In the past month, life for most of us has changed. Plans have been disrupted and work looks very different. We may be working from home—or we may not be working at all, furloughed or laid-off from our organizations. There is uncertainty and uncertainty fuels anxiety.


In organizations around the world, leaders and managers are responsible for helping to minimize this anxiety with their workforce. It’s a global issue and certainly an issue of global proportions. After all, how do I as a leader in an organization help provide clarity, when I am living in these unparalleled and uncertain times as well?


The complexity of our times may prompt some to look for a complex answer to these challenges. However, the answer, in part, is fairly simple . . . just be real. In our Flawless Consulting workshops, we call it being authentic. Authenticity isn’t new, but how we leverage it in today’s challenging times may be the best new idea in what is a new time, in how we lead and manage in organizations.

In Peter Block’s book, The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work, he outlines the four basic approaches we can take to be authentic in our interactions with others.

  1. Say no when we mean no. Instead of hedging our position for fear of being disapproved of, we make it a point to let others know where we stand. Too many expectations are violated when we are reluctant to take a stand early on. If it’s something you can’t do, won’t do, or shouldn’t do, have the courage to say no and explain why.

  2. Share as much information as possible. Let people know the organization’s plans, ideas, and changes as soon as possible. If there is something you can’t share, say so and explain why. In the absence of information, people will fill the void—and what they fill it with is often worse than the truth.

  3. Use language that describes reality. Use language that describes the reality of what is happening, rather than hiding it behind corporate speak. Share it in a way that the message gets through. Tell people in unmistakable terms where you or the organization stand, and why you need to take the action you are taking.

  4. Avoid repositioning for the sake of acceptance. No public relations in the rah-rah sense, no repositioning just for the sake of selling our story. People need to hear both sides of the story—our certainty and our doubt.

    In times of uncertainty and change, people are likely to psychologically and even physically check out. For leaders and managers of organizations, there may be little room for critical players to check out, even for a little while. While the world works to get our global house in order, being authentic may be the most practical thing leaders and managers can do right now.

There is a common belief that for change to occur in an organization you must set high-performance standards and develop clear measures against that standard. These performance standards, we’re told, must be consistent across the culture and approved by top management, otherwise, they will not be effective. This belief is so ingrained that it has become the standard operating procedure, and questioning it might seem hopelessly idealistic.

But have you noticed that some of the things the world values most RESIST STRICT MEASUREMENT OF PERFORMANCE STANDARDS?

Consider the “softer” values such as trust, integrity, and creativity. You’ve likely noticed they’re often the ones with the most power to shape the world around us, yet these seem to stubbornly resist being subjected to a standard of measurement.

So, how can you reframe the conversation around needing measurable performance standards as a pre-requisite for producing the kind of results and the type of workplace that promotes the common good?

What’s wrong with Performance Standards?

If you’re operating on the assumption that change is driven by measures and standards, you’ll set new performance standards and create universal measures against those standards. Perhaps you would establish an oversight committee to measure performance standards and adherence to those new standards.

In the case of unsatisfactory performance, you might conclude that efforts failed because the standards were not high enough and the measures were not sufficiently accurate.

This happens time and time again until a change effort is made, creating a new set of standards and measures to drive-up performance. You’ve likely seen this cycle play out in the proliferation of high-stakes standardized testing in public education.

Let’s reframe Performance Standards

To be honest, we need measurable performance standards. We all want to know what is required of us and how we are doing. We’re not proposing getting rid of measurable standards altogether. Instead, we propose a shift to focus on who sets the standards and measures and how they are used.

Too often measurable performance standards are used as a control device, not a mechanism for learning. This flows from a particular mode of thinking grounded in problem-solving. It is the engineering mind that elevates standards and measures to the level of dogma and ideology. This is fine for engineering projects.

But the idea that we can engineer human development is more mythology than fact.

Citation here

Standards-setting has become part of the class struggle in society, where one class of people is setting standards for another. Legislators set them for teachers, management set them for workers, professional guilds set them for their members. They may start with sincere intent, but they soon become exclusionary and punitive. They become a way to limit access to membership, force compliance, and keep those who were first through the door in their positions of power.

What Performance Standards matter to YOU?

The solution to over-surveillance, isolation, and protecting the status quo is to have people close to the learning and development, the work, or the service struggle with installing proper performance standards for their local environment.

Ask people to define the performance that will have meaning for them. Then have them talk about how they want to hold themselves accountable. This reduces the possibility that measurable performance standards will become punitive. Once measures become punitive, people will work to outsmart them to survive; learning decreases, and energy that should be going toward achieving the work is replaced by subversive efforts to “beat the system.”

How does this work?

Instead of a centralized mandate that is rolled out across the culture of the organization, have the performance standards designed by those who are being measured.

Then a few guiding principles should follow.

Firstly, it is essential to be realistic about predictability. Secondly, value longer-term, qualitative measures. Remember: even if you cannot measure it, it might still be worth doing. Most often what is measured are people’s methods and behavioral style. But what if you were to stop measuring people’s behavioral styles and start measuring business results and real outcomes?

Do what matters most

  1. Rather than create a central mandate, have the people closest to the work decide the standards appropriate for their local environment.
  2. Ask members of the peer group or team to define the measures that have meaning for them.
  3. Have peer groups decide how to keep themselves accountable, with bosses and employees serving to ensure commitments are fulfilled.

How often have I been asked, “We can’t take 3 days away from work for a workshop, so can you cut it to two days?”

There’s a lot of pressure to “cut the time AND cover all the material AND include practical exercises to build their skills”. If it’s a three-day workshop, people want it in two. If you reduce it to two days, they want it in one!

Here are my favorite reasons as to “WHY we can’t do a three-day workshop…”

        5. “Our people can’t take 3 days away from work for training; they’re too busy.”
        4. “Three days costs too much. We’re trying to contain expenses”
        3 “Other people only take 2 days.”
        2. “We know there is slack time in any workshop. The first day is usually slow.”

 

And my # 1 favorite reason, “Why we can’t do a three-day workshop”, is…

        1. “Our people are intelligent, experienced, fast-paced, multi-taskers who get bored easily.”

Let’s face it.  We’re all addicted to speed… we’re all too busy!

While there is some truth to all the reasons listed above, we can’t condense the time and still do everything.  The question is, “Do we want to teach content (short lectures with some Q & A) or equip learners (practice the skills)?

 

If we shorten times, something gets sacrificed.  Let’s think about what we lose and what it costs.  I see three things that we sacrifice when we shorten workshops.

 

The first and most impactful is practice. Flawless Consulting workshops emphasize practice, individual and team, in a safe environment. Practice lets people know quickly how they’re doing.  You have someone to coach you and offer suggestions.  You get to try various approaches to see how they work.  Without practice you are less likely to use the skills you’ve learned.  And practice usually gets cut when we want to shorten a workshop.

 

Next, we limit relationships.  Flawless Consulting workshops have people working in pairs, trios, and small teams  We want people to work together, to build teams and networks yet we give them few opportunities to actually meet and talk. In a one-day workshop, we just begin to recognize people and then it’s already time to go.

 

And last is contemplation time.  Flawless Consulting workshops build in “time to think, ” individually and collectively. As we think, questions emerge and possibilities occur.  We begin to learn.  Without contemplation, we tend to stay in our old mode of thinking and very little changes.

 

So, what’s the cost of reducing the time? The training may end up being superficial, lacking depth with little change occurring.  Without practice, people usually lack the patience and confidence to try something new.  The result?  The experience is seen as a feel-good or entertaining time with limited value. The money and time spent are wasted.

 

I’d love to hear your stories. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going.

 

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The voyage had begun, and had begun happily with a soft blue sky, and a calm sea.

They followed her on to the deck. All the smoke and the houses had disappeared, and the ship was out in a wide space of sea very fresh and clear though pale in the early light. They had left London sitting on its mud. A very thin line of shadow tapered on the horizon, scarcely thick enough to stand the burden of Paris, which nevertheless rested upon it. They were free of roads, free of mankind, and the same exhilaration at their freedom ran through them all.

The ship was making her way steadily through small waves which slapped her and then fizzled like effervescing water, leaving a little border of bubbles and foam on either side. The colourless October sky above was thinly clouded as if by the trail of wood-fire smoke, and the air was wonderfully salt and brisk. Indeed it was too cold to stand still. Mrs. Ambrose drew her arm within her husband's, and as they moved off it could be seen from the way in which her sloping cheek turned up to his that she had something private to communicate.

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