The A to Z of OD: G is for Growth Mindset

Many thanks to Francis Lake, who suggested The Tipping Point as a topic for this A to Z of OD.  I’ve included it here under G for its author, social science research debunker, Malcolm Gladwell.  But let’s start with bona fide social science researcher Carol Dweck and her best thinking about mindsets.  G is for Growth Mindset.

The Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.  Dweck has dedicated her lifelong research to mindsets, particularly in students.  She noticed some students were resilient, rebounding quickly after setbacks, whereas others appeared to be devastated by even minor hiccoughs.  She attributed this to their mindset – i.e. their belief systems – and coined the terms ‘fixed’ mindset and ‘growth’ mindset.

The Fixed Mindset: Many people view their own potential, talent or intellect as innate and fixed; “either you have it or you don’t.”  They assume outcomes are fixed.

The Growth Mindset: Dweck’s research suggests that people who view their ability to grow, learn and develop through hard work, practice or progressive improvement tend to succeed more.  They believe their ability is just a starting point that can grow.  Growth can be nurtured, and outcomes are open-ended.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.”  Carol Dweck might say, “If you believe you can, and then are prepared to put in the effort, then you can succeed.”

To put this in practical terms, people with a growth mindset choose lifelong learning.  They make choices rather than decisions, they try things out, they fail, they learn from their mistakes, they do it again, they get it right, they grow, they practise until they make new habits, they succeed, they develop mastery of their chosen subject, they never stop learning.

Recent advances in neuroscience support the claim that practice makes permanent; our neural networks grow, strengthen and speed up our cognition.  We become masters of what we repeatedly do and learn from.

Model I / Model II

Dweck’s research was with students.  Chris Argyris proposed another mindset model, more directly appropriate for the workplace.

In Model I mindset, people try to seek unilateral control of situations, they try to win, and if they can’t win, they make sure they don’t lose; they try to act rationally and suppress negative feelings.  It is a “win, don’t lose” mindset; the pie is fixed.

In Model II mindset, people seek to learn, seek to find win/win solutions with others by seeking valid information and joint commitment to action.  It is a collaborative mindset; the pie can be bigger; the pie can grow.

I’m struck by the similarity of these two mindset concepts: (1) the fixed pie: “try to win, but if I can’t, then try to save face, it’s probably something I’m not good at anyway.” (2) the growth pie: “let’s work together to see what’s possible, we can achieve more together than working independently, we can learn”.  (2) is an organisational learning model; it is a generative model; it is a model of true collaboration.

Noughts and Crosses

Here’s a gift for you – a group exercise / collaborative mindset icebreaker – that I have been using with groups for several years.

  1. Pair up all participants
  2. Invite each pair to play five games of noughts and crosses (that’s tic-tac-toe, if you’re Transatlanticly-inclined)
  3. Rules: take turns to go first; three points for a win, one point each for a draw
  4. Goal: maximise your points
  5. Once everyone has completed five games, ask them to add up their points, and then add the two players’ points together to obtain a score for each pair
  6. How many points did each pair of players achieve?
  7. If it was not 15, what happened?

In my experience – I’ve asked hundreds of people to take part in this game – almost all pairs of players fail to get the maximum 15 points. This quick game demonstrates how locked into a “win, don’t lose” mindset we all are; how locked into a fixed mindset we all are.

In the training room, we can then explore the merits, strategies, skills and behaviours and, most crucially IMHO, the mindset needed to become more collaborative at work.  Collaboration is one of the typical goals of many organisation development programmes.  Collaboration is my speciality.

OD Thought leader: Malcolm Gladwell (1963 – )

“Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses.”  Gladwell looked how epidemics spread an applied the thinking to social epidemics.  To exemplify his ideas, he cites significantly reducing crime rates in New York, a huge uplift in sales of Hush Puppies and the number of teen suicides in Micronesia, among several others.

The Tipping Point is that point when critical mass is achieved in a social movement and it then starts to spread significantly more quickly than it did before.

Gladwell suggests there are three things needed to harness The Tipping Point.  Get all three right and you can generate a tipping point for your social movement:

  1. Law of the few (20% of people will do 80% of the work needed to gain momentum – the trick is about recognising who are the connectors, the mavens (information specialists) and the salesmen who will entice others to follow their lead)
  2. Stickiness factor (how easy and sticky is the new idea?)
  3. Context (if the environment is right, then more people will take on the idea).

In organisations, this social movement is – of course – the case for change.  And so, generating a tipping point has become something of an ambition for many change agents and change leaders.  The advice on how to do this usually surrounds making the new world more appealing, enticing early adopters and changing organisational systems and processes to make it harder not to change.

Gladwell went on to write Blink about the adaptive unconscious, and Outliers about the odd factors that come together to create success.

Recommended reading: Malcolm Gladwell (2000), The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, Boston, Little Brown.

Next time: H is for Human

 

The A to Z of OD (Part II): B is for Behaviours

This is the second part in a series of articles that will set out the A to Z of organisation development: the principles and practices, the tools and techniques and the past and present thought leaders that have shaped the field. Today, we look at B.  B is for Behaviours: Organisational behaviours.

I still don’t know exactly what will be included under each letter.  That is starting to emerge.  If you have any thoughts on what you would like to see included, get in touch and we’ll discover where this goes!

Many people have already commented via LinkedIn or by contacting me directly on what they would like to see included.  Big thanks to all – you’ll get a namecheck when your ideas come up in the alphabet!  In fact, if you want to guest blog a topic or thought leader, then let me know.

First namecheck goes to Inji Duducu, for suggesting Assumptions, as in, “What assumptions drive the culture?”  Good question Inji.  The assumptions manifest as a set of behaviours that in turn define the culture, as we will see when we explore B.  B is for Behaviours.

B is for Behaviours

The way an organisation operates can be seen by people inside (staff, managers, etc.) and outside (customers, commentators and other stakeholders).  The way the organisation behaves represents an unwritten set of assumptions that are tacitly and commonly understood by those people.  The behaviours represent their collective experience: past, present and, without intervention, future.  These behaviours, good and bad, define the culture of the organisation.

Oftentimes, organisations write down their values and discuss them in external publications such as financial statements and investor briefings.  They may also be discussed internally in objective-setting, performance appraisals and personal development planning.  In an ideal world, the behaviours and the values marry up!  In the real world, there are usually gaps between what is espoused in vague, aspirational values statements on posters around the workplace and what happens day-to-day in work routines, meetings and customer interactions.

Surfacing implicit, often undiscussable assumptions that inhibit performance is a key goal of organisation development. We do that to encourage discussion, reformulation and articulation of behaviours that bring the values to life day-to-day.  If you think this sounds hard, well it is.  Institutionalised defensive thinking and behaviour (see OD thought leader: Chris Argyris) mean that not only are unhelpful assumptions undiscussable, but the fact they are undiscussable is itself undiscussable.

A word of caution though: OD practitioners are not trying to change people.  Rather, our goal is to invite people to choose their own more positive behaviours that align with the values of the organisations with which they choose to associate themselves.

OD thought leader: Peter Block

Peter Block (b. 1940) is an author and consultant whose focus is on empowerment, accountability and collaboration.  He believes that people working within organisations who are trying to change or improve a situation, but who do not have direct control over that situation, are acting as consultants.  Let’s face it, that is pretty much everybody working in any organisation.  The problem is that many people working in organisations behave as if they believe they need to control other people to get things done.  The paradox is that you can achieve the results you want without having to control other people around you.  You do this by focusing on relationships as well as tasks, agreeing (or ‘contracting’) to do things jointly and always being authentic.  This approach establishes collaborative working relationships, solves problems so that they stay solved and ensures your expertise (whatever subject that expertise is in) gets used.

Block’s best-selling book, Flawless Consulting, sets out practical tips on how to complete each stage of influencing others to get your expertise used, pay attention to the relationship as well as the task at each stage, and hence ‘consult’ flawlessly.  It is, without any exaggeration, the bible of consulting.  And that applies whether you consider yourself a consultant or not.

Don’t take my word for it, Barry Posner, Professor of Leadership at the Levey School of Business in Santa Clara, California puts it succinctly, “The first question to ask any consultants: Have you read Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting?  If they say no, don’t hire them.”

Recommended reading: Block, P. (2011). Flawless Consulting (3rd Ed.): A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. San Francisco, Wiley.

Next time: C is for Culture; C is for Change

Robots versus humans: the battle for leading the future of work

Book review: Conquering Digital Overload, edited by Peter Thomson, author of Future Work and Director of Wisework, the leading authority on the Future of Work

Conquering Digital Overload is a fascinating inquiry into the stress caused by digital technology on businesses and society at large and provides some practical tips for leaders to navigate the new digital landscape.  It suggests we are drowning in the new ‘always on’ technology that pervades modern life and that for governments and businesses, this is not simply an ICT issue, but rather an issue that goes to the core of what it means to be a leader.

With useful research findings on the effects of digital technology, the book examines the impact it has on every facet of our lives, surfaces the anxiety and stress caused by digital overload and highlights the effects on core activities that were once the preserve of human leaders – providing support, focusing on results, seeking different perspectives and solving problems.  Thomson and his 15 co-authors explain how the digital revolution is stripping away the need for expert human leadership.  When the internet can provide knowledge and empower groups of people to find their voice, they ask, what is the need for human leaders?  They go on to suggest expert human leadership is needed to prevent the tyranny of crowds making populist and yet poor decisions.  And to preserve the health and wellbeing of organisations.

We can’t expect governments to regulate effectively.  And so – if not you, then who will navigate the complexity of leading an artificially intelligent workforce?

Jeremy J Lewis

Committed to making a difference in developing leaders

January 16, 2018

Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start

We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, especially when making personal financial investments.  That’s why, in organisations, we write business cases to prove to ourselves we will get a return on investment.  How does this apply to transformational change, when it’s not just finances, but relationships between people that need to change?  We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start.

 Past – Present – Future … where do you tend to start?

“I want to change the culture,” is something I hear a lot from potential clients.  They have an idea of what is NOT working and a vague notion that “empowerment”, more accountability” or “better collaboration” are the ways to change things.  They then immediately set about defining what the future will look like and writing their business case.  If this sounds familiar, chances are you are already on the path to failure.  That is because you have over-rationalised it and are trying to make a purely financial case for investment.

 The Future is unwritten

I’m not going to bore you with facts and figures about the failure of change programmes.  You’ll know yourself that organisations often choose to invest in tangible things that can be measured in financial terms.  Thing like restructuring, new systems and business processes.  They tend to spend less effort investing in building truly collaborative way of working, innovating and problem-solving.  Because these are hard to do.   Also, writing business cases forces you down that path.  It is often a logical place to start, but it is not the whole story.

 Let the Future remain unwritten for a little longer

In my experience, organisations that over rely on these rational aspects of change tend to achieve limited success, smaller business benefits and alienate their people.  Those organisations that consider the softer, relationship-orientated, people aspects of change achieve better results.  Sometimes.  A major issue, even when culture is properly considered, is that those seeking the change only look forwards to envision a brighter future.

 Opportunities lie in the Past as well as the Future

This is, I fear, only half the story.  By looking at how your organisation got to where it is today, you will understand what aspects of your current culture are already working well and need preserving.  Reflect on the journey taken to get to where you are today, the successes, the failures, what has been learned (and what has not).  This will give you a better understanding of what makes your organisation tick, and what might be holding it back.

 Now is all there is

By achieving a deeper understanding of the Past, you allow yourself, collectively with your people, to let it go.  You will become more intently focused on the Present.  I believe the Present is really all that truly exists.  Looking to the Past helps us understand the Present.  Looking to the future tries to hi-Jack the Present and force it into something it is not ready to be. 

 Be right here, right now with your people and allow your Future Intention to emerge collectively from collaborative sense-making and reflecting on learnings from the Past.  Pay attention to the Present to make your Future Intention a reality.  There are a few simple, practical techniques and ways of working that can be applied every day to do this.  The result is transformational.  The result is the culture change you are seeking.

 Jeremy J Lewis, committed to making a difference in embedding sustainable change

The trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension

The trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension is not that well understood in organisations.  And yet it is a fundamental equation that can help improve productivity, the quality of work relationship and outcomes.

Interpersonal tension is a sad thing.  It occurs when people simply don’t get along.  This could be a personality clash or residual tension from previous encounters.  Oftentimes, people simply avoid others they don’t get along with, and that’s fine if it doesn’t impact your work outcomes.  But what if your job requires you to work with someone with whom you have interpersonal tension?  I’m not talking about a saboteur who actively tries to stop you doing your job – that would require escalation to a more senior manager or the involvement of HR.  no, I’m talking more about the persistent naysayer who you just don’t get along with well enough to be able to focus on the task at hand.

Task tension is a happy thing. According to taskmanagementguide.com, task tension can be described as a positive feeling that a person or a group feels when they have an interesting work to be done. Task tension includes feelings of zeal and enthusiasm that encourage people to intensively research the task, seek for ways to complete it, build their collaboration around these aims, and overcome many interpersonal problems for the sake of common goals.

Chart: the trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension

The chart shows that, over time, interpersonal tension decreases as interest in the task increases.  The challenge is to work on techniques that overcome interpersonal tension quickly so that teams can focus on the task.  This moves the interpersonal tension line from A to B, and hence saves time, increasing productivity.

And so, the workplace challenge is first to ensure there is a stream of interesting team-based collaborative work available so that task tension has a fighting chance of overcoming interpersonal tension.

And then, the workplace goal is for task tension to overcome interpersonal tension as quickly as possible.

This requires:

  • Self-awareness of our own behaviours and how those impact others (“Knowing me…”)
  • The ability to ‘let it go’ and work with others as you find them (“Knowing you…”)
  • So that you can get on with the task at hand (“Aha!”).

Knowing me, Knowing you, Aha!

It is important to bring people together to reflect on their own behavioural style, recognise that of others with whom they work and begin to understand how to collaborate.  It helps team members and their leaders play to their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and work collaboratively together for the benefit of the organisation. This is of fundamental importance in today’s complex workplace.

And so, I have three questions for you:

  • Do you have the reflective practice in place to be able to do this?
  • Do you have the right behavioural insights to facilitate the discussion?
  • Do you have the right facilitator to bring people together in a way that values differences, seeks common ground and builds collaboration without the session falling apart?

I can’t help you find a stream of interesting, team-based, collaborative work.  But if you’re searching for your “Aha!” moment, I believe I can help with expert facilitation supported by leading edge psychometrics.

 

Jeremy Lewis

Committed to making a difference in building collaborative teams that get the job done

 

Take Alan’s advice: a three-step approach to become a trusted business adviser

First published on LinkedIn July 13, 2016

To paraphrase Alan Partridge, “Lynn’s not my wife.  She’s my accountant.  Hard-worker, but there’s no affection.”

The work of corporate support functions has changed.  This applies to accounting, human resources, learning and development, legal services, risk, IT, corporate strategy and planning, financial and systems analysis, project and change managers and more.  In fact for anyone who has professional experience, limited direct authority over the use of their expertise and the desire to have some impact at an organisational level.

Regardless of Alan’s view, the traditional role of hard-working expert represents only half the story.  You must be able to have that expertise listened to and used.  To do this, you require a commercial ‘business-like’ mindset, a collaborative partnering approach and the skills to develop trusted adviser relationships.  Dare I say it, to develop a certain affection?

The most effective way for professionals in corporate functions to gain respect, lead change and add value to their organisations is to develop these skills.  I have helped the corporate functions of B2B and B2C private service sector clients and clients in the Health sector do this.  Whilst each of the organisations I’ve worked with is unique, with its own unique set of circumstances, they often share similar challenges, i.e. how to:

  • Find the time to cut down on doing the work in order to build relationships?
  • Get business managers to take accountability for its finances, people, IT investment, etc?
  • Prevent the professionals from ‘going native’?
“Knowing me, Alan Partridge; knowing you, my trusted business adviser; Aha!”

You start by adopting a new professional mindset (‘Knowing me’), and go on to develop deeper relationships (‘Knowing you’) and then consistently apply these fundamentals in your role (‘Aha!’).

Knowing me

Professionals are increasingly anxious within organisations.  Two examples of the risks corporate functions face from their customer-facing colleagues are continual downsizing of the ‘back office’ and the democratisation of information through technology.  Professionals in corporate functions must continually demonstrate their worth to the organisation.  And be seen to do so.

Unfortunately, professionals have an unconscious tendency to pay more attention to their own discipline than the direct strategic goals of the organisations they work for.  We call this ‘basic-assumption’ mentality.  In this mode, the corporate function’s directs its behaviour at meeting the unconscious needs of its members by reducing anxiety.  However, professionals have been trained to use their basic-assumption mentality in a sophisticated way that supports the organisation’s strategic objectives.  This sounds confusing, so let me give a few examples[1]

Finance

Chartered accountant firms require their junior staff to be dependent on senior staff while they are training.  This approach delivers a qualified accountant who insists on being independent and behaves hierarchically to juniors.   They review all their subordinates’ work and hold on to decision-making.  This is the basic assumption of dependency, which is sensibly deployed to manage risk.  Remember the partners of the accounting firm are personally liable and stand to lose their all their worldly possessions if things go wrong.

There is a high risk of this behaviour degenerating into an insistence for freedom for its own sake.  This leads to a lack of accountability to the organisation.  It can lead to a culture of subordination and hierarchical power requiring unquestioning obedience from juniors (and business managers).

Human Resources

The HR professional deploys collaboration with management as the best way to deliver change.  We call this the basic assumption of pairing.  Pairing is a psychological coping strategy where a helpless person assumes two other people will come together to create a messiah baby to save their world.

If overplayed, such a collaborative approach can lead to colluding with the business, whilst simultaneously refusing to examine whether HR interventions help or support the organisation’s strategic objectives.  This can lead to a culture of ‘soft’ HR outputs without the requisite action required to make the change.  For example, creating future-oriented organisational vision and values statements that end up merely as posters on the office wall.

Information Technology

IT professionals have the capacity for sophisticated use of the fight/flight basic assumption mentality.  They sell their proposed technology solutions to clients whilst defending against alternative solutions with doomsday premonitions of catastrophic outcomes if they are not heeded.

Frustratingly often, IT projects do not deliver the purported benefits.  When that happens, the fight/flight mentality degenerates into denial of responsibility, assertion that the IT professional is still right and that the business managers need to change to exploit the technology in full.  Projecting responsibility in this way disables the professional/client relationship from productively devising a course of action to resolve issues.  This can lead to a culture of paranoia and aggressive competitiveness.  It can also lead to a preoccupation with the ‘enemy within’ as well as perceived external enemies.   And it can lead to the promulgation of complex and bewildering rules to control these dangers.

Professionals really need to look at themselves and recognise the approach they are prone to taking.  Only then can they choose a new professional role and identity.

Knowing you

When professionals have gained a deeper understanding of themselves, they can choose a productive professional identity (i.e. one of collaborative business partner).  They are then better placed to notice what drives and motivates the business managers they are seeking to partner.  Developing relationships is probably the most important single thing a professional can do.  In this way they can avoid the dual risks of (a) being treated like a ‘pair of hands’ to do the tasks their business colleagues cannot or do not want to do and (b) being treated like a specialist expert who sits outside the workgroup and can only comment from the sidelines.  Importantly, avoiding these risks actually saves time.

Not only can professionals avoid these risks, but they can transcend them to become a trusted business adviser.  They do this by sitting within the workgroup and operating collaboratively (read: high support and high challenge).  This allows them the opportunity to help the business take accountability.

It also allows them to develop into the strategic partner that not only turns data into insight, but also brings perspective and commerciality.  This enables them to retain their professional integrity without going ‘native’.

Aha!

These skills are neither magical nor mysterious, but come about by mastering the basics of ‘knowing me, knowing you’ and practising the skills needed to deepen relationships.

I often run business simulations and action learning sets with clients so they can practise and reflect on their progress in developing their collaborative partnering skills.

And so the penny finally drops.  As Jim Rohn once said, “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practised every day”.

And I agree.

And even, I suspect, would Alan Partridge.

 

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

[1] These examples have been adapted from the work of Jon Stokes (1994). The Unconscious at work in Groups and Teams: Contributions from the Work of Wilfred Bion, in Anton OBHOLZER and Vega Z. ROBERTS (Eds.) The Unconscious at Work. London, Routledge.