One man’s fish is another man’s poisson

26 11 2010

Working with a team this morning on perspective and how your perspective affects not just how you attempt to solve a problem, but especially how you will frame the problem in the first place.

The practical application for this team was around “completion”. As a client-focussed team with very “ideas and systems” orientation (Blue / Yellow Org Focus in Birkman terms), “completion” for them was a concept that, for them, revolved around “having the ideas and then handing them over in the form of a system set out in reports and manuals”.

From the client’s perspective – especially a client with a more Operational (Red) or Sales (Green) perspective this is of course somewhat deficient. For the Green perspective, completion is “you’ve had the idea and managed to get buy in from all my team, so that we are all running with your idea now”. For the Red perspective, completion is “whether or not any ideas are involved, has my business changed for the better? If not then the job isn’t finished…”

That may seem so obvious, stated in those terms, that you wonder how this could ever have become an issue. Of course it is all about what you can and can’t see without help. So, before you think the less of my client team, I wonder what perspectives you have that fail to synchronise with your clients’ expectations? It happens a lot more than you can… see!

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The CEO, the Goldfish and the water

20 09 2010

When I was first doing a lot of work around international management and cross-cultural working, a phrase that often cropped up was “your own culture is like water to a Goldfish – you can’t see it until you are out of it”.

Something similar affects CEOs and other organisational leaders with respect to their own perspectives. Leaders at this level, especially entrepreneurial ones, often express things in quite visceral ways: “I don’t know what is wrong with what you are saying – I just know it is wrong”. Many times this “instinctive” response may be “right on the money”; other times it can be problematic or even dangerous. For example…

One reason organisations crash and burn just at the point where long-term success and dominance seems a certainty is that too many senior hiring decisions come down to the CEO’s instinct, rather than objective data; and the problem with that is that CEOs who don’t fully understand their own perspectives – the ┬áinvisible bowl of water in which they swim – too often hire people who reflect exactly the same set of perspectives. What was once the magic ingredient of success becomes the deadly potion of disaster. Perhaps surprisingly, the CEO’s unique mix of gifting and perspective may only fully function for the good of the organisation when it IS unique, and she or he is surrounded by people with different and complementary perspectives.

How to build such a team is a valid and non-trivial question. But the first step is for the CEO to actually see and understand the “water” around them – the perspectives through which they view the world. That shouldn’t lead to them discounting their perspective on things – far from it – but it will allow them to frame what they are seeing correctly. And it doesn’t have to be complex.

For example, “I think such and such, but then I am always projecting us 10 years into the future; you are much more operational in your perpective than I am, so tell me again why you think this will cause us problems in Q3 this year.” Or “I think this opportunity is too good to pass up, but you are our systems thinker, so help me understand why this might affect other things we have committed to doing.”

But how do you see the water when you are a Goldfish? You just need a perspective that analyses the water and then puts it in context for you. OS4Talent can do that for CEOs – without anyone needing to get wet!





Social Coping Mechanisms and the Reluctant Manager

13 09 2010

Most of us have had the experience of presenting a brilliant opportunity to a highly-regarded performer (whether manager or technical specialist), only to have them – inexplicably – turn the opportunity down. Often they don’t even pretend to give it consideration. We are left feeling half-witted and possibly inclined to reevaluate their intelligence in the same direction. What is going on?

There are a number of possible drivers for this kind of behaviour, but just to mention one: social coping mechanisms.

Beneath all the professional skill and interpersonal confidence or warmth, other things are going on in all of us. Some people – typically the generally optimistic, glass-half-full kind of people – have plentiful inner resources for coping with difficult situations, novelty and so on. As a result, they tend to be positive about flux in their social networks (not talking specifically about Web2.0 and Facebook here – I mean the people with whom they interact personally on a day to day basis). New people come, old people go – that’s fine. By extension, you can offer them an exciting new opportunity on a different floor, or a different country, and that is fine for them; they will leave one set of relationships behind and form new ones. And all the while they will cope with the stressful aspects of life by means of their inner reserves.

There are other people – the glass is 125ml of unfiltered tap-water type realists who, while not quite as gong ho as the first group, get through life by recognising some of it is tough and they just need to deal with it. They may not embrace change in social setting quite so readily but if a move is the right thing to do, off they go.

Which brings us to the third group, which may include that person who turned you down on the plum assignment without even the courtesy of reflection. Somewhat more inclined to see the half-emptiness of the glass, these are people for whom their immediate social context, including friends, close colleagues and other regular relationships, is the key element in their ability (and unconscious strategy) to cope with stress and the vicissitudes of life. Does this make them less good people or poorer performers? No, not at all; and in the example I suggested at the start of this blog, the whole point is that they are often top performers, ripe for a promotion or other strategic move. So what then?

Simply this: don’t expect that everyone will see a “great opportunity” the way you do. If you recognise that this factor – “if I move I lose my social network and then what happens to me” – may be in play (and it can be measured very accurately if you prefer science to guesswork), then you will have to think creatively if you want to see this person move up or across the organisation. Is there some way they can take their current team (or key peers) with them? Can they do the new role based out of the same location as at present, or even the same office? Endless possibilities.

But don’t compound an error by writing that star performer off.