Thursday, March 27, 2008

Change Management 11: Certain Misery or the Misery of Uncertainty

Change Management 11: Certain Misery or the Misery of Uncertainty

Small changes can lead to big changes. We don’t need a treatise on Chaos Theory to observe that changing systems are nonlinear. Each variable in the change environment exponentially affects the outcome. For example, a simple three-variable closed environment will yield 6 permutations, while 6 variables will yield 720 possible outcomes. In this field, sometimes it’s best not to count past three! It’s this unwieldy number of possible outcomes that leads us to the creative insight. The former Soviet Union went to great lengths to control this type of creative insight by controlling variables. Control was their thing, after all, and they suffocated from lack of creative adaptation to change. Today, countries and companies go to great lengths to foster the creativity inherent in change.

Embracing creativity is essentially the only way a business can adapt to the constantly changing business environment. Unfortunately, in the face of organizational change, many individuals, departments and corporate cultures still retreat into the unhealthy and limiting defense mechanism of over-control, even when it stifles the very process of creative adaptation. As a successful leader in change, you must be comfortable with a multitude of unknown variables and outcomes. If you are not, then you risk the misery of controlling an ever-increasing number of possible outcomes. Remember, only 6 variables produce 720 possible outcomes. This is a lot of plates to keep spinning-not to mention the no-confidence vote you’re giving your creative problem solvers. Creative team members just don’t react all that well to manipulation and stifling over-control.

The very first exercise the leader must undertake is a thorough inventory of his or her fears. Look at the worst case scenarios first. Once you have a good long list, brainstorm them with the team. If worst case scenario number one occurs, what are the creative recourses? If you let your team run free with ideas for an hour or so, you might be surprised at the far-reaching and pleasantly unexpected results. What you are doing here is fear (negative outcome) control. If you’re going to lead through a period of change, you must know thyself, and particularly your fears.

Predictability and ambiguity are two dynamic forces working in constant opposition. In an active change situation, predictability tends to contract while ambiguity expands. In dynamic situations, leaders can become fearful of an explosion of ambiguity (too many options). In attempting to control this, they inadvertently implode due to the repression of creativity (à la the Former Soviet Union). In the heat of battle it’s easy to forget that it's always much easier to tone down a overly creatively solution than to spruce up a dull one (known as the lipstick on a pig solution).

It’s not part of our macho, action hero culture to admit to fear and possible negative outcomes, but this is what must be done. Get the team together and get those fears on the flip chart and allow the creativity to flow. This exercise is an exceptionally powerful way to unify the team. What usually happens is that many of these fears are unfounded or easily solved by the collective open creativity of the team.

Ian Glickman, Ph.D.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Leadership 9 Who You Are And What You Can Become.

Leadership 9 Who You Are And What You Can Become.

Professor Marie McIntyre of Georgia’s Institute of Government has researched the relationship between managers and personality. Her findings confirmed my own experiences as a psychologist and a consultant, and probably will confirm yours as well. Managerial types are more analytical then interpersonal, i.e., they are data driven. They also exhibit a higher need for control than others. The higher up the hierarchy we look, the more prominent these personality traits become. We also know from the literature that successful managers must be able to network well and build solid interpersonal relationships across organizational disciplines. So here we have the paradox of a successful management team-controlling personalities coexisting with the need for positive collaboration, and keen analytical skills coexisting with the need for strong interpersonal skills. These four domains must be balanced to insure progress. You may recall the dilemma Hal faced in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal, overly controlling and overly analytic, diligently strived to achieve his company’s objectives. Ok, he was a computer, so we can cut him some slack. But he was also a crew member. Due to his lack of people skills, he failed to accurately assess how his decisions would affect the team. This imbalance led to disastrous results. We shouldn’t be too picky, but I think we can all agree that when one team member gives his colleague a lobotomy, it’s a clear indicator of a dysfunctional team.

Many managers and business leaders seem to have effectively integrated their controlling tendencies with collaborative skills and their analytic tendencies with interpersonal considerations. Considering that they may not be hard-wired that way, how have they achieved this? Well, necessity is the mother of invention. Or, as psychologists like to say, the approach/avoidance ratio has advanced from avoidance toward approach. That is to say that after taking a good, hard look at what must be accomplished, the successful manager realizes that it's more efficacious to give up some control and play with the team for the benefit of the organizational goals, not to mention his/her own career goals.

Professor McIntyre states that “interpersonal relationships are the cornerstone of teamwork.” What happens when you have several overly analytical group members of the team (not an uncommon scenario for management teams)? The research tell us that teams will falter and fail due to poor interpersonal skills. In fact, there is a direct statistical correlation here. The more analytical the team is, as a whole, the greater the probability of failure. This is statistics at its simplest; high analytic quotient equals low success.

Lets look at the control issue. Being in control is a very positive experience indeed. Nobody likes to be out of control, unless you’re a game show contestant. But being controlling is another thing entirely. And, over-controlling a work group or a project team is clearly on the scary side of the success gauge.

“Dr. Mac, pray tell, what happens with teams that have a number of controlling personalities ?”
“Teams that have several controlling members spend a lot of time arguing (Duh! Like how many times have we all experienced this?) and when a plan is formalized, it doesn’t get done.” Ok, been there, done that.

So there it is. Want to find out if you are more analytical then interpersonal? Answer these two questions.

1. I would rather work with things than people.
2. I would rather work with data than ideas.

If you have answered yes to both of these questions, you probably are more analytical then interpersonal. Here’s an exercise you can try to develop more interpersonal skills. In your next meeting, try to identify the interpersonal folks and listen more conscientiously to them. You might be underestimating the importance of their input, to the detriment of your organizational goals and career.

If you’re a control freak executive, here is another exercise. In your next meeting, try not to give any opinions (or speak at all, for that matter) unless directly asked to do so by the team. If the team comes up with an idea, try to let them run with it. If you’re a controlling type, you’ll find this exercise difficult. But you will learn a great deal about yourself quickly. This is an exercise you can try at home too. And I bet you’ll surprise yourself by how others begin to react to and interact with you.


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