The People Problem

July 16, 2019

Much has been written about good and bad leadership and, specifically, how good leaders build and promote thriving organizations, while bad leaders quickly kill any progress. I recently had an experience with bad leadership (really bad leadership!) and saw firsthand how bad leadership was made worse by the organization’s own people – the very assets that organizations hold dear.

While poor leadership is one thing – and there are ways to manage this issue – the organization’s assets – its people – can sometimes do more damage to the organization than its inept leaders.

In an organization where I was recently involved, here is what I observed about its people:

  1. Complacency. Those that are complacent don’t care about what happens to the organization. They believe their life is good and can’t see outside their own shells to notice that the organization is struggling. They don’t care to make a positive difference in the organization – they are content to keep the wheels turning just as they are and just for themselves.
  2. Self Interest. Like the complacent, those with self-interests will never speak up on behalf of the entire organization. These people only care about themselves. They will sit on the sidelines instead of speaking up, or they may even side with the bad leader if it serves their interest. Those that work for their self-interest are not individuals in whom one could place any trust for the benefit of the entire organization.
  3. Fear. Those afraid of “rocking the boat” are another problem in the organization. For whatever reason – perhaps it’s fear of change or fear of losing their jobs – those that fear speaking up may stand behind someone who will speak for them and they don’t particularly care where they’re standing. However, when it’s their turn to speak, they never will. These people grumble, but not when it matters or to whom it matters.
  4. Incompetence. Sadly, there are incompetent people in any organization (starting from the leader and downward). The incompetent will try to sound smart, but one can easily see through their veils. Sadly, a lot of people can be duped by an incompetent leader’s BS.
  5. Talker. The long-winded gas bags take up too much time, and even if they may say something useful in the end, because they talk so long, people lose interest in listening to them. Gasbags need to learn to get to a meaningful point quickly if they expect to be taken seriously.
  6. Inability to Walk the Talk. Those that spout off a myriad of things that need to be fixed in the organization but when it comes time to fulfill their promises and get things done, they do not follow-through. Eventually, others realize that these people are full of hot air and can’t be relied upon for any positive change in the organization.

The bottom line is that while people are necessary for an efficient organization, the type of people that make up an organization is as important as the type of leaders in the organization. Quality over quantity cannot be over stressed.

What I learned from my experience in this particular organization is that it is impossible for one person to make a change. One person can certainly initiate change, but if the people of the organization don’t support the change, there is nothing to be done.

The bottom line is that organizations not only need exceptional leaders for organizational success, but the organization’s people are just as important. Without the right mix of leadership and culture, organizational progress can be impossible.

Changing Negative Thinking

June 3, 2018

Do you work with colleagues who typically react negatively to situations? You know the ones – those that see everything as bad in the world; they want to punish all perceived wrongdoers; they reject all solutions to problems; they believe that good people do not exist; and so on.

To evaluate negative thinking, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looked at the impact of worry on performance. The study found that those who reported worrying at least 50 percent of the time or more were significantly less able to perform a simple exercise involving sorting of objects. The researchers discovered that this was a result of increased levels of negative thoughts.

When the brain is faced with complex tasks, negative thinking hurts your ability to process information and think clearly.

Think about a time when you were angry. Recall how your anger (negative emotion) impacted your ability to reason and be productive. In fact, thinking negatively about problems makes it harder to think of a helpful solution (if indeed any solution at all!).

Another impact of negative thinking is that it changes your brain chemistry. Prolonged negative experiences prevent us from distinguishing between real and perceived threats and cause us to over-react. Those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder may have this characteristic.

Negative thinking may also result in symptoms of stress such as rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and a heightened arousal (“fight or flight”). Imagine sitting quietly and then suddenly experiencing fear in the form of a panic attack. The body responds with an increased heart rate, increased breathing, perspiration, and elevated blood pressure. Negative thoughts affect our brain through this same stress response.

If you are a negative thinker, here are some things you can do to turn those negative thoughts into positives:

  1. Give yourself permission to have the negative thoughts. By giving yourself permission, you don’t beat yourself up and you are free to re-direct that energy into work that is worthwhile. Do you have a project that needs to be completed? Do you need to respond to emails? It’s like the devil versus angel on your shoulder – everyone is allowed to have negative thoughts once in a while, but if it becomes a daily constant practice, then give yourself permission to break the cycle.
  2. Turn your negative self-talk into questions rather than accusations. Instead of your inner critic maligning your thoughts, ask, “How can I make this a good situation?” or “Am I willing to do what it takes?” When you ask questions, you allow yourself to explore scenarios and your negative thoughts are turned into curiosities and observations instead of fear.
  3. Don’t strive for perfection right away. Focus on progress – the “baby steps” – that will take you from negative to positive thinking. Positive affirmations may help, but if you’re using them, you need to truly believe them; otherwise, they may backfire. For example, instead of saying, “I am the best thing on planet earth,” say, “I can be the best thing on planet earth if I . . . ” and then identify the steps you will take to meet your affirmation.

Also, consider the Law of Attraction to help you overcome your negative thoughts. The Law of Attraction says that by focusing on negative or positive thoughts, we bring into our life the negative or positive energy that we exude. Therefore, if you want more positive things to happen to you, then thinking positive thoughts is the way to go.

Here’s to positive thinking and to a productive future!

 

Motivational Posters – Fad or Comfort?

April 19, 2017

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the overwhelming motivational posters, sayings, and related paraphernalia on various social media sites? Why on earth do so many of these things exist? And even more so, why does everyone feel that they need to share something motivational with the world all the time?

I confess, I was sucked into this wormhole a while back, but I’ve been away from social media because I’ve been focusing on getting a Master’s degree and now that I’m back into my various sites, I’m gob smacked with the amount of seemingly well-intentioned messages that have flooded the Internet.

Sure, some might say that I’m not a nice person if I dislike motivational sayings, but seriously, my question is why do we NEED to see these sayings all the time? What is it that drives those to post motivational sayings? Is it because they themselves have no motivation, so by posting, they feel that they’ve done the rest of the world a favour? 

I imagine at this point, all those of you who understand the theory behind the motivational mumbo-jumbo are now eagerly writing posts to demonstrate how useful this is to man(woman)kind, but that brings me back to my question: Why do we need so much well-intentioned motivational “stuff” on social media? Are we so despondent and unaware of our own skills and abilities that we need to bombard the Internet with every silly saying under the sun?

If Ghandi were alive today, I doubt that he would be plugging up the Internet with his wise sayings. He’d be preaching it to those who are closest to him; those that care to listen.

My take on motivation is this:  You don’t need to get your motivation from the Internet – in fact, do yourself a favour and stop using the Internet as a motivational device. You won’t find motivation there (if anything, all those motivational “can do” sayings can really drag a person down!).

Build your resilience by doing superb work in whatever you set out to accomplish. And don’t forget to help your work colleague or your family with a task in which they are immersed. That’s how you build motivation – by being there and proving yourself to be useful when you are needed, time and again.

 

Learning at Work

September 29, 2016

How is your work day going? What have you learned from your job, from your peers? If you aren’t learning at work, how rewarding is your job, really? In addition to working to maintain a satisfactory standard of living, informal learning at work adds to an individual’s work satisfaction.

Various reports hold that informal learning in the workplace accounts for about 90 percent of everything that employees learn. This may be an accurate number if we consider Albert Bandura’s social learning theory positing that we learn through observing others’ behaviours and attitudes as well as the outcomes of those behaviours.  

In his book, Social Learning Theory (1977), Bandura explains that there are four conditions for modelling behaviour. These are: 

  • Attention. Different factors can increase or decrease the amount of attention paid to a particular behaviour. This includes the behaviour’s distinctiveness, its effect on your emotions (positive or negative emotions are more likely to be remembered than a behaviour that did not evoke an emotional response), prevalence and complexity of the behaviour, functional value (e.g., how important is the behaviour to your job?). An individual’s characteristics also affect attention to the behaviour (e.g., sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement, etc.).

  • Retention. This refers to remembering what you observed. This is impacted by symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, and motor rehearsal (i.e., practicing what we observed).

  • Reproduction. This is about “doing” what we observed. It includes attention to our physical capabilities to reproduce the behaviour as well as feedback mechanisms through our own self-observation of the behaviour. How well are we reproducing the observed behaviour?

  • Motivation. To imitate behaviour, we need to have a good reason to do so. This may include motivators such as history (e.g., perhaps past behaviours did not result in good outcomes, so a new behaviour is desired) or it may involve promised or imagined incentives.

Like many social and cultural theorists, Bandura believed that the world and a person’s behaviour cause each other – we behave based on our environment, but we also create an environment based on our behaviour. Either way, organizations should take heed of the role that informal and social learning have in the workplace and encourage appropriate learning to maximize efficiency and performance. Following are five ways to increase informal learning in the workplace (adapted from: Growth Engineering).  

  1. Mentoring. Coaching and mentoring help improve training and learning. Knowledge sharing is also a great way to retain knowledge in the workplace and prepare for succession.

  2. Sharing. Social learning flourishes when people get into the habit of sharing their knowledge. Having a center of learning available on the corporate intranet or some other internal forum will go a long way to help employees collaborate and boost their learning.

  3. Experts. Provide expert resources for employees – knowing who to turn to when you have a question will go a long way to helping employees learn from each other.

  4. Rewards. Some companies reward an employee’s hard work with accolades such as “Employee of the Month” or “Top Contributor,” etc. This makes learning more fun. Another way to make learning fun is through gamification – who doesn’t love a good game of Scrabble for Business?

  5. Mandatory Learning. Ensuring that employees complete one level of learning before they can advance to the next level is a good way to ensure that they are reading the corporate handbook (so to speak!). This can be done readily through an online learning platform. This ensures that collaboration and social learning become part of the employees’ learning journey.

Would you like to know how you can learn better from work? Check out the Learning Innovations Laboratory report about the “three stances that make a difference” at work.

How Great Ideas Become Game Changers

February 22, 2016

Do you have a great idea? Is your idea the proverbial “game changer?” How do you know? Here are four criteria that you can use to evaluate your ideas:

  1. What is the benefit of your idea? What is its return on investment?
  2. What is the cost of your idea? What are its risk factors?
  3. Does your idea have a strategic fit with your organization? It needs to be consistent with your organization’s practices.
  4. How easy will it be to implement your idea? This is a key criterion.

If your idea passes all of the above criteria, then you possibly do have a “game changer!”

Other things to consider in relation to innovative ideas include:

  • Most innovation is incremental. If you have 25 percent of your organization’s people making a difference every day; that will amount to huge change over time. Patience is a virtue.
  • Innovation usually surfaces on the front lines. For instance, it’s the FedEx guy who realizes things can be done better; not FedEx management.
  • Size of the organization is irrelevant when it comes to innovation. However, bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation because it only rewards conservative victories. Be bold!
  • Innovation is sensitive to both new and desired customers. For instance, I believe it was Wayne Gretzky that said, “I don’t skate after the puck, I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Innovation requires champions, but it also requires other things like focus, resources and priorities. It’s about consistency. For instance, if you need a fiscally prudent environment, then it needs to be fiscally prudent every day. Through consistency, the organization can change belief systems.
  • Innovation requires patience. Sometimes results of change can take a long time to show themselves. Remember the first bullet point above: Patience is a virtue.
  • When you have a “game changer” in hand, you need to exploit it. Seek out new markets. Use social media. Get noticed.

Finally, to accelerate innovation, promote its likely causes (e.g., front line workers) and exploit innovation for all its worth. After all, it’s innovation that makes the world move forward. In the words of Peter Drucker, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”