Posts Tagged ‘control’

Be the Gardener

Posted: January 1, 2016 in Change
Tags: , , ,
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Control is an Illusion

Control. So many people want it. They want to use it like a super power, like a panacea against all that is wrong with the world.

Yet, who wants to be controlled? Not many that I know of. In fact the exercise of control usually yields the opposite intent because I certainly don’t’ want to cede my control to you.

And what people usually exert when they think they are exercising control is dictation: the power to dictate the terms and conditions of the situation.

Again, who wants to be on the receiving end of that? As suspected, not many.

Add this to the reality that you don’t get control of the countless variables swirling around you that impact your environment, if in fact you are even aware of them.

So what is one to do when one realizes control rarely yields the results one desires and the rest of it is beyond your reach to control?

Acceptance. Acceptance that you only have agreeable control over your own actions.

Why is this so important? It’s important because you can begin to shift your energy away from counterproductive actions and you reduce all the negative vibes around resistance to your attempts to control. You end up with more positive energy. Positive energy that is so often in short supply.

And when you become the purveyor of positive energy, you become a beacon. People are drawn to positive energy. And as a beacon you can move from control to influence.

Think of yourself as a gardener. The plants are the people and the projects you are trying to help thrive. Your job is not to change their DNA, to turn them into different plants. Your job is to water, fertilize, pull weeds and keep the soil loose. Your job is to create an environment where they can thrive. And yes sometimes you have to move plants from sun to shade or from sandy to clay. A healthy garden is always changing.

Be the gardener and reap the rewards.

floodA few years ago quite a few members of my family were displaced by flooding. Ultimately their houses were condemned or determined not worth the effort to restore. They were displaced. Displaced in a dramatic fashion as they had twenty four hours to evacuate what they could. Everything was different. Immediately.

That’s traumatic change. There are multiple government and non-profit agencies set up to deal with displacement. It’s a big deal. From afar we don’t always see the trauma beyond the physical damage but the psychological and emotional needs are there. What can we learn from this when helping others work through change?  Here’s some thought.

Basic Needs:

The first thing you have to deal with is providing basic needs. In a natural disaster this is water, food and shelter.

In the business world it might be awareness and training on new processes and conditions, access to the right or new resources and a thorough understanding of expectations.

Security:

You want displaced people to feel safe. They are, after all, in a foreign place of shelter and surrounded by strangers. Routines have been upset. Having authority figures around to show that order and control still exists helps ease the anxiety.

In the business world you need people to feel secure as well. Authority figures need to be seen here as well. That means management needs to be visible during and after change. They need to be accessible. They need to be there to answer questions, assuage fears or patrol the perimeter to watch for outside threats. You need to have their backs.

Keys to the House:

You want displaced people to feel there is a little permanence in the world, that they have a little control. They don’t want to feel dependent on others. Give them keys to the shelter, show them around the new neighborhood. Also creating a little permanence edges them toward the possibility that they can’t go back. Sometimes there’s nowhere to go back to.

In business as well you want to start to instill ownership of the new environment. Make sure they stay involved in decision making. Continue to explore new resources.  Need to work at making it the new normal.

And there are many more ways to help the process. How will you help?

value

It’s complicated. Complicated and convoluted processes are often at the heart of change projects. The goal is usually to untangle and improve.

One of the obstacles you often run into is people holding onto to their complicated processes. Often in the form of the words “Our processes are different.”

That’s often followed up with “You don’t understand the complexity,” which is probably true. But if it’s that difficult to understand then the complexity is probably a problem.

The hardest part of a project is often not untangling the knot but in helping people let go of the complexity.

Examining some of the reasons why they won’t let go can benefit us greatly.

Being Valued

Or not being valued. Holding on to complexity is about a need to feel valued. If the process is so complicated only I can master it, then I have a higher value. I’m a limited commodity and you must treat me as such.

This attitude results from a failure of management to make the team members feel valued. Are the team members not engaged enough? Is the work consistently not challenging enough (never changing)? Is there no opportunity for expansion of their skill set? Is there no hope for advancement?

So what do we do about this?

Anyone of these and more could cause team members to not feel valued. One of the typical environments I see is the lack of cross training and development opportunities. Cross training is an excellent way to quantifiably give team members more value to themselves and to the company. The employee is more valuable the more tasks or jobs they can perform. The organization wins as well by achieving a more flexible work force.

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No Control

Or feeling powerless. Holding on to complexity is also about gaining control and power. If I complicate a process so that only I understand it, I always have the upper hand. So if someone tries to recommend changes I can always pull out the unwritten laundry list of special cases that make the change impossible. I have the ability to keep layering complexity because you don’t understand the process well enough to dispute it. I am withholding and sometimes manipulating knowledge to maintain control and power.

I am using complexity to carve out some sense of self-determination. The key here is that if you make attempts to simplify my processes you are taking away what I perceive as the little control I have over my world. You will get resentment and resistance to this effort if you don’t address the power issue.

Since your aim is to simplify, you have to find ways to give them power. Do you need to give more decision making authority? Do you need to allow a larger voice in management discussions?

One of the ways I’ve used to give power is to institute localized feedback loops. Giving them the tools and training to measure and analyze their own performance and then give them the authority to make changes to process based on their own evaluations and learnings. This provides control over their work, a sense of self-determination. Of course this includes trusting them and rewarding them for these efforts. It has to be a give and take. If I take your complexity I must give back value and power.

There are of course many ways in which you could address the issue of power, control and self-determination. And again an initial evaluation of the environment is needed to get the lay of the land.  The key step is seeing it and acknowledging it. Being able to identify and react to the issues of value and power can be a huge lift in promoting change.

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I used to tell my last boss I was an abstract kind of person. He would laugh and say don’t you mean obtuse. He was joking of course. Though there are times when I think it is true.

Like with the idea of Empowerment. I capitalize it because that’s how I see it when I hear management say it.

Because when I hear them say it I think, I don’t even know what that means. I mean, I know what empowerment means. But I don’t know what Empowerment means.

This is where the obtuse part comes in. I’m like I don’t think I know what Empowerment looks like yet alone how to implement it. And then I get snarky because I don’t like feeling obtuse and I say, I don’t think you know what it looks like either.

Now, to be fair to myself I think perhaps it is less obtuseness and more extreme dislike for management buzz words that sets me off.  And Empowerment is one of them.

So obviously empower means to give power. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some good, some bad. Power has way too many connotations and implications and insinuations to be a healthy conversation piece.

I prefer to think of it as giving people influence. Because is influence is really what you want them to have.  And as we all know, influence is power.

Give people the tools and skills to influence behavior and processes, which vary of course depending on the goals and environment. Give them some self-determination. Because having self-determination makes us feel better about our situation.

This is great. But there’s one thing that’s usually missing. It’s not the commitment. It’s not the resources. It’s the trust.

(I think I’m going to give myself a bonus every time I use the word trust. Because it always boils down to that.)

But this time the trust is not between the change agent and the team. This trust is between management and the team. Management has to show that they trust the process.

Management often states in good faith that they trust the team and the process. Then they undermine it in word or in action, often in the form of control. The unwillingness to give up control. I don’t really trust you if I second guess everything, if I micromanage the process steps, if I have to run everything up the ladder, if I throw barriers in the way. That’s not trust.

What do we want management? We want trust. Without trust Empowerment is just another four letter word.