Posts Tagged ‘reality’

House of Cards

April 12, 2015

CardHouse

Tell the truth. This is the advice your parents gave you when you were five. They insisted on it or there were consequences. It’s a good idea, regardless of your age, because it has everything to do with progress. It does, however, require courage.

Like temperature is to fever, truth is to organizational health.  We see this all the time  where people gather in organizations and communities. Safe space for truth is “permitted” by powerful people and the routine level of tolerance becomes a norm.

Skillful leaders interrogate reality and engage multiple opinions, they value insights beyond or different from their own. They recognize arguments by detractors, minority opinions and others’ experience. They know these are all vital to informed decisions and learning. They are aware of their own blind spots. Many people in key jobs don’t proceed this way. They require loyalty, no matter how foolish or nonsensical the party line and exclude or otherwise squash any deviance.

Marketing or Reality

The essential problem with this is that experienced people know the variations in the truth fall in two big camps: marketing and reality. The former weighs politics far more than the latter which is aimed at performance. Marketing or the “official truth” is a constructed notion that all is well. It is the party line that ignores the smoldering fires. It only allows heroes and never recognizes wrongs, errors, mischief or corruption. You find out about truth later when there’s a big spill, investigative journalism, a lawsuit or gossip. Marketing doesn’t expect anyone to think.

The common clever ways to manage information for advantage include: withholding, obfuscating, avoiding, reframing or twisting the script. Depending on core values, people cope with this in different ways. It has certain ethical dimensions.  Unfortunately, when people change the story to suit their own purposes there is real cost. Feeding a narrative that’s at odds with the facts has consequence. Research shows when issues get ignored then there is erosion in staff confidence, compliance, productivity, safety and legal concerns, as well as damage to brand, vendor relations, trust and other factors.

In contrast, grounded truth reflects ugly reality, unpleasant news and a whole picture that includes flaws, bumps and deficits. Looking at the truth means thinking must happen. When we and others start thinking then we can co-create great efforts to fix what needs a fix.

Messengers & Silent Good People

Very capable, honest people can get hurt in the space between marketing and truth. To deflect substance, dysfunctional organizations take aim at the messenger versus the message. Instead, there ought to be someone asking: What about these serious concerns?

Martin Luther King said: “We will have to repent not merely for our vitriolic words and actions of bad people…but for the appalling silence of good people.” When reality isn’t permitted, then threats and opportunities, and simple information sharing and integration aren’t either. We know it is a foundational error to have inadequate situational analysis. Without it, the rest of your edifice gets shaky. So, if strategy is weak from the get go and trust takes a beating, there’s big trouble. In their absence, you are likely to add bad execution to weak strategy. The net is a virtual house of cards.

You are a lot older than five. So,  tell the truth and welcome it warmly from others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Climb The Ladder

November 11, 2013

skyladder

Don’t do or say anything that you’re not willing to see on the front page. It’s a dated maxim since few people read newspapers. Mostly, people read screens instead. But the  warning remains a current imperative for performance: accountability.

Years ago, I saw a model that work-culture experts used in their training. My version of it appears here. In your mind, picture personal accountability as a ladder with rungs on it. Those on the upper rungs show accountable behaviors. Those avoiding it are on the bottom rungs.

Acctarrow

A few questions can get you and colleagues engaged in important reflection. Which part of the ladder do you spend most of your time? Where do you often see others? Why are there patterns of behavior? What would encourage a higher rung for yourself? For staff, for senior executives and others?

Responsible people make hard choices every day. When faced with a tough one: think about your behavior showing up in high definition on the screen of those who most matter to your work and your life. Professionals embrace accountability. It is a huge factor in any organizations’ success. Step up to the top rungs of the ladder every day!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Beware of Maps & Traps

June 2, 2013

sandtrap

Most often, decisions are made by building models or maps in your mind based on what’s worked before. Then, people typically follow the old map. This common process has inherent dangers. The resulting flawed decisions have a host of other implications.

What habits of mind can unintentionally enable errors?

Illusions are one significant challenge. Three specific illusions can cause problems: (1) the belief our own ideas are superior to others (2) the tendency to overestimate chances of success (3) the false perception of control.

Priming is another common response to our environment that demonstrates how susceptible we are to external cues. For example, wine shoppers in a supermarket purchase considerably more French wine when French music plays and more German wine when German music plays.

Be aware humans are significantly influenced by titled positions and a desire to be an “insider.” This is known as crowd or herd behavior. If the ethics or skills of leaders are less than stellar – it can cause considerable grief in organizations and communities.

Most Destructive

Denial is the motherlode of dysfunction. Denial has direct connections to maps. It occurs when reality is so unappetizing that people refuse to acknowledge it. Harvard professor Richard Tedlow says it happens when “the smartest people in the room” can be very dumb. In his book, Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Face Facts, he cites tabloid examples like Enron along with well known companies like Coke, Ford, and IBM.

Action Steps

Denial is in play when people refuse to adjust course and oppose trusted advisors in the face of clear evidence. Here are a few ways to tackle it:

(1) Call out people who dismiss facts or create a version of reality (rationalize)

(2) Insist on straight talk with facts

(3) Challenge assumptions

(4) Avoid groupthink, its the same as crowd or herd behavior

(5) Aggressively create new culture  that lauds inquiry, evidence and learning

(6) Watch for symptoms of denial in your own thinking and others

In golf, “going to the beach” hurts your score. A sand trap is an unwelcome detour. When managing people, recognize and avoid common traps of the human mind. Get a firm grip on perception (what we see) and reality (what is).

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Clutch:Clarity in the Storm of Surprise

October 26, 2010

Long gone are the ebb and flow of predictable events. Today’s dynamic context is more like a series of tsunami waves — without an early warning system.

While we’ve all faced hard choices  under a tight deadline,  the pressure soars when an  unanticipated or even unpredictable change occurs. Personally, it’s   the moment you realize the  serious implications of a life-threatening diagnosis. At work, it shows up when an important internal or external factor generates a serious threat. Perhaps a fraud or corruption that could destroy your entire organization. Some people avoid the circumstance, others “crumble.” Some steer well and help their organization respond.

Frame The Current Reality
Recognizing an unexpected current reality and its implications are crucial for managing and leading effectively. Whether you acknowledge the problem, when and how you respond  can determine the success or failure of your enterprise. Paul Sullivan’s new book, “Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t” tackles this topic.

 Sullivan differentiates  the commonly used expression of “clutch” from an exciting moment in sports that wins the game to “a precisely executed series of plays.” He explains it includes a mental component. And, names five common  traits of people who demonstrate clutch: “focus, discipline, adaptability, being present and a mix of entrepreneurial desire and fear.”  According to Sullivan, avoiding the traps of leaders who choke means taking responsibility for action, no overthinking and no overconfidence when stability resumes.

Getting Past Self
When crises present, there’s no expectation any one leader has mystical visions of the right course of action. But, it is possible to carefully execute processes that guide tough decisions. Too frequently the interplay of politics, ego or pride can distract from the optimal choice. Thinking about your thinking (meta-cognition), might be an important step to take right now. 

 Sullivan (and others) suggest a relative accuracy in framing the problem, a response before opportunity cost becomes overwhelming, and a dispassionate approach are all factors in a recipe for great management. We know many, both non- and for-profits, that have navigated tremendous financial woes as markets change dramatically and much of forecasting fails. Agility is one of the new qualifications for survival.

 The litmus for you and me is a calculated and composed response in a dramatically new context. Anticipate the unexpected and be ready to engage your “clutch.”

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see: http://www.pwkinc.com.

 -The image above is Hiroshige. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1823-29).


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