energizing breakthrough performance

Spiraling Circularity

Author: ; Published: May 25, 2015; Category: Leadership; Tags: None; No Comments»

“Bring me a rock.” (Pause) “No, not that rock.” This catch-phrase used by staff in a client organization summed up a syndrome they encountered frequently – one which I call “spiraling circularity.”  It occurs when the executive tasks members of the organization without setting forth adequate specifications as to what the final product needs to accomplish. The challenge to staff is to present iteratively another version of the product, only to have it rejected with vague reasons for the rejection. They then go back to the drawing board and cycle through this experience once again and again multiple times. Thereafter, as an aside, the final iteration that comes to be accepted quite often resembles the first one that had been originally presented! So what was all of this about? While Spiraling Circularity generates a splendid appearance of “busy-ness,” with people spinning in a tizzy, the end result is usually more smoke than fire.

 

Round and round we go. Didn’t we pass this point before? Traveling in circles, the organization becomes progressively devoid of direction. Accomplishments become fewer and farther between, with concomitant losses in steam, revenue, potential and valued talent.

 

When staff are overwhelmed by exponentially more opportunities to be wrong than right, cynical behavior and attitudes take root. Rituals for handling today’s spiral fire drill will have more people just going through the obligatory motions. The wrong set of staff responses get cultivated and reinforced.

 

Some executives have used this technique to parlay into positions of higher visibility and authority, creating chaos that only they can finally resolve.  A problem-solver! However, when you’re looking at your best organizational firefighter, beware that you may also be looking at your chief arsonist. Generating the appearance of frantic “busy-ness” and, ironically, suspending a sense of genuine urgency to achieve results can be a career-enhancement strategy for a Machiavellian player.

 

The caveat is that Spiraling Circularity may be appropriate if you are indeed sending staff into unknown territory and need to explore all options and vett them with all audiences. Thus, Spiraling Circularity may be an appropriate tactic on an episodic but not chronic basis. That said, if you need to do more thinking about desired outcomes and specifications before you task staff, you should do so in the interests of conserving talent, time, and a reservoir of positive emotional capital in your enterprise. Finally, if you are a top executive who has a report which is abusing your resources through leadership malpractice, don’t be fooled by appearances!  Arrest the arsonist soonest before s/he burns your building down!

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Rent the Stadium!

Author: ; Published: May 21, 2015; Category: Collaboration, Leadership; Tags: ; No Comments»

The CEO of a scientific enterprise decided that the organizational culture needed to change. After years of autocratic rule, there was a pent-up need to make the culture more inclusionary and participative, moving away from a strict “need-to-know” basis characteristic of a rigid hierarchy. Meetings came to involve progressively larger numbers of people. Smaller conference rooms fell into disuse as larger conference rooms were booked week in and week out. Absent complete consensus, no decision was made. Decisional gridlock grew worse. Sometimes it would seem that a decision had been reached only to find that a “huddle after the huddle” caused it to unravel or be reversed several days later.  More people were getting involved but fewer decisions were being made. The decisions that were reached were less certain and sturdy, more diluted than anyone wanted. What’s more, staff feared exclusion because career well-being was perceived as revolving around visibility at meetings rather than around genuine contribution.

 

As the organization lost faith in its ability to move quickly, every move, no matter how minor, involved a large entourage. Results-oriented people were finding ways to circumvent the crowds and get things done “their own way.” As each faction pursued solutions in its own way, nascent anarchy picked up a head of steam.

 

Top executives became fixated on the process of inclusion and on minimizing discontent. The process of setting strategic priorities, e.g., deciding what not to do, allocating resources, aligning talent, etc., was getting lost.

 

Who can be against transparency and inclusion? It builds a future generation of leadership and confers additional benefits. On the other hand, renting the stadium to ensure that everyone has been included is not sustainable for all issues all of the time.

 

The solution was to adopt a Decision Process Model for making, ratifying, and communicating decisions and to clarify roles and responsibilities with precision sufficient to target meeting attendance with greater parsimony. The model pre-specified types of decisions where complete consensus is necessary vs. alternate forms of decision-making process, authority and accountability. When roles are poorly defined, there is no sharp edge for cutting meeting attendance to the vital few, and no basis for avoiding rent-the-stadium syndrome. Even good intentions can have unintended consequences, which must be managed promptly before things get out of hand.

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(e-)Remote Control

Author: ; Published: May 20, 2015; Category: Leadership, Uncategorized; Tags: ; No Comments»

Respected widely as the guru of his organization’s fiscal policies, he sat in his glass-walled office and hammered the keyboard from morning ‘til night. He supervised 15 financial analysts who toiled in the policy development vineyard. However, these intellectual laborers were showing signs of unrest. Increasingly negative and cynical, the weeds of discontent were strangling the policy garden.

 

The manager in the glass-walled office was “managing” by e-mail – for everything. Forget face-to-face meetings. Forget the telephone. In fairness, his fingers were fast and accurate. However, tasked staff members lacked opportunity to learn about the context for what they were creating. They lacked opportunity to interact with the manager and peers concerning issues, trends, and leadership preferences that needed to be factored into the deliverable. This unit was quickly becoming a morbid, untouched-by-human-hands culture of alienated staff.

 

E-mail provides splendid efficiencies, but overreliance can result in a loss of community and atomization that atrophies meaningful information.  Because “the work itself” is a key motivator, the workforce will lose motivational wattage over time if alienated from the work. When staff aren’t able to work with management to define a context for an important assignment, the results can be suboptimal. Management is the art of getting work done through other people consistent with how you would do it yourself. If you are not providing rich context and growing your people to understand issues as you understand them, then you are confusing pounding the keyboard with making a real contribution to improving the enterprise. So how much e-mail traffic did you handle today? Please don’t confuse your answer with a sense of true accomplishment.

 

Get out from behind the computer and wade among the people. In this case, the manager was coached to triple his face time with employees within sixty days. Union grievances were dropped and morale improved significantly along with work product quality, as measured by top leadership’s increased acceptance of deliverables.

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