Misalignment: Changing Course

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“Effective leaders understand that alignment is not something to check off a to-do list.  Alignment is a dynamic, ongoing process that requires continual monitoring and realigning as conditions and needs change.”  -via ‘The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment and Execution Will Change The Way You Lead’

It can be incredibly frustrating when your vehicle is not working properly.  It can turn the everyday task of driving into a frustratingly irritating endeavor.  The worry, the cost, and the time it requires to tend to repairs can take its toll on our already over-taxed schedules.  But failure to attend to the matter will usually leave you with much bigger problems to deal with down the road.

Even something as simple as the alignment can wreak havoc upon the driving experience.  Just consider the many issues associated with misalignment;

  • A crooked steering wheel
  • Veering to one side or the other
  • Vibration in the steering column
  • Uneven and heavy wear on the tires

Now consider not only how those issues can be corrected with a simple alignment, but how it adds to the life of the vehicle and the driving experience.  Such a simple fix as an alignment can improve handling, reduce wear and tear on the steering column as well as the tires.  It can aid in maintaining a fixed direction without constant attention that is required from a crooked steering wheel.  Let alone the savings and improvement in the overall gas mileage of the vehicle.

When your vehicle is misaligned, you not only notice it as the driver, those driving behind you can directly see that there is something visibly wrong with the vehicle.  They can see how the tires and the body of the car fail to align and work cooperatively with each other and the road.

Which is why alignment is so important.  According to How Stuff Works…”A car alignment is actually an elaborate process that brings the car’s suspension into its proper configuration, positioning and adjusting so that wheels are aligned with one another and the road surface.” For which they add, “An alignment essentially requires squaring a car’s wheels and axles with each other so that they’re moving in the same direction.”

Think about just how truly critical that is?  Aligning the wheels and axles so that they’re all moving in the same direction.  How vital that is to the driving experience and the overall life and longevity of your vehicle.

Now think about our organizations.  Think about how many of our organizations are dealing with these same ongoing issues of misalignments; in their structures, their processes, and even their visions of where they think they’re headed.

Think of how many organizations and those within are not only not driving in the same direction, but the amount of mental and physical wear it is taking on their organizations, their people and their leadership.  Think of how much extra work it is taking to just keep the organization on the road.  The wear, tear and toll it takes to just keep the organization from veering to one side or the other.  Or the constant vibration that arises from the frustration caused by these issues of misalignment.

According to Straw and Davis in ‘The Work of Leaders’“Our research shows that more than half of leaders report little or no training or guidance in the practice of creating alignment.  In fact, only 47 percent report having a clear understanding of what ‘building alignment’ even means in the context of leadership.”

So not only do we deal with issues of alignment or misalignment, we struggle to determine what it actually looks like, what it sounds like, and even how we begin to go about creating it.  Until we become better at creating clarity and understanding of where we are driving and the destination we are heading towards, alignment will remain an enigma that we struggle to attain, let alone maintain.

Whether a car or an organization, alignment is not a one time endeavor, it takes ongoing, daily attention.  Bumps, potholes, curbs and other obstacles will continue to wreak havoc upon that alignment, how we attend to it will determine how well or quickly our vehicle delivers us to our destination.

“When both rational and emotional needs are met, when leaders reach the head and heart, true alignment goes beyond enthusiasm, beyond agreement, beyond understanding goals.”  -via ‘The Work of Leaders 

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The New Questions For Systems Change

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“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”  -John F. Kennedy

In the overall scheme of things, our human created organizational systems have not really been in existence for that long.  And even in their infancy, they are still struggling to deal effectively with the tension of change that is being levied down upon them from a myriad of manners and directions.  What was once created for efficiency is straining to become dynamic incubators of creativity and innovation.

Just understand, it is difficult to move from stagnant answer-focused, linear and predictable systems of efficiency; to inquiry-laden, intrinsically motivated hubs of continuous change.

Even the most agile of startups in the business world have a tendency to evolve out of their agile mindset as they grow and age.  Much like our children as they march into maturity, they tend to lose that sense of wonder, discovery, and quest for learning that was initially provoked by a questioning disposition.

The problem we find ourselves facing is that the speed of change, which is requiring such dramatic shifts for us as individuals and organizations, is also the same change that is overwhelming and wearing us down, often leaving us too weary to face the constancy of its brutal and continuous onslaught.

Because change in our systems is a two-edged sword…

On one-side it is driving and pushing us forward to evolve in ways we could never have imagined.  While on the other-side, it’s brutal intensity and relentless disposition is wearing us down and numbing us towards this ferocity of change.

Which, in some ways, is requiring us to not only engage in new ways, but change the questions that we will continue to grapple with…

Better questions and deeper reflections is what we will need if we are going to improve our systems for our people and the work they do within them.  We have to revive that questioning disposition, that startup mindset in our mature and aging organizations.  We have to reignite that sense of inquiry, wonder and discovery that we’ve had a tendency to shed along the way.

We still tend to ask ourselves why is change so difficult?  Why is change so painful?

The problem with those questions, while still a constant source of concern in our systems and organizations, is that in many ways they don’t hold the same relevance as they did previously.  As the world changes, so does the relevance of the questions we ask ourselves.

In many ways, those unwilling to transform in the face of today’s rapid and abrupt cycles of change, are being swiftly sifted into irrelevance and insignificance.  The questions we must ask ourselves have changed under the intensity and turbulence of change in our modern world.

We now have to begin to ask ourselves; how can we keep pace with this new speed of change?  How do we keep our organizations and systems relevant under this pace of change without exhausting and draining the power of our people?  And even more relevant…

How do we keep pace, when the race has become a sprint and we are still learning how to walk?

In many ways, we have moved past the question of whether or not we choose to change?  Or how do we deal with the difficult and painful process of change?  Too a much more pressing question…

How do we stay relevant (and healthy) in the face of the chaotic and turbulent change forces that are doing more to rev up than slow down?

The Corrosive Side Of Leadership

“Is the question being asked: Whose fault was this? If so, your culture is one that vilifies failure. Failure is difficult enough without it being compounded by the search for a scapegoat.” -Ed Catmull ‘Creativity, Inc.’

If we are going to build up the capacity for more creative and innovative individuals and organizations moving forward into the future, we are going to need to eradicate this need to place blame.  For many leaders, blame has become a habit and a knee-jerk reaction when something has gone awry.

What many leaders fail to realize, is that the real damage isn’t done in the actual mistake or  failure, but in the aftermath.  In the placing of blame.  It sends a deep and disconcerting message across the whole of the organization: don’t take chances, don’t take risks, don’t place yourself in the possibility of failure because there will be a price to pay.

What we fail to realize, especially in systems, that assuaging blame to individuals is not only often misplaced, but detrimental to the overall culture of the organization.

In ‘Creativity, Inc.’ Ed Catmull shares a tremendous story from Pixar of how, during the making of Toy Story 2, someone had inadvertently pushed a series of buttons that was removing and deleting their data and work.  He tells how ”two years of work – 90 percent of the film – had been erased in a matter of seconds.”

And while the situation led to frantic reactions as the work disappeared before their eyes, there was a calming reassurance that the backup systems could restore the lost work and data.  Unfortunately, what they did not know and soon discovered was that the backup system had not been working correctly and would not be able to recover the work or data.  A second failure in the system.

Catmull continues…”at this point, the urge to panic was quite real. To reassemble the film would have taken thirty people a solid year.”  The saving moment to the situation came when they had discovered one of their director’s, while on maternity leave, had continuously backed up the data on her drive at home.  Saving millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work

The important point that Catmull conveys is not in the problem itself, but what happened after the event.  How they dealt with what had occurred?  Their first action was not to place blame, to punish the guilty.  Rather, their first priority was to attend to the system.  To fix the faults in the system that had allowed for these “random and unforeseen” events to occur.  But more importantly, Catmull refused to look for a person or persons to put blame upon for the mishap.

Too often, in organizations, leaders want to find a place to lay the blame when problems and issues crop up.  Many of which are caused by the system, rather than any individual or individuals.  Blaming the individual is the easy reaction.  It soothes our frustration.  And it allows us to simplify the complexity of the situation.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it not only diminishes the creative and innovative thinking of an organization, it fails to attend to the root cause of the problem.

Meaning, that it will most likely occur again and again.

So not only does blame serve as an obstacle to getting to the root cause of problems, it hampers and depletes the creative and innovative thinking that exists within the organization.  Or as Catmull shares, it “drains the creative impulse.”

As Bolman and Deal divulge in ‘Reframing Organizations’”the first and most common fallacy in organizational diagnosis is to blame people.”  They go on to share that…”Targeting individuals while ignoring larger system failures oversimplifies the problem and does little to prevent a recurrence.”

So remember, the next time a mistake happens, curb the impulse to place blame.  It will allow you to focus your energy towards determining the root of the problem and improve your organizational culture in the process.

“Pinpointing the culprit is comforting. Assigning blame resolves ambiguity, explains mystery, and makes clear what must be done next: punish the guilty.” –Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal ‘Reframining Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership

References and quotes from…

Catmull, Ed. Creativity, Inc. Overcoming The Unseen Forces That Stand In The Way Of True Inspiration. 2014. New York, Random House.

Bolman, Lee Deal, Terrence. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. 2003. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

The Algorithm

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“What are people going to do for a living when their muscle power is no longer valued because we have all kinds of muscle accelerators and then their mental power is not as valued anymore because we have these astonishing digital technologies that can do mental things, cognitive things that we used to previously require people to do?”  -Andrew MacAfee excerpt from ‘Most Likely To Succeed’

The rapidity of change can often blur our modern world.  Too much, too quick can lead to overload as we attempt to keep up with it’s accelerating pace.  We can spin our wheels endlessly and reactively as it shakes our very foundations from the uncertainty and unknowns it causes and creates.

In this turbulence and chaos of change, major shifts can pass us by quietly and unseen.  And all too often, this speed of change leaves us little time to reflect and even consider the ramifications of change and the new world it is creating.  Or as Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park explicates…“They were so preoccupied with whether they could, they did not stop to think if they should?”

There has been no other time in history that necessitates the need for creative, innovative and critical thinking as the one we are being ushered into.  We had a long time to adjust to the industrial economy, that same luxury will not be afforded to us in the knowledge economy.  We can already see signs that we are innovating ourselves out of it.

We have dissolved the need for basic muscle power and we are in the midst of doing the same for basic mental power.  Which evokes more questions than answers (or at least it should).

How are we preparing our children for a world that is more entrepreneurial, more creative, and more innovative?  A world that is evolving and shifting in ways we are yet to even recognize, let alone even understand.

But the one thing we can’t do, is sit idly by until the rug is pulled out from under our feet (as well as the future of our children).  And while we might not have all the answers…we do need to step into the fray, into the arena…and begin to better prepare and equip ourselves with the knowledge necessary to navigate the way forward.

“What we are living through right now is an equally big transition because our digital technologies are allowing us to overcome the limitations of our individual minds, to at least as big an extent as the technologies of the industrial revolution let us overcome the limitations of our muscles.”  -Andrew MacAfee excerpt from ‘Most Likely To Succeed’