Saturday, August 1, 2009

In Search of Nirvana

I have always taken pride in working with purpose, on purpose. I pick my jobs and my boss carefully because I am in search of a particular environment. I look for an environment where the leadership is open to ideas, where discussion is readily had, where people are treated fairly and with respect, and where people treat each other as they would want to be treated.

That may sound like Nirvana, but it is indeed the key to bringing out the best in people. Nirvana (or least my definition) is really what good corporate builders aspire to create. They know that this kind of environment is where people tend to give their best every day.

There are no accidents in corporate culture creation. One does not wake up one day and say, "oops, my bad . . ." Culture takes time to foster and build, and it is purposeful. The question is, are we able to break down the ingredients to understand what actually goes into creating a Nirvana like culture.

Since that question is too big to tackle, let's look at a symptom of culture. Engagement. Cultures that are constructive and positive tend to have higher engagement than those that do not.

Understanding engagement is to understand what motivates human beings. Micro - managed, controlling and distrusting environments grind people down, making them feel uninspired about the work. They want to give less and care less. When this culture takes over, people are treated badly, and they feel bad about it. They act out their frustration by treated others badly in retaliation. And it is disconcerting and sad. I have seen people who are brilliant, and who have so much to offer, pull away. They lose their shine. They lose their voice, their self - esteem and their will to be as excellent as they are.

Engaged people are fully self - responsible and accountable. However, in a power based environment, performance is used as a hammer, instead of a tool to inspire progress. People dodge accountability because who wants to be hammered? It becomes a vicious circle. If people are not accountable for the way they act, or if negative behavior is endorsed by being ignored, people rebel by disengaging to avoid personal damage.

The disengaged person develops a condition of being frustrated and negative. They spend their time wasting time and being destructive. This takes on several forms. Micro managing, avoidance, passing the buck, dodging accountability, talking negatively about others and with others, criticizing and basically tearing down what others are trying to build.

Disengaged people express negativity instead of looking for ways to be successful; purposely blocking the success of another; or just pulling away and giving up. If this type of environment is allowed to occur, people will continue to feel shut down and dis empowered. They will stop giving their best every day, and start leaving before they have left.

I don't believe that disengagement can be addressed with programs, products, pep talks, performance management, or other p - words alone. Disengagement is also linked to leadership and accountability. One way to address it is through instilling a constructive culture where people are empowered and accountable for their actions, and where conciliatory behavior is more prevalent that power based control behaviors. In the constructive culture, leadership is not just at the top of an organization. It is you and me, every day being responsible for what we do, what we say and how we affect others.

It all comes down to living our values. No company would say they value control and power. A responsible company talks about things like leadership, integrity, responsibility, commitment to employees, commitment to shareholders, commitment to the community.

Values in the corporate setting are not just published in a plan or annual report annually. The values must be upheld. They must be linked to the balance sheet. In other words, if a company values responsibility, it should provide financial support to act on that. If the company values commitment to employee development, then it must provide quality training, development, performance and succession programs. If a company says it values community, then it requires investment. Most importantly, values must be challenged, and those who do not live the values, must be challenged, and some case, must leave the organization.

The problem is that there have been too many management books written with formulaic, linear strategic planning processes. Step 1. Review Vision. Step 2. Review Values. Step 3. Review Goals . . . Board and executives are numb to the idea of really exploring and testing these concepts. I have yet to hear a board member ask an executive team - show me evidence of living your values. What does this vision mean to our employees? Our community? Our shareholder? Who cares?

I feel very strongly about this, because we give thousands of hours a year to our jobs, and we want to work for organizations that live the values. Don't we?

Unfortunately, I see too often the opposite happening, and as a result, disengagement will increase in the workplace. And that's sad, because it robs you and I, and it robs society of the potential greatness that resides in each of us.

The way I see it, life is too short to be disengaged or disgruntled every day. Negativity depletes the quality of the contribution we make to this world and it can lead to illness.

To me the path to constructive progress and engagement it's so simple. Get back to basics and treat others as you would like to be treated. Before you pull a power move on someone, think about it. How would I feel? Before you make someone uncomfortable with inappropriate conversations, think about how you would feel if you were to walk into it. I feel very strongly about this. The way I see it, nobody has a right to ruin my day, make me feel bad, or make me wish I was somewhere else. And I don't have a right to treat others that way. I therefore cannot tolerate it in others, and I expect others to challenge me should I demonstrate bad behavior.

We (the royal we - aka all of us) need to take stalk of the impact we are having on others every day and either make a personal decision to change, or leave. The symptoms of disengagement will destroy a company, and it will destroy people in the process.

Can people move up the engagement scale given the right environment? I think so. But it's a choice. Coming to work every day is not an accident. We do it on purpose. So make a decision. There really are only 2 options:

- Door #1: stay and be a positive force.
- Door #2: simply leave.

Finally, remember this is work, not life. If work is not contributing to the quality of your life, then make a decision to change it.

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