Where is Theory O?
I saw a commercial (Progressive?) recently where the theme is that some companies (their competitors) prevent their customer service personnel from providing optimal service, presumably by placing restrictions on what they can do. They use some great visual metaphors to communicate the message, including a receptionist in a glass box, a man in a large bird cage (suspended in midair), and this one:
This picture of an employee in chains (who, evidently, can’t even get a cup of coffee, let alone serve his customers) also made me think of this cartoon that has a similar but nuanced message that just telling employees what they are supposed to be doing (i.e., alignment) isn’t enough if they are constrained.
(I am finding that some unknown percentage of viewers of this cartoon don’t “get” it, and I am wondering if it is, at least in part, due to lack of exposure to the slave rower (in the galley) in chains concept. It makes me think of the movie, Ben Hur, one of the greatest movies of all time, but one that many younger people (and most people are younger than me) have not seen. Am I right?)
The photo and the cartoon lead me to refer to the ALAMO© model that I use to help individuals, teams and organizations to diagnose why performance is sub-optimal:
Performance = ALignment X (Ability X Motivation X Opportunity)
I believe that the Opportunity part of this “equation” is one of the features that makes it somewhat unique, i.e., acknowledging that there are contextual factors that absolutely can constrain performance. The factors are also multiplicative so that the lack of any one feature drives the equation to zero (though Alignment can have a negative value).
Opportunity (or lack thereof) comes in many forms, both tangible and intangible. Hopefully employees aren’t physically chained or hung in bird cages, but the feeling can be as salient by policies and practices. Those can, in turn, come for organizationally communicated policies (e.g., policy manuals) as well as local (leader-determined) that may or may not be consistent with company strategies. Employees are also constrained tangibly by lack of resources, like the widget maker whose widget machine doesn’t work. Resources also include time, budget, information and support.
Opportunity constraints can also be psychological. They come in the form of norms, both company and local, regarding “how we do it around here.” They also can be internal, self-limiting thoughts or beliefs such as, “I don’t think they want me to do that,” and/or “I don’t think I can do that,” and/or not exploring sufficient options about how to get past barriers (which also may be perceived or real).
I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Bill Treasurer earlier this year. His message focuses on another “O” leadership factor, namely to create opportunities by “opening doors” for others. His book is Leaders Open Doors, and he tells this little story in there and in his presentation:
When my five-year-old son, Ian, returned home from school, the youngster said his teacher had chosen him as that day’s class leader.
“What did you do as class leader?” I asked.
“I got to open doors for people,” said Ian.
This other “O” is a proactive form of leadership, which is creating opportunities for others. Let your mind wrestle with this metaphor. How do leaders open doors? A “door” might be an obstructive policy. It could be the door to access another person, maybe to get information, build relationships, or be a mentor. It could just be opening their own door. It may be creating options for a subordinate’s career development that require resources that the leader can control.
Whether the “O” is “opening doors” or ensuring “opportunity” to perform, the manager has the “keys to the kingdom,” which include access to resources and overcoming barriers. The best managers I had in my career were ones who helped me spread my wings by breaking down the cages.
This is such an important role for a manager that it is ludicrous to have 360 Feedback processes that do not involve the immediate supervisor and prevent their access to the report. Asking the participant to provide a “summary” instead of the report is fraught with significant perils, including real and perceived inconsistency (insert “unfairness” here).
Lack of “opportunity” can occur at all levels: organization, team, manager, and self. Here are some thoughts about how to improve it using various assessment tools:
- Use employee surveys with a dimension relating to Opportunity to Perform
- I have the resources to do my job well (equipment, budget, work environment)
- I get the information I need to do my job well
- The Policies and Practices here allow me to provide optimal customer service
- Use 360 Feedback/Upward Feedback to assess/improve manager performance in this area, and hold them accountable for improvement
- My manager regularly asks me if I have the resources I need to perform my job
- My manager helps our team to identify barriers to successful performance
- My manager discusses my short and long term career plans, and helps me progress with my development plan
- Define, train and assess to create coaching skills in all managers.
In my last blog, I asked the question, “Where is Theory Y?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/where-is-theory-y/) in response to an article that proposes that all that matters for effective leadership is achieving the goal, not how he/she got there. That led me to a reference to McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, and the leader effectiveness factors of task and relationship. Today I propose a “Theory O” that is equally important to effectiveness as a leader (to deliver it as a manager), and as a job performer by staying aware of the real, perceived and imagined barriers to your own effectiveness.
©2014 David W. Bracken