I Have a Dream
In the next couple weeks, I have a workshop to do on “Creating a Coaching Climate” for the Greater Atlanta Chapter of ASTD, and then a conversation hour at SIOP on “Strategic 360 Feedback” that I wrote about last week (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/holes-in-the-wall-a-siop-preview/).
Clearly I am still trying to influence people about some things that I feel strongly about. So I was thankful that my wife brought to my attention a TED talk by Simon Sinek that has over 16 million views (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action) that she thought I would find interesting because it was positioned to be about leadership. And it is. But, as importantly, it is about influencing others (which is part of leadership). It is also about sales, and he uses the word “buy” often, which can be taken both literally (sales) and as a euphemism (“buy into”).
In this TED talk, Mr. Sinek proposes that the best way to influence others is not to talk about “what you do”, or “how you do it”, but to express “why” you do it, i.e., the passion behind the subject. He reminded us that Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a plan,” (though he undoubtedly did). Instead, he said “I have a dream,” and went on to describe what that dream looked like. There are many other examples, such as John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon that was not only realized but created countless scientific innovations that have become part of our daily lives.
So part of my dream is captured in the tagline from The Handbook of Multisource Feedback that I also referenced in my last blog: Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little. One of the great things about being an I/O psychologist is we have the opportunity and challenge to touch “a lot of people” with our work. One way we do that is the ways we help organizations make better decisions about people, such as in the decisions about who to hire, fire, promote and develop, and by constantly striving to improve the accuracy of those decisions for the benefit of the organization and the individual. And you may (or may not) know that I am a proponent of use 360 Assessments to help improve the quality (i.e., reliability and validity) of decisions we have to make about many employees (e.g., development plans, training, promotions, staffing, compensation, succession plans, high potential identification).
We can also touch “a lot of people” with processes that affect employees once they are on board. The versions of 360 processes that The Handbook primarily focuses on are those that do touch “a lot of people” to create change one person at a time (but all at once). What is missing in that phrase is the critical notion of creating sustainable change. My criticism of many 360 processes is that they do not burden themselves with worrying about what it takes to create sustainable behavior change, seemingly feeling that the simple act of creating awareness of a need to change (a gap between observed and desired behaviors) will somehow make people magically change. Some do, but not often enough nor are they the people who need it most.
Sustained behavior change can also be thought of as a habit. Part of my dream is to have behavior change (which is a choice) become a reflex, a natural reaction.
My son-in-law, who has two daughters (with my daughter, of course), put a post on Facebook last week that asked, “Am I the only one who puts the toilet seat down in my hotel room?” I, and a few others, responded “No, I do it too”, and I (also having two daughters) have been known to use this very behavior as an example of a voluntarily adopted behavior that becomes a habit, even if the behavior has no obvious benefit to the actor. The “benefit” to the actor is that he/she (“he” in this case) is part of an organization (the household, family) and by being considerate of others, can expect to in turn maintain the cohesiveness of the organization.
Last year, right after Nelson Mandela’s death, I listened in on an interview of a BBC journalist who had made a career out of following the life of Mandela. He shared that he was so moved by this man that he gave his son the middle name “Nelson,” and the interviewer asked what he hoped to affect his son’s life by doing so (which is an interesting question). The journalist, though, had an immediate answer: He hoped that his son would show kindness to others as a reflex (i.e., ingrained habit, my words).
The notion of “kindness” is one I am hearing more often in organizations, sometimes in the context of the desire to be empathetic without sacrificing the need to make tough decisions about people. Then I saw this article (http://goo.gl/iz5Qdj) about “compassion” that seems to capture the idea of kindness and shared values. Defined as “when colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues,” some cited research indicates that to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.”
This piece on compassion then goes on to say, “Management can do something about this, They should be thinking about the emotional culture. It starts with how they are treating their own employees when they see them. Are they showing these kinds of emotions? And it informs what kind of policies they put into place. This is something that can definitely be very purposeful — not just something that rises organically.”
You can create a culture by the behaviors that leaders exhibit, whether it’s a culture of compassion, kindness, quality, customer service, fear, anger, fun, feedback, and so on. The point is that these cultures can be defined by behaviors. And a behavior is a choice, i.e., whether to do it or not. And the behavior can become a habit or reflex. We shouldn’t buy the excuse, “Well, that isn’t who I am.” I/we don’t care. The type of person/leader you are is determined by what you do, not what you think or think you think.
And when employees (at all levels) report that they want to be respected, valued, developed, and have trust in their leaders (see this report from APA: (http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/goodcompany/newsletter/article/530), organizations should listen and act, i.e., define the desired behaviors and hold leaders accountable. Someday those behaviors will become habits/reflexes.
So, what is my dream? In this context, it includes things like this:
- That more organizations will acknowledge the intuitive and research-based advantages to treating their employees with respect and kindness, and engendering trust along the way, and then do something to create sustainable change.
- Focus on the potential benefits of processes like 360’s that can potentially improve our decisions, not focus on the challenges in doing so
- Speaking of decisions, that we can use tools like 360’s to identify leaders early in their career who are poised to do damage via inappropriate behaviors, and get rid of them (or at least not promote them)
- Admit that human nature is such that behavior change requires not only awareness but accountability for sustainable change to occur
- Acknowledge that sustainable culture change requires integration into HR processes to create ongoing alignment, accountability, and measurement
- That kindness, compassion and respect become habits for all of us.
That’s enough dreaming for now.
©2014 David W. Bracken