Posts Tagged ‘culture’

I heard Tom Peters proclaim this, without the question mark, in early 1996 while attending a conference in town.  It was intriguing and thought provoking.  When you’re a thought leader and helping launch a new magazine called Fast Company (2nd issue), you can say things like that.  His point was to hire people that are different, even very different than you.   On the surface it sounds like an interesting idea.

In my last post I talked about “surface-level” diversity, which refers to observable differences.   In contrast, “deep-level” diversity refers to attributes that are less obvious but can be inferred over time after more direct experience.   My simple personal model encompasses the following categories in descending order: thinking style, personality, and beliefs and values.   Unlike observable differences, the negative effects of these differences appear to increase over time.

Arguing about how to do something (task conflict) is usually the result of competing thinking styles, frames of reference, and past experiences.  If managed well, this conflict can result in a better way to do to things.

Not getting along is a different matter.  Personality conflicts, clashes, incompatibility, whatever you want to call it, is much more difficult to manage.  Relationship conflicts can create more severe problems and ultimately result in reduced effectiveness.

Seldom is there a simple explanation for conflict.  Throw in beliefs and values and things can really heat up.  Next time you have a meeting; try using some of these topics for icebreakers: politics, religion, capital punishment, or abortion.

People naturally avoid stress and anxiety (not to mention fear), especially leaders.  That’s why Rosabeth M. Kanter stated in Men and Women of the Organization that leaders create other leaders in their own image.

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

Do organizations really want deep differences?  If you consider that most organizations have a set of corporate values they want people to adhere to, the answer becomes more obvious.  The phrase “organizational fit” is even more revealing.  If deep differences were really desirable, the phrase “fit” wouldn’t exist.

Okay Tom Peters. I’m sorry to say that while telling people to hire other people who scare them is provocative, in practice, it‘s unrealistic,  impractical, and really kind of scary.

The “elephant in the room” is a common expression used in organizations for an obvious issue that is being ignored and going unaddressed. The reference to elephant suggests that the issue would normally be impossible to overlook.  Some people even add the color pink to emphasize its obviousness. Those who pretend that the elephant is not there tend to deal with smaller or less relevant issues.  So the question is why. Note: Some people mistakenly use the expression “white elephant;” it has a totally different meaning.

There are number of potential reasons. One is that the issue is so large, overwhelming, or complicated, that no one wants to try to deal with it.  Or, the problem may be associated with bad news, and few people want to be the bearer. Bad news is associated with negative emotions, and we know that negative emotions are associated with the messenger, even if not consciously.

That’s why sayings like “don’t kill the messenger,” “don’t stir the pot,” and “don’t be a trouble maker” have been around for so long.  This poster contains one of my favorites – it’s an old Moroccan saying.

So how do you deal with an elephant in the room? I would love to say I have the perfect answer. Actually I would like to say I have a good answer. Unfortunately, organizations and the environments in which they exist are so complex that it is difficult for me to provide any answer in which I would have great confidence.

The basic approach however is 1) name/acknowledge; 2) address/confront, and 3) solve/overcome.

Even after calling attention to an issue, there is no guarantee that it will be addressed, let alone solved, especially if it’s a complex issue with no easy answer.  There’s a reason it became an elephant in the first place. At least by talking about it, you have taken the first step –  better you than the elephant.

Incite: What elephants exist in your organization? Is it okay, even encouraged to talk about them?  If not, what can you do to make it okay?  What method do you use to address them?