That is the question I found myself asking. I was reading the Pulitzer Prize winning author, James MacGregor Burns’ book “Leadership” when I came across this statement; “… leadership of reform movements must be among the most exacting.” (Interestingly, reform leadership would appear to be even more demanding than revolutionary leadership – but that is a whole different topic!) However, it was as I read on and came across the statement, “… reform leaders must deal with endless divisions within their own ranks” that my brain kicked into overdrive.
Silo-thinking: even if unfamiliar with the term, you are likely familiar with its effects. That’s because the root of silo-thinking is differentiation and distinction. And this has consequences – conscious and unconscious.
You define any activity, role or responsibility according to predefined criteria, which may be shaped by the person, their applied skills and training or the way in which they create, use or adapt a system to carry out their assigned tasks. This is all well and good; only all too often we tend to identify ourselves by our roles and what we do. Even Aristotle (384-322 BCE) recognised this, as he is reputed to have said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” As result we, personally or collectively, tend to become:
- Protective and – clinging to the adage that “knowledge is power” – erect barriers to ensure that we maximise the perceived value of what we offer, and thereby our status; and/or
- Self-absorbed or unduly focused and single-minded, and thus uncooperative.
Collectively this may be at the individual business unit, functional or even divisional business unit rather than at the enterprise level. But when it occurs at the collective level – and is recognised – it is identified it as ‘silo-thinking.’ That’s when you start to take steps to remedy it. Unfortunately, even when you do, you may not realise how pervasive and pernicious it is.
VUCA is an acronym increasingly widely used to describe the operating climate you, like most organizations, face today: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. This environment makes much of what you have learned about management obsolete and demands a new operating paradigm. A bazooka, as you may know, is a portable, electrically fired, rocket launcher for launching a projectile against tank armour.
The headline is a parody of a UK television advertisement for a brand of medical gel used to treat warts that calls for you to “Bazuka™ that Verruca!” By making a pun out of their brand name, the advertisers are attempting to convince you that their product will quickly and effectively exterminate your problem. VUCA is not so one-dimensional. Yet, while retaining the onomatopoeia and, hopefully, some sense of that imperative, my headline aims, rather, to alert you to the fact that you can still ‘blow up’ VUCA.
An article from Chief Executive magazine Can you do VUCA? 5 Key Strategies for Success offers a good starting point. It not only explains VUCA and its ramifications but also clearly spells out proven, useful strategies for “doing” it. These, however, will only take you so far. They are only strategies and, as you know only too well, there is a big difference between developing a strategy and implementing it. I am offering you something that will significantly strengthen your implementation arsenal.
Change is a fact of life. It is also a major factor in it. Increasingly so. Both the amount of change and the faster pace of change are widely acknowledged. No doubt you feel it yourself. Just imagine what somebody who died only 40-50 years ago would think if they were to come back today (as I sometimes do with my father.) And, in his book “Leading Change”, John Kotter claims that this is not going to slow down soon, but rather speed up! This makes the future daunting.
Change is supposed to make life easier. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, especially initially. It takes time to familiarise yourself with, and adapt to, the new; let alone master it. So when change comes fast and furious, proficiency becomes elusive and mastery next to impossible. This is discouraging, demotivating and stressful. It is no wonder so many change initiatives are unsuccessful.
More frightening, however, is that the sheer volume of change makes it seem highly unlikely the proportion of successful change will improve. (The fact that this sad statistic hasn’t changed in decades, despite greater focus on change management, seems to support this prognosis.) Yet there is a way you can beat the odds. The answer is actually implied in “Leading Change,” but – ironically – has not been fully understood or applied.
You cannot help wondering what management lessons need to be learned from the Grenfell Tower Fire disaster. Undoubtedly the Inquiry will highlight many. Yet it appears that there also plenty to be learned from the post-fire management.
It seems that every day a fresh incident raises somebody’s ire, and outrage and fury abound as those dealing with the consequences are portrayed as callous, unfeeling or bungling incompetents. In all likelihood some of the criticism is justified, but there seems to no allowance for the unprecedented nature of the catastrophe. For example, is it really realistic to expect all victims to be in permanent new homes just three weeks after the fire?
Goodness knows, identifying and acquiring a new home is difficult for most of us at the best of times. It certainly isn’t something that we normally do in a matter of days. So, why would we expect these poor people to be any different, especially given the difficulty of finding homes in London? So, would you or I do better if we were responsible for dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy?
“Mine!” Who hasn’t heard a young child say that? The concept of ownership is one of our most primitive senses. Indeed, I once read that the difference between North American and South American history, (both colonised around the same time) could be attributed to the encouragement of land ownership stimulating the greater development of the North.
Be that as it may, you would have some difficulty arguing against the idea that ownership is an integral part of capitalism. The concepts of limited liability and the lasting, legal persona of the corporation would not have been possible, or nearly as successful, without distributed ownership and the amelioration of risk it created. So much so, that you might even argue that ownership is the heart of capitalism. Which is why it is strange that so little has been done to make employees owners. Even stranger – and certainly ironic – is that efforts to encourage this are sometimes seen as socialism!
In fact, making your employees co-owners of your business has to be the ultimate in capitalism. Why? Because it also gives them a stake in the outcome. This makes it more personal. It gives them the pride of possession. Now, instead of simply being ‘servants of the organisation’ they become ‘partners in our organisation.’
“Mine!” “No! Mine!” How often have you seen that scenario play out? I certainly found it a recurring theme over the holidays as I watched my two very young grandchildren play. And I would guess that 95 out of 100 initially happy games that ended up in tears, did so when such conflict arose. Even when it wasn’t about direct ownership, it was about perceived injustices over “turns” or temporary ownership of a particular activity. The concept of possession thus seems to be a deeply ingrained in our culture from a very early age.
Whether this is good or bad, is actually irrelevant. Less materialistic cultures, such as the San people of the Kalahari, suggest that it is possible to have a culture without ownership and consequently with considerably less conflict. This, arguably, makes ownership the Pandora’s Box that seems to be the price we pay for civilisation and something that is almost impossible to discard. Indeed, you could argue that ownership underpins capitalism, which, historically, has been responsible for the world’s major economic development.
Yet, even in commerce, ownership is a root of contention and conflict. You only have to watch “Dragon’s Den” or “Shark Tank”, with would be entrepreneurs pondering an investment offer to see this.
It seems to come around more quickly than ever, as if trying to catch you by surprise. Nevertheless, ready or not, it is once again the time of the year to take a break from business and the responsibilities of everyday life and focus on things that are just as - and possibly even more - important. No doubt you have earned the break and, however long yours is, as you take it, I wish you and yours everything you wish yourself for the festive season holidays and the coming New Year. May you see the fulfillment of every one, and even more. I look forward to your company again in the New Year.
If you like what you have read contact me today to discuss how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model could provide the catalyst to help you create a culture in which everyone cares and the business becomes our business, embedding improvement that transforms – and sustains – organic business performance.
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.
You could count all the words of Spanish I know on one hand, but “No Mas!” is a phrase I remember well (thanks to an historical boxing match last century.) But it took on a new relevance this past week.
This stemmed from a TED talk, “How to Save the World (or at Least Yourself) from Bad Meetings” in which David Grady coins the phrase “Mindless Acceptance Syndrome” or “MAS.” As you might expect from the talk title, he is referring here to an unthinking acceptance of attendance at meetings, something he definitely sees as needing to stop. If, like most people, your life is plagued by meetings, you will find it worth the less than 7 minutes investment of your time. For me, though, it had a deeper significance than just meetings.
There were two primary, ultimately inextricably linked, reasons for this.
Much as I would like to take credit for (what I think is) a catchy headline, it is actually inspired by an October 2016 Harvard Business Review article: “Why Leadership Training Fails – and What to Do About It.” The article justifies the phrase by saying that, globally, companies spent $356 billion on employee training and education in 2015 but are not getting a good return on their investment, as “learning doesn’t lead to better organizational performance, because people soon revert to their old way of doing things.” If you contributed to that global figure, I suspect you already know that!
Nevertheless, the “What to do about it” aspect makes the article worth reading. Beware, however, the “leadership training” focus. Its undoubted relevance to leaders ensures it inevitably applies to all organizational training. Any narrower focus, unfortunately, is limiting. As it is, I think it perhaps constrained the writers and led them to omit points that would increase the return on all training investment. Let me share some.