right thing. This is the most basic definition of leadership. Yet reasonable people can and will disagree on the right thing to do, usually because we have different missions. When this disagreement occurs, remember the purpose.

· As a leader or follower, strive to be a resource, not the source. Always be thinking in terms of “how can I help?”

· Create interdependent, not dependent relationships with people at work. Whether leader or follower, strive to be a partner and not part of a superior-subordinate relationship. Partners give 100% effort to their work, but they also see it as part of their responsibility to always be looking for ways to improve the system or process they are working on. The paradox of partnership is that even if we are not invited into partner a relationship that does not relieve of us the personal responsibility to behave as partners.

· Unless and until you we assume full responsibility for ourselves, we force others to assume responsibility for us. We can never be true partners at work until we assume full responsibility for ourselves. There is no blame.

· There is no substitute for caring. Trust is fundamental to our effectiveness as leaders. The most important thing people want to know about when they are deciding whether or not to trust us is our intentions toward them. Over time, it is pretty clear by our words and deeds what we really care most about – ourselves or the people we have been given the privilege to lead. We get a fundamentally and sometimes radically different response from people when they know we care about them. You can’t fake this either.

Wow, that was more than I thought it was going to be! But there is so much more. People do fascinating things at work, and organizational behavior helps us understand why we do the things we do.

And only with understanding do we have the opportunity to create a unique future for ourselves and those we have been given the privilege to lead.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sensible organizational behavior

Do you highlight or underline a book when you read? I often do. I highlight things that jump out at me or for whatever reasons really make an impression on me.

I find it fascinating to look back through a book I read years ago and see what I highlighted (ok, I am a nerd). It can be easy to forget how we got where we are, how we became who we are.

I’ve been thumbing through some of the old books on my shelf recently, by gurus like W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker and Charles Handy. The “old” stuff they wrote 20 years ago is still contemporary today. It is a testament to how forward thinking these folks were.

I’m going to share more nuggets from their works in the future, but I have to get this quote from Handy’s The Age of Pardox in my blog now because it is so simple yet so powerful.

A common cause, the willingness to deny oneself in the interests of that common
cause, and trust that the other party will do the same – these are the
essentials of sensible organizational behavior (p. 120).

The concepts of purpose and trust resonate with me as strongly as any other at this point in my thinking about organizational behavior. "Why is this important?" and "What are your intentions toward me?" are two of the most basic questions a leader must address to those she/he has been given the privilege to lead. I’m very grateful to credit Charles Handy for helping to shape my heart and mind on these issues.

Handy tells a great parable about change called The Road to Davey’s Bar. Stay tuned for that one.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Social Support

Wow, it has been a LONG time since my last blog entry. The end of the semester is crazy busy. That’s an excuse, I know, but I’m sticking to it.

The fifth intentional activity from The How of Happiness is developing social support. Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness. The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude, the second was deliberate optimism, the third was to stop overthinking and comparing ourselves to others, and the fourth was practicing acts of kindness.

Developing social support means having an adequate stock of people that you can call on to help in times of need and stress. There is a large body of research that shows it is one of the most effective coping mechanisms available. We can get social support from friends, family, colleagues, supervisors, subordinates, professionals (e.g. our doctor), or spiritual advisors (e.g. our minister).

And the relationship between friends and happiness is reciprocal. People with friends are more likely to be happy; likewise, happy people are more likely to have friends. We are most likely hard wired to seek out and maintain strong, stable, and positive interpersonal relationships.

Here are a few suggestions for developing friendships:

· Make time. Be available to others so you can offer support and encouragement if needed. Consider creating rituals (e.g. coffee breaks, lunch) where you can get together and stay in touch on a regular basis.
· Communicate. Be a good listener, but don’t neglect sharing of yourself. Be transparent with no hidden agenda and nothing to hide. If asked, be prepared to give your honest opinion.
·Watch your motives. There is no substitute for caring. We trust people that have our best intentions in mind. When we have a chance to influence others, it will always come down to a choice between favoring our self-interest or the interest of others. Over time, our words and deeds paint a very clear picture of us and people can tell if we do or do not care.

In my opinion, while it is good to be friendly with everyone at work, I think we should develop most of our closest friendships outside of work. This is especially important as we assume the privilege of leading others. The best leaders consult a wide variety of people – friends as well as foes – before making important decisions, and they do the right thing regardless of what their friends might think.

We have to be caring and authentic while remaining absolutely fair. Impressions are powerful, and even the slightest impression that we might play favorites at work can undermine our credibility.