I met a really interesting group of people recently.
We came together by chance.
The hole is getting deeper! Collectively the impact of the onlookers encourages more effort to be engaged in digging ever deeper.
The hole for me represents a toxic pit. You could think of it as representing an organisation.
To my mind this is not the solid foundation upon which to build or develop a successful business. And yet the actions of key players within the business cause our efforts to be directed to the wrong place.
We need to be building not digging! Ok for the engineers amongst you, technically we do need some sort of foundation, but it must be sound.
To do this we need to stop doing the stuff that we do in the way that we currently do it. We need a change in leadership mindset. Hierarchy drives behaviour, and leads to unintended consequences.
This group of business people came together to look at opportunities to gain a competitive advantage for their business.
What struck me was the similarity in their dilemma.
Drawn from a range of blue chip, and public organisations they were all wrestling with similar issues.
They badged them differently at first. The jargon of their sector disguised the key themes that began to emerge.
Active listening and questions of curiosity soon grounded the conversations as time and space was given to enable people to talk directly to each other; to listen and to share.
Now how much time is given in the average day for that!
Some of us were better listeners than others: some keener to share their burden. But the enthusiasm of engagement shone through in the room. There was a real buzz about the place. A common pattern began to emerge.
What we learned collectively was that an enormous amount of peoples time was consumed in an average week with ‘stuff ’ – preparing papers for meetings, sitting in meetings, negotiating the politics of people and organisations
Not to mention hundreds of emails many of the .cc from around the business network inevitably protecting someone else’s back.
Much of this activity served to cover up the underlying issues- ‘the elephant in the room’. You know the one that exists in most organisations, but no one is prepared to acknowledge.
A sense of powerlessness began to emerge about the ability to act to change the system, but a keenness to understand what could be done to change the paradigm.
War stories emerged of the impact of leaders upon the success of the business.
So as a consequence it was acknowledged that there is a tendency to carry on working around the ever increasing obstacles that are placed in our way caused by a toxic culture.
A culture that is doing long term damage to the viability of the business, and importantly to the health of the people trying to do a good job on the ground.
It all usually starts to go wrong when leadership dictates a change. A do as I say, not as I do mentality. It the default style in western business leadership.
Can we ever be surprised that systemically nothing changes? The programmes, and projects, and year end reports will turn drift, slippage, and overspend in to a game of pass the buck around the business or on to suppliers, or even to customers.
Budgets will be reforecast and new targets set, but substantively very little will happen to change ‘the way that things get done around here’.
A different paradigm sees leaders developing a keenness to learn and understand what’s actually going on within the business, beyond the rhetoric and the reports.
One where a leader is curious to seek out fact and the root cause of issues that get in the way of people doing a great job on the ground. Someone who is passionate about the purpose of the business, and to connect with and understand the day to day customer experience at first hand.
Someone who realises that by listening to, and engaging people across the business, that they can harness the potential that exists in each of us to deliver at our best more of the time.
Sir John Whitmore, the founder of leadership coaching in the UK, own research over time evidences that on average 60% of our potential is wasted at work each day. Largely through fear and self doubt.
Alarming as the number sounds, it does not take account of the fact that everything that we do at work is not value adding. If we take account of wasteful activity in the work place the potential for improvement is probably closer to 80%.
The starting point to bring about change is to begin to raise people’s awareness to what is really going on in the environment around them, and the impact that they have upon others; and to encourage them to take responsibility for their personal actions.
Only be starting this journey can people really begin to bring about systemic change.
For many of us this is a scary proposition.
The higher up the career ladder you are the longer the distant to fall. So most people need skilled help to support them on the journey.
So getting back to the group of senior people that I met.
My impression was that one or two where curious to explore what this might mean in practice for them, and the consequences for their business.
Others were stuck in a paradigm looking down the hole hoping for a solution to emerge; and a few were beginning to plot a course of action to hook key influencers in their business.
If you want to improve your market share, and improve the bottom line them something significant has to change.
If leaders are not enabling and developing a positive and open culture to harness the potential of every employee in the business to enable it to develop and grow in the market place then they are not being effective in their job.
Will you tell them, or shall I?