People perform best in a climate where everyone feels trusted through timely sharing of relevant information. Having fair and transparent processes means taking employees into confidence and listening to them. This is easier said than done!
People come in all shapes and sizes. They are the most complex of all of God’s creations. How different people respond to a variety of stimuli can at times be mind-boggling! They tend to get stressed and frustrated easily; some even lose their cool under pressure; while others don’t cooperate when needed which is most unproductive. Economic theories do a good job of explaining the rational side of human behavior, but they fall short of explaining why people act negatively.
A quick fix is not the best way to approach human and cultural problems. As a consequence, life of top managers these days is almost like repairing, servicing and refueling an aircraft in mid-flight. Amongst the myriad problems we face in companies, there are a number of technical and systemic solutions on offer. For technical problems, most experts come up with ‘easy’ solutions. This is not the case when dealing with human challenges at work.
It is a given that people perform best in a climate where everyone feels trusted through timely sharing of relevant information. Having fair and transparent processes means taking employees into confidence and listening to them. To shed some light on this, here is an extract from an article that appeared in Harvard Business Review: “It is easy to see fair process at work on the plant floor, where its violation can produce such high visible manifestations as strikes, slowdowns, and high defect rates. But fair process can have an even greater impact on the quality of professional and managerial work. That is because innovation is the key challenge of the knowledge-based economy, and innovation requires the exchange of ideas which in turn depends on trust. Executives and professionals rarely walk the picket line, but when their trust has not been won, they frequently withhold their full cooperation – and their ideas.”
In the same article we learn how power dynamics played out by managers in the workplace can ruin results. “Some managers continue to believe that knowledge is power. That they retain power only by keeping what they know to themselves. Their implicit strategy is to preserve their managerial discretion by deliberately leaving the rules for success and failure vague. Other managers maintain control by keeping what they know to themselves. Their implicit strategy is to preserve their managerial discretion by deliberately leaving the rules for success and failure vague. Other managers maintain control by keeping employees at arm’s length, substituting memos and forms for direct, two–way communication, thus avoiding challenges to their ideas or authority. Such styles can reflect deeply ingrained patterns of behavior, and rarely are managers conscious of how they exercise power.” Such behaviors have become exceedingly counter-productive in this era of technology, where free flow of information is commonplace. Witness the recent radical shifts in power led by youth and technology in countries of the middle-east and North Africa.
Analogies and metaphors are very useful in illustrating human complexity effectively. According to Peter Schwartz, finding a way through the rapids is tricky. He goes on to says, “The bottom of the river may only shift slowly, but the water level changes with the season and the weather. The rapids in the late spring can be a raging torrent of white water, while in the late autumn they can vanish as the water level drops. Rafting in the spring requires great skill and courage. The thrills are intense but the risks of falling out and being swept away by the current are great. Rafting in autumn requires persistence in a slowly meandering river. The risk is running aground. The ride may be less thrilling, and the water stagnant; but there is the steady satisfaction of endurance and balance. Navigating the future means being prepared to act in any season, and to shift from the mindset of one season to another as the environment changes. It means learning to recognize the rhythms of change before us, to avoid denial about them, and to practice our responses to them before they are upon us.”
Dimensions of human psychology remain under explored in conventional management practice. Visible dimensions of human behavior we see is only the tip of the iceberg. A much greater truth lurks below the surface of the water – the individual’s beliefs, values, habits and perceptions. We ignore these at our own peril. Only through empathetic listening and keen observation can we begin unearth the hidden mysteries and start to appreciate the other. This requires huge reserves of patience. Yet managers seek to obtain, almost instantly, voluntary cooperation of its people without first going through the pain of building trust through processes that are fair and transparent.
Trust building can be tough in the best of times. As though this was not enough, consider the fundamental shifts taking place in organizational life nowadays: From discipline to the need for greater adaptiveness; from planning to discovery; from ‘hard’ assets to knowledge; from structure, to process; from controlling to values; from techniques to meaning; from size to speed; and from management to leadership. All this means that we need to change the way we think. This, too, is not easy!
Remember the time when office automation gradually crept into our working lives in the 70s and 80s? Introduction of technology was a novelty then, but it is commonplace today. As with most changes, environmental, technological or structural, they are greeted either by shock, skepticism or denial. This is not unusual. But these impediments to change can be reduced significantly through proactively communicating and providing clarity of what is to come and how to collectively deal with the unfolding challenges.
It is common knowledge that changing a car, a house or a job is quite easy. But try changing your habits!! This is tough, if not impossible. Any new idea or trend in the socio, economic and political environment faces a barrage of resistance. Consequently, our job as managers and leaders is to become champions of change and transformation.
Begin by entertaining the thought of letting go; by trusting yourself and others; and feeling secure in the fact that laws of nature will only work for you, when you truly believe in them. You will make mistakes, and even get burnt in the process. Learn from them and move on. By doing so, you will establish trust in people and will be better able to successfully lead change initiatives.