Archive for the ‘Human Value’ Category

I have wanted to write this post for some time now, but for some reason have been putting it off.  On May 27, 2011, however, for the first time in US history,  a bill was signed into law by a mechanical autopen at the direction of President Obama who was in Europe. This historic event, and dare I say a great money saver, provided the inspiration I needed.

About fifteen years ago, while in graduate school, I was tasked with developing a model to explain organization dynamics. At the time I was working in a manufacturing environment so the human-machine interface was obvious. The manufacturing equipment was part mechanical, part electrical, and the factory was supported by IBM mainframes, DEC Minicomputers, and other smaller computers. Supervisors were equipped with shortwave radios and beepers for more effective communication. Personal computers had started to enter the workplace in 1981 accompanied by dot matrix printers and later, ink pen plotters. For me, the most obvious concept was the CYBORG Model.

I specifically remember one of the first outbursts against the invasion of the Cyborgs that populated the model. In the late 1980’s we had hired Dr. Wayne Dyer to come to the world’s largest factory of its kind and speak to the salaried workforce in the auditorium. Within minutes after his opening remarks, someone’s beeper went off.  Dr. Dyer abruptly stopped his planned talk and went into a ten minute rant about “electronic leashes” He chastised the group for being slaves to technology and not taking personal responsibility for deciding when to turn it off. I wonder how he feels today.

Technology began to evolve at an ever increasing pace. Palm Pilots were the Personal Digit Assistants (PDA) of choice, but were later eclipsed by the BlackBerry, with other models spanning the gap. Car phones became mobile phones and entered the workplace. Productivity steadily increased as did distraction.

“Crackberries” soon began showing up in meetings. They tended to be the higher level managers that the company had chosen to supply with the technology. The behavior of checking the device increased in frequency.

As technology continued its whirlwind advance, computers became more useful and cell phones smarter. Our ability to connect with others increased exponentially as did our ability to disconnect on a personal level.

It’s not uncommon today to see more than one person in a meeting checking emails, text messages, or even just entertaining themselves as Cyborgs. A bigger complaint, one I have experienced myself, is the one-on-one meeting with the “manager” who during the course of the meeting will glance at his computer screen for incoming email, check her cell phone for text messages or take an incoming call, and yes, even answer the “land-line” phone.

What has happened? In science fiction it’s called assimilation. Have we become assimilated by the technology? All technology devices I am aware of have On/Off switches.  Could Dr. Wayne Dyer’s rant in the 1980’s been a foreshadowing, a warning about the future?

As much as I observe and sometimes criticize Cyborg behavior, I am not immune from it. I would not be able to function without my laptop; and just recently I was seduced by the Sirens of the smart phone. My rational was that I needed mobile access to my email when I traveled. Little did I realize that the lure of its capability would capture so much of my time and attention – the Android may well be the cousin of the Cyborg.

I haven’t even addressed the Internet or the World Wide Web. And now that Web 2.0 has arrived, perhaps the entire concept of the human-machine interface is changing. Check out this popular 4:31 minute video by Professor Wesch and pay special attention to the ending messages. It’s called Web 2.0… Machines are Us/ing Us.

Incite: To what degree have you been assimilated? When personally connecting with other people at work, can you control or even shut down your machine-side?  What can you do to show others that they are more important than your technology?

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Our perceptions, our knowledge, our beliefs, i.e. our mind sets, are the result of patterns we have created in our brains over time.  On one hand they are a good thing because they are efficient and they require little thought.  Imagine having to pull out a map or use your GPS every time you wanted to drive home from a familiar location.  On the other hand, according to Dr. Edward Miller, Dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University, 90% of people who have coronary bypass surgery do not change their lifestyles.  Why is this?  The patterns we create in our brains are wired, eventually hard wired, and difficult to change – they can become mental traps

What’s the key to avoiding restrictive mental traps? Pattern-switching – it’s the ability to switch over and see things in a different way and create new connections.  It is the basis for insight, learning, and dare I say wisdom – eventually. Pattern switching is much more difficult for the “close minded” person.  The “open minded” individual who is also open to influence has greater success.

I used to have an open mind, but my brains kept falling out.  ~Steven Wright

So let’s get back to the original question – what is the most powerful  mind changer?  Humor – it’s the most straightforward and obvious expression of the ability to switch patterns. It’s one we seldom resist. With humor, we suddenly see or think of something in an unexpected new way, and it makes us laugh, or at least chuckle.

I think the power of the mental process that underlies humor trumps logic and reason. Logic and reason help us explain things and figure them out –  humor changes them.

Note: For a more deliberative approach to pattern-switching, see The Medici? Effect.

Incites: Many managers have an open door policy. To be effective, they also need an open mind policy. When you have a different point of view, do you ask other people about the thinking, the experiences, the story behind theirs?  How can you connect the two different perspectives to create a new connection. For example: A physicist speaking with a minister – If heat rises, wouldn’t Heaven be hotter than Hell?

It’s Monday morning, five minutes past nine, the six staff meeting attendees are discussing their weekend activities.  The manager looks down at the agenda, looks at the clock on wall and says in a controlled but somewhat impatient tone “Okay, let’s get this meeting started.”

Actually, the meeting has started, but not in the eyes of the task focused manager.  The employees are reconnecting on a personal level prior to getting into the content of the agenda.  If the manager understood the importance of both relationship and task, he may have asked something like “So, before we continue, what was the most surprising or positive experience someone had this weekend?”  Or, using an approach that also connects the participants to the work, “Now that everyone seems refreshed from the weekend, what work are you most excited about this week?” (Hopefully, there would be answer; if not, there’s other work to do.)

This is “connection before content” in its simplest form.  It’s important enough to be consciously aware of and to plan for.  In longer or larger meetings, it is useful to determine the desired outcomes from both a business (task) and people (relationship) perspective.  This awareness ensures that connection exercises or activities are built into the design.

In early 2008, a colleague and I conducted focus groups to discover what made people feel connected.  The responses fell into three categories: 1) physical/environmental; 2) personal interaction; and 3) organizational practices and processes.  Below is one of the key findings:

A distinct impression that many believe when being asked to be part of a company, is that often means giving up something of one’s self; that being professional means being less human. Connecting on a personal level is critical to feeling connected on a business level.

“Connection before content” is not a new concept.  I have seen it described as a “Peter Block rule of thumb.”  Peter introduced the concept into the organization I was with in the early 2000’s. It is also addressed in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging (2009) in Chapter 13, p.146, in a broader and deeper societal context.

Before diving into the agenda, citizens need to be connected to one another. Whenever we enter a room, it is with doubt and a vague feeling of isolation. Connecting citizens to each other is not intended to be just an icebreaker, which is fun yet does little to break the isolation or create community. Icebreakers will achieve contact but not connection. Connection occurs when we speak of what matters about this moment. This is done most easily with questions.

While not a new concept, it’s one that’s worth repeating, both for use in the organizations in which we work, and in the communities in which we live.

Incite: As an employee, do you purposefully maintain the connections you have and build new ones? If you manage others, do you understand the importance of personal connections? Do you allot time in your meetings for them to occur?  Do you also ask the right questions to connect people to the work, higher purpose, and future possibilities?

Additional Resources: In addition to Peter Block’s book mentioned above, another book, Fired Up or Burned Out (2009) by Stallard, Dewing-Hommes and Pankau, provides a comprehensive model of the connected organization without calling attention to it in the book’s description.

It’s not uncommon for companies, especially larger ones, to have performance rating systems.  Generally they include from 3 to 6 ratings, with the trend moving towards fewer rather than more. This is done for a number of reasons.  Financial planning is probably foremost because companies have to allocate funds for next year’s salary increases.  Consequently, distribution guidelines, or sometimes forced rankings are used for forecasting.  Secondly, low to high performance is an ingrained philosophy that is a result of our mindsets, i.e. belief systems.  After all, we’ve been exposed to the concept our entire lives, especially in school.

Also popular today are the concepts of teamwork and collaboration.  So let’s see, “I’m going to work with you on this project and later this year ‘they’ are going to compare my performance to yours.  Hmmm.”  Will you support me totally? Any inclination to hold back just a bit of information or knowledge to give yourself an edge?

What if we change the way we think about performance distribution?

Years ago, for the first time, I was given the head coach position of a boys basketball team (ages 10-11).  As the the head coach I finally had a chance to try a different approach to coaching. I enlisted two assistants who loved kids and didn’t mind them goofing off a bit and having fun.  Our job was not “to be liked by the kids” but rather to “like each kid” to help build their self-esteem.

While I had a number of rules, the most important one for the kids was – “Your goal is to make the other players on the team look good.” That meant that each kid had 9 other players trying to make them look good versus each one focusing on themselves.

When we talked about what that might look like, these were some of things we came up with over time.

  • Get the ball to someone closer to the basket so they can make an easier shot.
  • If someone gets the ball to you close to the basket, make the shot so it looks like a good pass.
  • If someone misses the shot, get the rebound so the shot looks better.
  • Get open so it’s easier for someone to make a good pass to you.
  • If someone gets open, pass the ball to them.
  • If someone makes a good pass to you, catch it so it looks like a good pass.
  • If someone makes a bad pass, try hard to catch it so the pass looks better.
  • Pick or screen for the ball handler so it’s easier for them to drive.
  • If someone with the ball gets trapped or stuck, run to help them out.
  • If someone is getting beat on defense, help them out.

Near the end of the season, the president of our area’s sports association, which includes all sports, received this e-mail and forwarded it to me.

Dear Dr. Marconi,

My husband and I have five sons, four over the age of 21, who have participated in the sports of football, soccer, basketball, baseball and wrestling over the past twenty-something years.  We have experienced good coaching and had a couple of horrible experiences.

Our youngest son, aged eleven, has played basketball with this organization last winter with Don Keys and Rick Phelps and this season with Rick Phelps, Mr. Jesse and Mr. Jones.  These fine men have provided by far the best experience that any of our sons has ever had.  They have molded a group of normal kids into an incredible team.  The kids have had so much fun.  I have yet to hear one word of criticism directed from one kid to another.  The kids support each other and try to make sure that everyone has a good time.  I may be wrong, but I believe that I heard that they had never coached basketball before. These guys should be teaching the coaching clinics.  The kids have all felt free to make mistakes and try things that they have not done before without fear that the result may not turn out perfectly.

Every boy has blossomed during the season into a competent basketball player.  The team as a whole is truly greater than its component parts.  They work together in a way that I have never seen in such young kids. My hat is off to these gentlemen! I don’t know how it could get any better than this.

Kitty B.

I believe that some of Kitty’s observations had to do with the rule mentioned earlier.  In hindsight, perhaps it would have been more accurate to say “Your goal is to help the other players on the team perform better.” Imagine if we used this approach at work without the fear of making others look better than ourselves.  I wonder if there could be a department with all  Top performers or maybe it’s more about a creating a Top performing department.

Incite: Is it possible to rethink how we evaluate and reward behavior?  What would it look like, feel like, and sound like if every one was focused on helping each other perform at their best?  If you are not constrained by a performance rating system, how can you begin to implement the concept in your organization or company?

Feeling valued and valuing others is important not just in the workplace, but in life in general. For a unique perspective, check out this clever, heart-warming, award-winning video. It is 16 minutes long, but well worth the time. If you choose not to take the time now, write yourself a reminder, and check it out later.

Incite: In what ways do you “validate” others?  What are some of the things you do or don’t do, that you now realize could be devaluating?

Credit: Michael Lee Stallard posted this video link on his blog on Dec. 22, 2010 under the title Are You a Life Giver or Life Drainer? His blog is ranked #5 in the Top Business blogs in the Leadership Category. He is also the author of Fired Up. Or Burned Out, of which I’m an advocate. Check out his site.