Rules and Policies that Reduce Responsibility are Costly


Last week I read a piece in The HR Examiner that hit on one of my favorite topics, plus it was so juicy that I wished I had written it.

Please note: If you are a manager or small business owner I strongly recommend the free subscription available to Don’t be put off by the title, the content is HR related but not geeky HR stuff, practical everyday issues that happen to fall in the HR bailiwick because often the HR folks are the only ones paying attention to them, but really they are management concerns about performance, people and productivity, in other words business concerns, your concerns.

So now, about that article, it is titled The Innovation Rule.  How often have you felt the need in your business to have a rule about something or other because you felt your employees needed guidance in some aspect of business behavior? Probably fairly frequently right? (I am not talking about the rules put in place because employees are not trusted…that’s your problem, not your employees!)

Have you had any of those rules come back and bite you in the butt? Of course you have and here’s why. When you came up with the rule you didn’t really mean it as a RULE. You meant it like Webster defines it, a noun meaning one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. What you didn’t mean was “now that we have this rule you are excused from using your best judgment in all cases regarding this issue even if it means damage to a customer or vendor relationship.” But in some cases that’s what you got right? Employees behaving consistently with a rule you came up with driving business out the door or annoying a vendor to the point of saying your account just isn’t worth the hassle. And your rule was being followed perfectly!

Have you ever hear the term, “unintended consequences?” It basically means outcomes that were not foreseen or intended by a purposeful action. These types of events come in three types…

  • Unexpected benefit…these are never a problem
  • Unexpected drawback… you mainly get what you want but there is bonus bad stuff you hadn’t imagined might happen.
  • Perverse result…my personal favorite, when we, with the best of intentions, make matters worse. I have to share this one with you because it’s too good. The Cobra Effect, ever heard of it? The term cobra effect stems from an anecdote set at the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.

This story comes from Wikipedia so you know it has to be true plus you know you want it to be true because it is so bizarre?

Well, mostly I am not concerned here with either Cobra’s or perverse effects. My main aim is to draw attention to those rules that meet the Unexpected Drawback criteria, mostly you get what you want but then there are some negative bonus features. Todd Dewett, the author of The Innovation Rule gives several examples of rules that he finds annoying, he seems like kind of an edgy guy anyway, the type that doesn’t like rules in general. He gives us this…

“Here is the one rule to rule them all – I call it the Innovation Rule: all rules should be considered ideal first references, not final standards. Are there exceptions for certain rules in areas relating to safety? Of course! But the point is that all rules have exceptions and if you don’t respect that, you certainly shouldn’t expect innovation.”

I am not going to take the hard-line that Todd Dewitt takes about rules. I have a rule about things like that! But I do want you to give some thought to your rule making and consider this. When you get that burning urge to create a rule for your employees…stop! Take the issue to them. Let them know what you are concerned about and ask how they think the issue could best be addressed. You probably get a solution employees will own as theirs. You save yourself and them from unnecessary parental controls. You get responsibility where previously you got compliance and you may learn why you have the issue in the first place and it won’t take a rule to sort it out.





Engagement is Natural, Interest is Another Matter Altogether


When a wife yells at her husband, who has his eyes glued to his desktop screen, “You are not listening to me!” she is dead on, he’s not. But does that mean he’s not engaged?

Actually, he is very engaged…with what is in front of him on the screen. People are always engaged; it just may not be with what we consider to be important and that is a critical element that managers often miss and fail to have curiosity about.

As managers, what we often don’t seem to get is that our role is not so much to create engagement, as it is to direct it. If this sounds counter to what you have been reading, told or imagined yourself I offer no apologies but I do ask that you seriously consider what I am proposing.

As managers, what we often don’t seem to get is that our role is not so much to create engagement, as it is to direct it.

A manager in a program I was delivering recently asked what she could do about the attitude of one of the younger workers reporting to her, he just didn’t seem as committed to his work as she would have liked. I asked about the quality of his work, she indicated that it was OK but just OK.

OK but just OK is an indication that the young employee is sufficiently engaged to comply with what is expected of him. I asked the manager if just OK was a problem and her response was telling. “I’d like to see more enthusiasm from him.” All right, now we were getting somewhere, the manager was confused. I mentioned to her that what she wanted was a personal preference not a legitimate requirement of the job. She didn’t seem to like this very much so we continued. I asked her if there was anything he did seem committed to and she responded sharply, “Well, fantasy football!” So I proceed to ask whether she had ever asked him what he found so engaging about fantasy football? I could tell by the look on her face that she was shocked and maybe even offended by my question and her response matched her facial expression, “Why should I have to do that?”

I am a very pragmatic guy, I try to stay focused on what works and leave the judgments and moralizations to people who have more time than I do, or maybe who actually care about this kind of thing. You tell me you have a problem I begin looking for a solution, I don’t worry about who is right or wrong or what should be happening. Actually, I think this may be most manager’s problem with engagement, they are operating like there is some ideal state and there are really only two states and neither is ideal 1) You are getting what you want or 2) you are not getting what you want.

My response to the manager rocked her back even further. “Look” I said, “You brought up the issue, you are apparently the one with the problem. I am looking at the situation and seeing whether we can uncover a way to get in communication with this young guy since telling him he needs to be more committed does not seem to be getting the job done. Would you agree with that?” She then nodded her head yes. “So now”, I said, “You have an option available that wasn’t there before, you can give up your agenda and explore his interests or you can continue being right about his attitude. Which approach looks like it might have more promise?”

Honestly I don’t know how this turned out since that was the last time I saw that particular manager. Based on the conversation I’d say she stuck with her agenda, at least a little while longer.

This engagement stuff is challenging business; many “jobs” are really not that naturally engaging if we are honest about it. If you are serious about wanting engaged employees you need to face the need to get up close and personal with the people who report to you. Are you up to the challenge?

When faced with the need to redirect an employee’s focus of engagement ask yourself if you are willing to discover what’s in it for them? If nothing comes immediately to mind you may want to hold off until you can get interested in them.


Negative Emotions Affect Performance


Yesterday I was working by telephone with a young man who is a coaching client.  In my opinion this is a uniquely talented manager, rare in that he has a keen sense of what it takes to develop a staff that can function well or better without him. Most of my clients these days are under forty and I am finding more of them have an inherent understanding of the importance of and skills for staff development. Still, I find this belief uncommon in many places of work.

The conversation we were having involved realizations my client had over the previous two weeks that some of the behaviors he was trying to alter were based on a false or at least no longer valid premise. He characterized it as realizing he had been playing a joke on himself. This would be no small awakening for any of us.

Here’s a guy who has made the high potential list in his company, probably would in most companies, who has been told there are some behaviors he exhibits that may hold him back. Sound familiar?  He’s come to realize that his actions in some cases are driven by false fear that is now so old it has become thoroughly justified and cloaked in explanation (story). In another context we might say he was under the spell of a superstition.

The net of the work this client and I are doing together is not so much to get him to stop doing what he has been doing. Rather, we have gotten him to a place where he now sees he has a choice about how he behaves. Now we get to see what he is really committed to!

Do you appreciate how hard it is for a successful person to unwire a pattern that has led to success in the past? You do if you’ve ever tried it yourself.

Now put yourself in another position. Imagine you are average Joe or Jolene and you are not on anyone’s high potential list. You are not aspiring to anything special, you like your work and the standard of living it affords you. Most of the time you are able to get your work done is a satisfactory fashion but sometimes you have to work with THAT PERSON or THAT DEPARTMENT and then it is a different story. You often get “uncomfortable” when you have to interact with THAT PERSON and you don’t “feel welcome” when you sit in on meetings with THAT DEPARTMENT. In fact the emotions you experience in these situations are so powerful that even the thought of being in similar situations is enough to have you get upset. And around THAT PERSON AND THAT DEPARTMENT your performance suffers. You don’t like it and your manager expresses frustration. Fortunately you don’t need to be in the situations often, in fact you go out of your way to not be available for them. Unfortunately for you, not being on a high potential list it is not likely you’ll have the benefit my young client has and you’ll continue to avoid these situations. Too bad as your behavior will not go unnoticed and will likely keep you from advancing or maybe assuming more challenging work.

Chances are good that if the data I have from Target Training International holds up; and so it has for me now for over fifteen years, the vast majority, somewhere between 65-70% of any given workforce are not motivated by strong negative emotions (think FEAR), in fact they are often paralyzed by the experience. Paralyzed as in not able to do what they know needs to be done. That is a lot of productivity that is at risk and guaranteed it is presented to you as the manager in a most reasonable package.

What are the warning signs to look out for?

As a manager, whether dealing with a direct report or someone you report to when you hear phrase like:

“I am not comfortable with this!”

“This doesn’t feel right to me!”

“I don’t like the sounds of that!”…

You are dealing with FEAR disguised as reason. Further proof will come as you attempt to provide a reasonable response. It will make no difference. Until the person you are addressing is able to identify their reaction as FEAR based you have no hope of proceeding successfully.

It would be great for everyone concerned if you could become sensitized to the need each of your reports and, yes even your manager, have for someone to recognize the signs of paralysis by negative emotions.

It is not cool to even have emotions in the workplace much less own up to the fact they guide your behavior.


Social Intelligence is a Big Deal


Employees, and their managers will not be able able to engage with their work at the levels needed today for sustained periods until the issue of Emotional Intelligence is addressed as a key strategic issue in virtually every business in operation today.

In every management development program I have created or delivered in the past 20 years the point has been made that the greatest challenge facing managers today is their own limited interest in developing their own or understanding of this psychological breakthrough, (probably now more appropriately defined in a workplace context as Social Intelligence ) or these needs among the people who report to them. This fact, born out by years of anecdotal references continues to bedevil managers today and the problems created as well as their consequences continue to grow. (In many instances we simply have the wrong people managing but that is a topic for another day)

It usually goes without saying but bears repeating here that business in general and certainly the experience of being at work must be considered a contact sportAs our economy has evolved over the last 25 years the amount of contact has by necessity increased dramatically and my experience strongly suggests that the majority of people in our American workforce are not adequately prepared to participate in a game that requires significant personal initiative and interpersonal skill. For that matter it is probably safe to say that just as many employers are not ready to participate with a highly socially intelligent workforce.

Evolution may be a catch-all phrase when talking about how the economy has “morphed” over the years but one feature is worth considering; the process generally happens outside of our standard measurements of time and so changes often go unnoticed for extended periods. Management in the American workplace is now standing in front of the outcome of just such an evolutionary outcome, what Peter Senge undoubtedly meant us all to notice when he popularized the term “unintended consequences” in his landmark work, The Fifth Discipline.  Educationally and emotionally many, many people in the workplace today are not prepared to deal successfully with the level of interpersonal complexity they face daily.

A quick look back may serve a purpose here. The industrial economy offered the majority of people in the workforce

  • Narrowly defined sets of tasks
  • High degrees of supervision and
  • Limited individual discretion

Never mind whether this was good or bad, it was what it was and created the foundation for the standard of living we enjoy today. As the economy has proceeded along its path and we have been brought to where we are today certain aspects of that industrial economy were carried over, including some unfortunate ways of thinking about management, meanwhile what we need from employees has changed dramatically. Many managers say they want more initiative, creativity and passion from those reporting to them but are not able to recognize that these additives to the compliance that was the hallmark of a prior time in the workplace are not simple snap on modules. This outcome begs for transformational education and skill building is also required.

Before patting yourself on the back because you don’t fall into the category of the emotionally underdeveloped or see what I am talking about in your immediate reports ask you self and honestly answer these questions:

  • Am I able to participate successfully in every conversational exchange without hesitation or caution?
  • Am I able to have the conversations I really need to have with my reports so I am optimizing their development as well as their productivity?
  • Do I ever see instances where my reports “hold back” with me even though I have repeatedly encouraged them to talk to me about everything?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you were being honest and the question that remains is, “What is the price you are paying in terms of

  1. Your own full engagement at work
  2. Your own productivity
  3. The level of engagement and productivity of those you are charged with developing



Engagement Killers: They Come in All Shapes and Sizes


The people in my family, I mean myself and brothers and sisters, are basically working people. I don’t mean blue collar though that’s where my father came from, being an electrician for some forty years. I mean working people; for the most part we work for other people. That would be of course except for me. I am the exception in the family having had my own business for over 25 years mainly so I could do what I wanted to do.

The one thing we do have in common, my siblings and I, is that we are not goal driven, save for having a good family life. We’d like enough money to pay our bills but we don’t measure our life in a material way so being paid fairly is more important than being paid a lot. We’d like our work to be interesting, connected to something larger than ourselves, but we don’t expect to be entertained, that’s not why we are there.

We also have a good work ethic, we arrive on time, and we do good work, actually above average work because we have integrity about what we produce. We willingly stay late, we’ll help our co-workers, sometimes even without being asked. We like to see other people succeed and don’t look upon their success with any unusual amount of envy, we are happy for them. We want to be treated with respect, we’d like to know about things going on in the company that might effect us, we’d like to be asked our opinion on some things, not everything but some. We’d like to feel respected and we want to be told the truth, don’t lie to us; we’ll make you pay for that.

Given all this I’d say we are like most people, people who work for someone else, and most people do. Most people do good work, at least they have the capability to do good work, they have no grandiose ambition save for being able to pay their bills and they do not measure their lives in material terms. Most people do show up on time and everyday, they’ll willingly stay late, as long as it doesn’t become an expectation.

All this being said worker engagement, the measure of the degree to which workers are giving it everything they’ve got, just slugs along at embarrassingly low levels and has done so for the duration of time it has been measured.

Unfortunately you don’t have to look very hard for the culprit when seeking the source of worker’s low engagement; thoughtless management behavior!

So as I said, I come from a family of workers, one brother a nurse, one a shipping agent, a sister a banking administrator sometimes manager and another sister who work in corporate credit. Everyone of them has a kit bag full of stories about managers doing stupid, thoughtless things that left them feeling unappreciated, disrespected, lied to or taken for granted.

Here’s a question for you, how many bad management experiences does it take to squash an employee’s spirit? You don’t know do you? Well then answer me this, how many did it take to squash your spirit? This one you can answer and you can tell me the date time and name of the person involved and it doesn’t take you 30 seconds to do it. Now, even more importantly, have you gotten over it without lasting effects on your attitude towards employment or your employer?

So last week I was in Michigan having dinner with my sister who is involved in corporate credit. Just after we arrived at our table she began, “Well I had my annual review last week.” I could tell by her tone that she was disappointed. The year before she had told me her manager wrote Rockstar in the margin of her review then proceeded to give her an overall “Meets expectations” on the review saying that she was not allowed to give anyone a higher overall rating. So I asked, “How were you rated this year?” My sister replied, “Oh this year she wrote down Superstar and said she just didn’t know what she’d do without me.” So I asked, “And overall?” With a roll of her eyes she responded, “Meets expectations.”

I’d like to think that I don’t have to say a lot more here. The point is pretty obvious and yet, if confronted that manager would have what they considered a defensible stance on the action taken, despite the fact they if the very same thing happened to them they would be squashed. My sister is not squashed; she’s pissed, feels disrespected lied to and generally fed up. She’s looking for another job. Big surprise!

All We Have is Our Stories and They are the Pathway to Engagement


My father passed away two weeks ago, just short of his 92nd birthday. He was ready to move on and of course I will miss him but mostly I will celebrate his life. He was not well educated by today’s standards but I knew him as a man of wisdom. He never spoke unless he had something to say that was worth the time it took to listen. I learned the lesson that follows by listening to him.

From the time I began playing golf at age eleven until he stopped playing in his mid 70’s many of my most memorable moments with my father took place on a golf course much like the one pictured here. Summer afternoons in Michigan, dry breezes blowing, flat landscapes and lots and lots of trees. Neither my father nor I were particularly accomplished golfers, for us the game has always been more social than competitive, however, in order to pursue the game repeatedly and endure its challenges you do need to hit the occasional good shot. One of the things I remember most fondly from these occasions with my father was that somewhere during each round we played he would hit a particularly good shot and almost instantaneously exclaim, “That will keep me coming back!” The following quote from an anonymous source who could only have been an experienced golfer reminds me of those experiences with my father:

“Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle”


On more than one occasion I have mentioned my perspective on engagement; engagement is association by choice and choice alone. With this perspective in mind I’ll go further and offer a corollary thought; when a particular choice is favored anything that facilitates it being made ought to be enhanced.

In every work environment there is one feature that I believe we as leaders significantly under value and it is the role that story telling plays in facilitating the choice to engage or sustain engagement. Just to be clear, in this instance I am not talking about you as the leader using the power of story. Much has already been well written about the role of the leader as propagator of powerful business narratives.

Steve Denning is likely the most prolific and recognized authority on both the leaders as storyteller and the power of story to inspire action in the workplace. In 2011 he published the Second Edition of ‘The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of the Business Narrative’  . In a piece he posted to his blog that year he was very definite about the state of story telling and its role in leadership. “…the importance of storytelling as a leadership tool has become generally accepted, even in big organizations. “ And then later in the same piece he goes on to say, “…storytelling has gained recognition as a core competence of leadership.”¹

According to Denning, if as a leader you are not by this time developing your capacity as a storyteller you are running well behind the current arc of management thinking.

The stories I am referring to in this instance are not those of the leader but rather those of the people reporting to them, their stories about us and their work experience, the ones they tell each other and more importantly, the ones they tell themselves. The stories they are collecting and you must know that they are collecting daily. Are we managing this process to facilitate the choice to engage or sustain engagement?

Not much has been written about managing the process of “self story telling” in the workplace, and don’t we all know when we are being celebrated and related to as a stock player in some employee’s opera, the saga unfolds at any opportunity and without regard to responsibility. And are we ourselves so different? Left to our own devices most of us will focus our collection process and our life lessons on those experiences that involved us as the “good guy.”

If we are honest about a day in the workplace, especially in a knowledge-era company it is highly possible to describe a day as the anonymous golfer described that sport. “… an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle.” And isn’t it the miracles that keep us coming back, isn’t it the miracles that satisfy our souls in spite of the sometimes seemingly endless string of setbacks, the no, no, no, no, no’s that are suddenly erased by the YES! But these miracles are most valuable when collected and shared, made public.

Managing this process is leadership at its best because it leaves the storytellers following the lead of their own voice and whose voice would they likely choose to follow most reliably?

* How simple might it be for you to gather your team once or twice a month and in a round table discussion have each person describe what happened at work recently that made it worth coming back this week?

  • By establishing this practice you would be sort of teeing up the choice for them, don’t you see?


Ever Wonder Why Some Problems Don’t Get Solved?…You are Not Alone

Chaos 3Do you ever think about the fact that as a nation we’ve been able to send manned vehicles to the moon and yet we are seemingly unable to deal with issues much closer to our planet like education reform? One, education reform, would seem much simpler than aiming a projectile at a moving target 240,000 miles away and managing to hit it not once but several times. And yet, despite the best minds applied to the problem our educational issues continue to mount.

Though the scale may be different we can recognize similar quandaries in our businesses. What gives?

Some years back I was working with a group of medical administrators around problems similar in nature to the ones described above. In the course of one discussion we distinguished that in many cases we are mightily frustrated when faced with problems that on their surface would seem to be solvable yet persist over time despite plenty of applied effort, time and expense. These are the problems that keep us up at night because we know we are smart enough to solve them but cannot.

As this discussion continued I noted one of the attendees had begun weeping quietly. At a break I asked about the tears I was seeing. She said that while we were talking she was reminded that for several years she had been ready to start a family but her husband, who claimed his mutual interest, continued to find ways to stall the process. First it was buying their first home than something else, always claiming that there was need to not further complicate their life at this time. After listening for a few minutes I offered that she had misidentified the challenge she was facing. She agreed and said that she now had insight into a course of action that would give her what she had been waiting for. We left the conversation at that point pending further updates.

About three months later we convened the same group of administrators for further dialogues. As she entered the room on our first day back the weeping woman took me aside and confided, with a grin, that she was pregnant. “Wow” I said, “that was fast, what happened?” She said that the evening after our last workshop she had gone home and declared to her husband that she was done waiting and she was going to start a family…with him or without him! Boom! Problem solved. Well, at least her gambit had worked and he husband chose to abandon his delaying tactics.

If you are wondering how this story relates to the distinction between space programs and educational reform let me explain.

Several years back researchers at Harvard University, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, developed a framework for categorizing and addressing problems that drew a distinction between those that were “technical” in nature (hit the moon with a missile type) and adaptive, (resolve a dispute with your spouse type). The later category they deemed to be “adaptive” in nature because they always, 1. Involved people, 2. Required change on the part of some or all of the parties involved and, 3. Were resolved primarily as a function of relationship rather than knowledge.

So now, armed with this distinction you tell me, when it comes to educational reform which category of problem is more at the heart of why we are unable to reform our educational system? You probably intuitively knew this but maybe did not have a vocabulary to name the dilemma.

Adaptive challenges persist because there is no possibility for resolution, not because there are no opportunities for solution. In fact that is what makes them most frustrating, we can see that they can be resolved we just cannot implement the solution. And, we continue to work on the wrong thing, the technical nature of the challenge, in hopes that maybe one time we’ll get lucky. We also pursue this course because it means we will not have to change or give anything up!

Organizationally adaptive challenges are addressed any number of ineffectual ways. Maybe its time to develop a new organizational chart? Maybe we should create a committee? Perhaps it is time to employ a consultant. A new position may seem to provide a new perspective. As you read this you may roll your eyes because you’ve been down this road.

There is no resolution for adaptive challenge save for creating a new space of possibility. Someone, maybe more than one someone needs to relinquish a position or perspective held dear. You’ve got to talk about what you’ll give up, not what there is to do. You’ve got to create an agenda where everyone involved wins to some degree that satisfies them.

Until work begins on creating possibility there is no amount of opportunity that will suffice.



“Four kinds of behavior account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness.”

DawnThe title of this piece may sound familiar, not that you’ve seen it before but certainly you’ve seen countless others sounding a similar refrain, ‘Eureka! We’ve found the key to leadership!” Except we haven’t and we likely won’t given the place we look from as we continue to ponder the question of how to produce leaders, in business or any other arena.

The article, from which the title quote was clipped, ‘Decoding Leadership: What really matters’ appeared in the January issue of McKinsey Quarterly, a publication I always look forward to reviewing. Yet, when another piece purporting to have found a chunk of the leadership puzzle appears I am tempted to skip its content lest I have another of those “Charley Brown, Lucy and the football” moments I have so often experienced when exploring this subject. This time I thought, “Oh go ahead, this one might be different.” It isn’t, much to my chagrin I found myself in the midst of more of the same, “leadership as reported by a spectator to an event.”

It isn’t that I find fault with the authors, Claudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan. I think their intentions are honorable and they intended to add to an already enormous body of information (491,000,000 references on Google alone). In fact I believe their premise was an attempt to simplify our understanding of leadership with their assertion that four types of leadership behavior …

  • Solving problems effectively
  • Operating with a Strong Results Orientation
  • Seeking Different Perspectives
  • Supporting others

… account for 89% of leadership effectiveness.

Unfortunately the authors leave us with the imperfect admonition to “encourage” these types of behaviors in our leadership development investments. Also unfortunately the authors offer, “We’re not saying that the centuries-old debate about what distinguishes great leaders is over or that context is unimportant.” To me this is on par with closing their article with “Hey, were just sayin!”

Am I being too snarky here? I do not mean to be but what I do intend is to make an attempt to end the reliance on the practice of claiming to understand the game on the field by describing it from the stands in the stadium, which is how I interpret the use of surveys to study leadership.

As it stands now all that we seem to understand about leadership comes for a subjective point of view, i.e., what constitutes leadership is in the eye of the beholder and therefore always after the fact. What about when I seize an opportunity, act decisively and fail? How often is that characterized as “careless” or “reckless” by those beholding my actions? Frequently is my guess.

So then what is there to do? Before you begin to wonder if I am going to present you with a football a la Lucy let me make it clear that I do not know anything for certain. What I do have is a question from a coaches’ perspective. How can we get those we wish to lead to see through the eyes of leadership before the fact? That would be the ticket, would it not?

If you’ve read any of the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey on their theory of Immunity to Change, including possibly their book by the same name, you’ll recall that their premise is that behavioral change is actually constrained by competing commitments, wired in messages that direct action along certain courses. In the face of this wiring encouragement to act differently is doomed to fail because the internal dialogue is set to automatically produce behavior that has a track record of success, in the eyes of the actor at least. Heart patients returning to smoking after bypass surgery is one graphic example of the phenomenon. As a coach I have used techniques developed by this pair of researchers with more than a little success. They produce the equivalent of getting a subject to move around inside the house of their perspective to see the world outside through a different window. The outcome of the process, different perspectives allow more readily for different actions.

My thought on leadership at this point would be to return to the four behaviors distinguished in the subject article and work with potential leaders to see of they can discover through reflection why they are not acting in these ways. What blocks their vision if you will? Actually the potential leader probably needs to first create a value proposition for themselves in which acting in these manners lead to outcomes otherwise unattainable.

Short of this I am afraid we may have to resort to leaders wearing helmets with cameras attached. We’ll follow them about as they go through a day and shout instructions through a headset as we see opportunities to act that they are missing.

At the very least we could stop surveying the spectators in an effort to understand what it is like to be on the field of play.





Engage in non-Traditional Collaborations…”Oh the Places You’ll Go”


Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.

                                        Dr. Seuss

Turn back the clock to an April afternoon in Michigan in the spring of 1965. A young man leaves the back door of the high school gymnasium headed for baseball practice. Cleats slung over his shoulder, mitt under his arm, he is hailed by members of the track team and challenged to a footrace in the school parking lot. The young man has developed something of a reputation for being fleet of foot, at least on the baseball field, regularly stealing two and three bases a game. His colleagues on the track team want to see if he can translate his speed on the bases to speed on the track.

The runners gather at a line on the asphalt lot measured 100 yards from a finish near the baseball diamond. The young man was not prepared for this race; he wears low cut canvas sneakers and long pants. His challengers from the track team are dressed for their practice shorts and running shoes. At the sound of the starter they are off and 10.2 seconds later the young baseball player crosses the finish line ahead of the members of the track team.

The track coach who has been watching the proceedings approaches the base baller and asks him about joining the track squad. Flattered, the young man expresses interest provided that he can also remain on the baseball team, his first love. In response the coach says that the young man will have to choose between the two sports and points out that he could likely be very successful as a sprinter for the track squad. The young man thanks the coach for the offer but chooses to remain with the baseball team. Later that spring at the all-city track meet the 100-yard dash is won with a time of 10.0, two tenths of a second faster than the young baseball player had run in sneakers and long pants with no warm up that April afternoon.

Fast forward to early 2009, the former young baseball player, now an experienced OD consultant leads a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary initiative on behalf of a client interested in generating innovative thinking and solutions in some critical customer facing areas. Players in this initiative are offered the opportunity to work on one of five suggested projects where major improvements are necessary and desired within a twelve- month period. Each employee involved, chosen because they were identified as “high potential”, is allowed to self-select to work on a project where they feel their talents will be put to good use. These are real projects with real needs and real dollars (in the multi-millions) and real customer relationships at stake.

When the initiative nears completion, four of the five projects have shown solid progress. The fifth project team, working on the most entrenched and critical customer servicing processes, presents a set of ideas for segmenting and servicing customers that stands to revolutionize not only the client’s business model but the industry model as well. Key contributions to this revolutionary set of ideas have come from diverse and unanticipated sources. The project team leader is a woman with less than five years experience in this 40-year-old company. Her most valuable collaborators have been a senior Human Resource analyst who was virtually unknown outside of HR when this initiative began and a finance director who had no experience in the customer facing areas of the business in his fifteen-year career with the client company. Prior to this initiative the only one of these three people who would have been invited to participate on this project was the woman team leader and she would have been given a secondary role because of her limited experience.

The connection between these two stories is of course the baseball player turned OD consultant who never forgot what could have been that spring of 1965 if a different model had been in place. What if the track coach has focused his attention on making use of the best available talent, regardless of the source?

Your organization might not be as strapped for talent as you might imagine. Quite possibly your mental models for what it takes to contribute are the true limit to what you are experiencing when it comes to innovative thinking.

Where is your organization trapped by its adherence to a tradition of finding solutions to current problems from among the available functional knowledge and experience that created them?

What would it take to allow people with talent, passion, initiative and creativity to become involved regardless of current assignments or functional history?

Our Addiction to Jobs is Killing the American Dream

WARNING: This post may have more local flavor than you’d care for. I beg your indulgence!

Picture 248When my book, ‘THRIVE: Standing on Your Own Two Feet in a Borderless World’ was published in 2006 I had been sitting on the thoughts I shared there for nearly ten years. Over that period I had become deeply concerned about what I considered to be the culturally engrained addiction to jobs that was robbing the workplace of any real hope of ever being a marketplace for full engagement. When, I continually wondered, had the American Dream shifted from guaranteeing the freedom to choose one’s livelihood to guaranteeing the freedom, no the desperate need, to have…stuff?

Since that time my concern had only deepened.

As long as Americans remain addicted to jobs the game will always be about survival and the trade offs; environmentally, economically, psychologically and emotionally and will be nothing less than, in many cases, the quality of life for generations to come. There are many who know this is ultimately unworkable but the truth seems so hard to speak when the audience, the American workforce, believes it is entitled to economic security, needs economic security.

Here in Washington State we have recently seen examples of how this addiction plays out in actions that do not fit with the professed prevailing morality. The state’s largest employer, Boeing, strong armed economic concessions in the form of reduced taxes from an already stressed government with implied threats of moving large numbers of jobs out of the area. Whatever the citizens of Washington got from the deal that was made you can be sure is only temporary, not too long from now that very same employer will be back asking for more with the knowledge that the ‘state’ is addicted to the presence of their jobs here. And other large area employers are no doubt emboldened by Boeing’s success.

In his 1998 book, ‘The Hungry Spirit :Beyond Capitalism A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World’ author Charles Handy spoke passionately about the addiction to jobs he witnessed everywhere…

“Capitalism, which was supposed to set us free, may be enslaving us in its turn, with its insistence on the dominance of the economic imperative.”

He was not arguing for the abandonment of capitalism, far from it; he was, however, chiding us for having allowed the responsibility for our financial welfare, our economic viability as people, slip away and become the property of organizations…

“The old idea of property as the basis for wealth and power no longer works, when the thing that organizations think that they own turns out to be us.”

And make no mistake about it is we have willingly, albeit mostly unconsciously, allowed this addiction to take root with at least four generations of American workers since the onset of the industrial revolution. In that time a nation that was at one time made up of 90% self employed people focused on the freedom to earn a living as they chose had dwindled to around 6% by the late 1990’s. We had shifted from the focus on freedom to choose our livelihood to the willingness to accommodate just about any trade off in order to guarantee a job, no matter how mundane or unfulfilling it might be. Witness the proceedings around recent events concerning the proposal to build deep-water ports in the waters of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington to ship coal to China. What is at stake is the irreplaceable natural asset of the northern Puget Sound. What has been offered in exchange is less than two thousand temporary jobs during a four-year construction period and then a handful of permanent positions. A handful of permanent positions matched up against the bounty of the Salish Sea. Why does this sound like trading a handful of beans for a cow?

But as much as I have been concerned about the economic enslavement of the American Dream…you see it was always about the freedom, not the material goods…there are signs that there is a shift in the wind that has blown us so far off course.

In a December 22nd article titled ‘Predictions for 2015: Power to the People’, entrepreneur Nicolas Kimla, writing in Innovation Insights, a Wired Inc. publication predicts boldly that new technologies are allowing small entrepreneurs new and extraordinary opportunities…

“What was not so widely predicted at the time, though — and what is now becoming exceedingly obvious — the power that Cloud services bring to entrepreneurial startups and small and medium businesses to compete with their corpulent corporate neighbors.”

Now, if we can just encourage a mindset shift, one that will allow for a landslide of entrepreneurship to help us recover the American Dream of the freedom to live as we choose. A shift that will once again allow us to stand on our own two feet in a borderless world.