January 16, 2018

Stating the position or actually addressing the issue?

Four business people in a discussionIt could be that I’m noticing this more for reasons that are particular to me. That said…

It seems to have become more and more common for representatives of some corporate bodies and local and national government to respond to a new question or challenge with a flat assertion of the current position or policy, failing completely to address the issue raised by the stakeholder.

For example, I saw a news report about the case for some individuals in a certain age range and category to be screened for asbestos-related diseases because it would potentially improve outcomes. The official response stated that the relevant advisory authority hadn’t recommended it, therefore, nothing needs to be done. Meanwhile, if you have symptoms, go to your doctor (and hope it isn’t already too late)… matter closed.

I could quote other examples.

I think we’ve got rather too good at this.

It might be a successful short-term defence from the organisation’s point of view but it’s very costly in terms of longer-term goodwill. The disrespect involved is very damaging to the relationship “capital.” No wonder we don’t trust organisations and governments much.

How do you see this?

And is it a mode you employ?

It’s rather easy to dead bat something… Harder to address the issue, though much more commanding of respect.

If it doesn’t suit the cognitive processes of the user…

Woman thinking…then our work is useless.

We—or others—often congratulate ourselves on our efficiency in standardising a process or making electronic what once was a paper system.

The trouble is…

If in so doing we create something that no longer matches the cognitive processes the user or recipient used to use or needs to use, then we’ve broken something. And there’s more to this issue than the question of the user learning the new IT: More than that, it’s to do with the different ways people process information, as a matter of their wiring, if you like, and what they use the information for. We’re not all the same in that respect.

For example…

On-line diary or calendar systems are all very well—no doubt they save a multitude of trees, but if what you actually need is to contemplate the picture of the year as a whole in some detail, they’re useless. If you’ve ever tried manually planning a lengthy journey on a smartphone screen, you’ll have experienced a similar difficulty.

Inconveniently, we need to present our information the way that suits the recipient, not the way that suits us. Deny them that and we may deny ourselves the outcome we want.

The form of presentation of the information can be as important as the information itself.

How much are you aware of how you process information—or how the people around you do?

Drop everything?

Four business people in a discussionWe need to get people’s attention from time to time…

We may well need them to accommodate what we need done, or what they need to do to give effect to what we’re offering them.

If we expect them to drop everything though, it probably isn’t going to happen.

I’ve made the mistake several times of agreeing to buy a service or product that’s been offered to me unsolicited and then found that I don’t have the capacity to follow through on the implementation.

So in change and growth, to drop everything isn’t a realistic option, and we’ll do better if we set the pace accordingly (and choose people who recognise that).

Less is sometimes more, especially in the long haul.

Can you governance your way to innovation?

GatheringIt’s the modern management obsession: “governance” and, to a degree, quite rightly so. We do need our organisations and our projects to be well-managed.

The trouble is…

Governance on its own isn’t enough to prepare an organisation for the future. We can’t legislate for innovation and adaptation. I don’t think so anyway.

Somewhere, there needs to be enough freedom to try something new, and forgiveness if it doesn’t work out first time.

And yet…

Some organisations and some leaders – or maybe it would be more accurate to say some managers – seem to think that if only they govern rigorously enough, their organisation will be adaptable and agile.

But I believe they stand in the same position as those who attempted to succeed with a Soviet-style planned economy.

A balance is required: a combination of governance and freedom. Sounds like a contradiction? Probably it is, but that’s what’s needed. And the art of a leader – perhaps as opposed to a manager – is to hold the space for that ambiguity to exist in a tolerable and stimulating way.

What do you think?

Can strong governance and adaptation co-exist? Or is governance alone enough if it’s done sufficiently effectively?

Leadership is contagious

Two doctors in discussionUnlike management, which doesn’t really spread from person to person, leadership is contagious. If one person is an effective and energetic leader, those around them are likely to pick up some of the traits too.

Management authority has to be arranged and people have to be appointed to roles.


Leadership authority can be developed independently of management structure and rub off from one individual to another, to be drawn on as and when circumstances require.

A good idea then to cultivate leadership skills in an organisation—they spread.

(Thanks to Geoff Crowley, Managing Director of Highland Colour Coaters, who prompted this piece.)

The fine tuning of big change

Fast yacht sailingWe tend to think that big change requires brute force and large, broad strokes.

Maybe not…

Sometimes, the bigger the change required, the more delicate the approach needs to be—the more finely attuned is the effort that will succeed.

It’s a bit like getting a sailing boat to go fast—fine adjustment is required—just the right amount of force on the controls—not too much, not too little—everything in balance; “in the groove” of the optimum.

Marketing is like that: Push too hard and you end up with less.

It’s very obvious sometimes that people in positions of authority apply too much force and end up with less result. They’re not matching their input to the natural dynamics of the system.

They’re not in the groove.

And nor is the system.

Of course…

They need to be demanding, but not beyond the ability of the team to keep up, otherwise the result is, in fact, diminished rather than increased.

Feeling included (or not)

Mixed group of peopleHow is it that it makes such a difference if we make sure people feel included?

I understand the explanation to be a deep-seated part of our nature—the need to belong to a group to survive—literally. In earlier times, if we became separated from the group, we would be in serious trouble. So we have powerful, unconscious—you could say “instinctive”—programming about wanting and needing to be included.

It’s surprising then how many people neglect this easy way to make a difference. Just by taking the trouble to include everyone present, we can establish useful influence, sometimes to a remarkable degree.


We underestimate the hurt of accidentally or deliberately excluding someone, even temporarily.

That’s often an avoidable error, if we take the trouble to avoid it.

I find it helps to think of oneself, not as a node within a group, but more as a container for the whole. That sounds a bit weird, I know. I had this realisation in an exercise once… I initially saw myself as the hub of a wheel (thinking of a wooden spoked wheel) then I realised I identified more with the rim, holding everything else together.

What about you? Are you the hub or the rim of the wheel or something else?

Irrespective of that…

What do you do to make everyone feel included (if you think that’s a good idea)?

What’s the difference between espoused theories and theories in use?

Group in discussion at computerThe short answer is ego.

Organisations, teams, and individuals (including ourselves) have a habit of claiming to operate according to a set of theories that apply to our work. With the best of intentions, we set out to do our business based on a set of assumptions we would like to be true.

In fact, observation of what actually happens will usually reveal something different. In a perspective first articulated by Chris Argyris, we operate according to a rather different set of assumptions—our “theories in use.” It’s these theories-in-use that govern what is really done.

For example, espoused theories might be around customer service. In some organisations, unfortunately, the theories in use might have more to do with profit maximisation. The result is a debilitating disconnection between what management claims to be about and what it’s really about.

When challenged on this, leaders will typically resist admitting what drives them isn’t what they would like it to be. Their ego won’t let them.

Unaddressed, ego will maintain the discrepancy between espoused theories and theories in use, preventing the organisation (or the person) from really understanding itself, in turn preventing it from adapting and changing and growing.

An important role of leaders is to overcome this tendency, both in themselves and in others.

How closely aligned are your theories in use and your espoused theories? Can you see any gap between how you say you operate and how you really operate?

Another way this manifests can be summarised by “we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”

Time to reflect on our actions perhaps.

Are you associated with the problem?

Business People in a Board meetingI don’t mean are you causing the problem: I mean are you engaged with it; or engaged with the people who are dealing with it?

If not, you probably won’t have much impact.

If you’re dissociated from the problem or the people, chances are you won’t be able to influence what happens, however insightful your thinking is.

To be able to influence, we need to be in relationship with the people who are involved; to be connected. We probably need to be engaged with the problem itself too.

Can we be both engaged in the system and able to stand back and maintain perspective, if not simultaneously, then at least sequentially?

Do you have a method for doing that?

Are you associated or disassociated with the problems you care about? It does make a difference.

Discontinuous change vs. continuous adaptation

Discontinuous change vs. continuous adaptationOne philosophy of change in organisations starts from an assumption that structures, processes and systems are largely fixed at the outset—frozen, if you like. The approach then is to unfreeze the existing set-up, change it as required, developing whatever new structures and processes are needed, and then refreeze it again.

After that, we can fine-tune what we have for efficiency and profit.

That may work. It is an approach to discontinuous change.

The trouble is though that change is probably becoming too rapid for that. We may need to be unfrozen all the time, continuously evolving and making changes.

The question becomes how to instil continuous evolution, adaptation and growth, if that’s what we need; if our normal state needs to be evolution, not stability.

Developing our adaptability is a different kind of problem from implementing a change programme. It’s much more about initiative and self-organisation and inter-connection, for example, though we need to find ways of staying efficient and profitable as we evolve.

Perhaps large change programmes should lead to continuous adaptation—with no “refreezing.”

What do you think?