Don’t just make a decision based on someone else’s summary.
This seems obvious, but in fact it’s what a large number of leaders and upper managers do – with less time to make more decisions, it is very common to require management underneath you to summarise meetings, events, or data so that you can make a quick decision without spending time you don’t have reviewing the minutiae. Everything from major company direction to internal cultural decisions is usually decided in this way.
Why is this a problem?
Because when somebody else summarises for you they do two things:
They remove data they don’t consider valuable but that may well be needed. This is reductionism
They interpret data for you, which can change its context from true
Both of these can be a big problem. To put it in more perspective, Management can also be called Intermediation, and it’s easy to forget management has a chain effect. You might trust the manager who reports to you; but do you know and trust them all the way to the data?
This is something I call Decision Resolution.
Not all intermediation is bad. Managers are there precisely because they need to manage aspects of the business or people on behalf of leadership, and interface with leadership on behalf of those aspects or people – the second part being something I have seen a number of managers unfortunately pay less attention to.
It’s also possible for management to accurately aid decision making, if they particularly know their leadership or work very closely with them in specific instances, but I would say this is an exception rather than a rule, especially in larger companies – and the larger the company, the more this is all a problem, especially because summaries are very easy to quickly and lazily dash off – for example, in bullet points. Also if senior managers are very close to leadership, there is a chance they will be affected by the same inattentional blindness I mentioned in The Decisive Patterns of Business.
(Quick aside – how many times have you noted a summary in bullet points and later gone back to find you don’t remember all the context around each one? Don’t worry. We’ve all done it.)
The more managers you have between you and the raw data for a decision, the more likely intermediation will summarise, reduce, and interpret data that usually is presented with little context.
If – especially as a leader or senior manager – you want to make an accurate decision with long-term reliability, you need to do it based on slightly different data than the traditionally-presented set, with better decision resolution.
Instead, try making a decision based on a small chunk of RAW data. What does that mean? Well, here’s an example in visual form (it could be any actual decision):
Let’s say you are a leader, and you have to make a major decision based on the wheels in this picture:
It could be size, shape, colour, composition, how they should complement the car, perform, whatever. This is the big picture. You feel you don’t have time to inspect the whole car, because you have a mountain of other decisions for other areas, and all you care about are the wheels.
So you trust intermediaries to prepare the data for you to make an informed decision. This is where problems arise, because complex issues are involved that include things such as politics, competency, how many levels of management, and so on.
This unfortunately includes agendas, where summarised data is manipulated to encourage a decision beneficial to the summariser. An example? I’ve seen senior sales management swearing blind they need a feature for a deal, and doing everything they can to summarise positives and position deals to persuade leadership it must be developed… for it to then resolve that the company has embarked on an urgent $750k R&D project for a couple of potential $50k deals. I don’t have to point out how that’s not really helpful for a leader.
So with our car visualisation, several layers of management deciding what is important and passing the information on up to increasingly busy seniors then might well be affected by the car colour isn’t important, the wheels are all this size so we can worry about other aspects, or even if we make it generic enough they might pick wheels that will work better on another car we prefer… and so forth. Eventually, the picture may emerge to leadership a little more like this:
Right… so, the general shape is there. The wheels are in the right place. Nothing seems out of order, per se. But there’s no context. No colour. The decision resolution is so low at this point a manager can’t really tell, but since they have no basis for comparison and they’re given a basic set of data, they make what seems to be an informed decision.
If you were to make a potentially critical decision, which picture would you rather make it on?
Right, but we don’t feel we have time to scrutinise the first. So instead, what’s better than reducing and interpreting the data is this:
Ok, here’s the wheel. Original data. We can see it very clearly. It still lacks some context, but we can be more confident that a decision will be more accurate.
This is granularisation instead of reduction. All the data is there, but you’ve chopped it into small chunks.
Now this might not be enough for you to make a decision, but you can add more chunks until you have enough to make a decision:
The more data there is here the better your decision will be. The critical point here is that the data has not been changed – it’s just a smaller portion than the whole. This means that when you make a decision it will be accurately based on real data, with real context – not what somebody else decides is the correct data.
If you don’t feel you have enough raw data for the decision, add more until you do.
Instead of expecting a chain of managers to summarise the points in a meeting for an overall decision, perhaps pick one person and ask them to specify only one point, in detail, with the rest ready if needed (and I speak elsewhere about the value of using narrative and example for this, not just parroting bullet points). For a decision, don’t invite too many chefs; ask one specific person to ready the data in a granular fashion. It’s a little more work than summarisation, but for the purpose of an accurate critical decision… shouldn’t it be?
Less intermediation mean more accuracy. It’s long been known that too much middle management also can interfere with company running and value delivery – there is a point of diminishing returns with delegation of authority within a hierarchy, and that is an important modifier. Gaming behaviour, politics, jobsworthmanship, red tape, and many other symptoms of bureaucracy can result (I speak about these a lot as well!).
This also means leaders not falling into the understandable trap of saying there is “not enough time”. You still need to have some understanding and oversight of what you are making a decision about, of course, which means making appropriate time. If you don’t have that understanding, and are simply relying on whatever people are telling you (outside a completely trusted relationship) to make decisions quickly… Perhaps you shouldn’t be making that decision.
Obviously, there is a balance between accuracy and time spent on the decision, so this is about learning how to refine the decision-making process, not reducing it.
And a final consideration – listen to the subject matter as well, not only your own authority. The data is telling you what possibilities there ARE, instead of you – or someone below you – trying to force possibilities into the data.
Why is accuracy important?
I keep talking about the acceleration of business today. And it’s true – it’s faster than ever. Half the problems companies are facing is because their old management structures, hierarchies and engagement practices simply can’t keep up.
So speed matters! But what matters as much is accuracy. Take too long to make the right decision and the opportunities pass by. Make decisions so quickly so they aren’t accurate to the situation, and they will still pass you by, or worse, damage you.
Measure twice, cut once – speed of decisions is not the only deciding factor in business! Accuracy and ability to change those decisions based on constant feedback must also exist.
Balancing this will help you choose wisely in the appropriate time.
I have been considering professionalism a lot recently. This can be a grey area that is both individual and role-based, and one that is supported or suppressed by culture, company culture, and industry. The definition has been relaxing and changing in recent years (which I think is for the better), but it still retains defining principles and individual requirements.
We don’t often think about what professionalism is, even though we use the word constantly, so I wanted to explore some thoughts on what it’s defined as being, how it’s seen, and how it’s changed. I’m also largely focusing on professionalism as a generic business term, though I’ll touch on other aspects.
(For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to quantify what amateur means, as that can be wildly variable!)
Defining a Professional
Loosely, this is the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterise or mark a profession or a professional person that are usually pursued for gain (as a career path or for personal profit).
Expanding on this in application, a professional is someone with both skillset and mindset, with knowledge, ability, and also attitude, which can be represented by different things to different people in different industries, some minor and some major. Which is which may depend on all three of the above, but I think there are some fundamental truths to professionalism.
That being said, this is logically going to be highly subjective based on context. However, we’ve become widely used to a certain stereotype for professional in business. When you hear that word, what do you think of?
Who do you picture?
I’ll wager many of you think of this:
But really, the general concept of professionalism has been business-codified. Based on the definition, professional really looks like this:
And much more besides.
There is no difference for me in role or industry – if you have the requisite minimum knowledge, skill, and attitude to perform the gainful task at hand, you are a professional in your field.
So is a “Professional” the same as “Professionalism”?
I think of it like this:
Being a professional is a vocation
Professionalism is based upon ongoing use and display of appropriate attitude, core competency, and knowledge
A professional may be unprofessional in certain circumstances, because we’re human. An actor may lose their temper faced with paparazzi; a doctor may act inappropriately with a patient; a newscaster may be overcome with laughter on air. I’m sure you can think of many other examples. That doesn’t mean they aren’t also professionals in their field.
This may be why we refer to people who are both professional and never fail to act professionally as consummate professionals; we’re acknowledging an ongoing dedication, not just a situational application, which other professionals may not achieve. Interestingly, we may also tend to view them as less human in certain ways, because some of their personality appears perhaps supplanted or augmented by always doing the professional thing – and we make a far bigger deal out of it if they react outside our expectations.
It’s also well worth noting that professionalism and unprofessionalism happen at all levels of business. I think this is a very important conversation, and one that historically has been assumed to be a given. Role doesn’t equal professionalism. It can equal apparent professionalism through association, which isn’t the same thing.
For example: Leadership isn’t an automatic qualification of professionalism any more than “unskilled” work is an automatic disqualification of professionalism. It’s all about the context (like everything else I speak of, context is everything!): are you appropriately professional to your role, base culture, and company?
There is a quote I use time and again by the late, esteemed Gerry Weinberg:
The name of the Thing is not the Thing. People often buy labels, not Products.
So I think we have two mainstream and overlapping viewpoints for defining a Professional:
Do they perform a role with all due skill, knowledge, and attention?
Do they look like they should be doing the job?
Out of the two, I categorically care about the first, and care very little about the second past a basic minimum! But it’s still very prevalent in some business that the second is at least as important, if not more so.
Thankfully, this latter part is changing. Offices are becoming more casual and acknowledging the presence and performance of individuals; culture is becoming less rigidly toxic. I don’t think anyone could accuse Gary Vaynerchuk of being unprofessional, for all he is often wearing jeans and t-shirt; likewise with many of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, et al.
But why does it persist elsewhere, especially in City and Finance? This goes back deeper into not changing structures because “that’s how it’s always been done” – traditional bureaucratic structures and hierarchical roles, where you look like power to associate with (and share) power. I’m not an advocate for “dressing for the job I want” to get it – I’d rather demonstrate I excel at it however I’m dressed. (If I dressed for the job I wanted, I’d probably be wearing a Batsuit).
What do you mean, “not meeting appropriate”?
Professionalism is, then, as tribal as everything else, and as prone to hollowing to become the Label not the Product. So let’s talk about the REAL defining traits, not the superficial ones.
What did Professionalism once mean?
Some vocations have always rightly been seen as professional – doctors or soldiers, for example. But in the public eye and popular media, certain professions have become more “professional” than others.
Think back to the mid 20th Century through to the late 70s, where professionalism as a term was very specifically used for sport, curiosities, or specific types of business. Professionalism was considered a rare thing, and men were very much at the fore of this; business was highly rigid and bureaucratic, polite, formal, requiring looking the part – although the strict starching and more formal attire descended from Victorian wedding dress has slowly faded, it leaves descendants in the forms of polished shoes, ties, three piece suits, and “casual” variations thereof.
This morphed from the 80s to the early 00s, where it became a little more generalised, and the number of people acknowledged as having professionalism exploded. The term became increasingly synonymous with sharp businessmen, often including being emotionless, utterly driven, super competitive in work, even inhuman if required; being utterly focused, machine-like, on the goal (this is the association I have with “hustle” which is why I don’t use the word!). A serious businessman was sharply dressed. A serious businesswoman was often seen as a ballbreaker. Dominance, aggression, doing the job at any cost. It often meant living to work (not working to live), giving extra free to the company, never stepping outside bounds, “the deal” being a driving factor. This wasn’t true everywhere, but enough to become parodied.
A lot of presentation became male-oriented and seen as “masculine-competitive” – cellphones, fast cars, sharp suits. Think of the scenes from Glengarry Glen Ross, American Psycho, Wolf of Wall Street:
Yes, they’re extremes – but for a good reason. For a time, this was what certainly Hollywood saw professionalism as (as well as assassins, like Léon, above). But this era also began to acknowledge – depending on industry, leadership, and decade – that anyone very good at what they did might be considered a bona fide professional, and this attitude grew until the mid-00s. With the advent of Silicon Valley giants run by younger generations and the huge number of Millennials redefining business, a lot of these standards have relaxed or changed even in “City”, especially in tech – and leading industries do affect others, so the changes have spread.
So, looking at the slightly tongue-in-cheek examples above, we can see a vast change of values defining professionalism, from an almost formal politician-polite carrying out of corporate policy, through to profit at any cost, through to dynamic, young, new attitudes… through to today.
What are core professional traits to be mindful of?
So with those four foundations in mind, let’s look at some conduct, aims, and qualities I think are fundamental to today’s professionalism:
Respect. Focus. Ethics. Due process. Proper conduct. Empathy. Collaboration. Understanding. Flexibility. Compromise. Acknowledging of reality. Demonstration of skill and knowledge relevant to the task. An ability to discuss and listen, and make considered decisions. A dedication to the best possible outcome, and completion of the job at hand. Reasonable punctuality. Investment in the project.
I’m sure you can think of more in the comments below. But what does all this really mean?
To me, it’s using tangible ability and knowledge to deliver VALUE in a culturally- and industry-appropriate fashion. That’s what the attitude is there to support, and I think it’s still very easy to fall into demanding a hollow construct of professionalism that looks good but doesn’t deliver; walk and talk are useless in lieu of results, and I know which I prefer. This is a well-known hallmark of more traditional management techniques in bureaucracies, and one reason that after extensive study of them I now work to change the fundamental belief system in business to a more human model, with a focus on value delivery and stakeholder investment.
Where we need to be careful is to STAY mindful of the core aspects, and not just assume them (Cobra Effect). Attitude can become like a mantra; a construct to emulate something demanded by business, not a quality to possess beneficially and mutually. We’ve all seen how a veneer of professionalism can supplant the actuality of it.
Professionalism needs to remain substance over style to retain meaning as we move forward.
With the advent of places such as LinkedIn and instant communication, the attitude of the new younger generation – which is becoming the primary force in consumerism and workforce- and the bringing of human aspects back to business, spreading in part from the tech giants, some of the stiff formality in communication and appearance is melting. It’s possible to have friendly, relaxed conversation and work relationships which retain professionalism – and although I think in some ways the potential for miscommunication is higher, with it being perhaps a little easier to accidentally offend or misunderstand due to more relaxed boundaries, I believe it is also more forgiving and easier to re-communicate, and engage. The way we text, email, write, speak, meet has all drastically changed – but is no less professional. In fact, companies are beginning to realise they need to understand new professionalism, because they need to engage with totally different people now.
Given that we also now carry a personal identity and brand across interactions both business and otherwise, which is a hallmark of the Millennial generation, I think we have the possibility of forging better relationships and bonds than before with beneficial blurring of delineation between personal and business – keeping a professional distance, but utilising individual strengths to bolster this.
We have also acknowledged professional areas across wider swathes of industry than ever before; professional gamers, coaches, sportspeople, actors, salespeople, developers, musicians, executives, workers, photographers, even in incredibly specific areas such as art, curiosity, entertainment, YouTube, and countless more areas of Influence.
But still the definition applies: the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterise or mark a profession or a professional person that are usually pursued for gain (as a career path or for personal profit).
We are now in an era of more relaxed communication and presentation, of valuing the individual, and human sides of professional conduct – no longer strict machine-like interaction – but I believe the core aspects remain the same: ethics, working towards value delivery and using knowledge and ability to do this effectively.
Professionalism is now beginning to include equality, mindfulness, self-development, kindness, EQ and the affective side (not just the cognitive side), and a greater focus on compassion, collaboration, and fulfillment – an investment in what we do. This can only be a good thing, and we have the work of many, many great consultants and coaches I have connections to here, and thought leaders such as Brigette Hyacinth, Gary Vaynerchuk, Dave Snowden, and many others to thank for this. We’re ALL changing what professionalism means, and it’s become much more social, in line with growing realisation that business has always needed to be seen in terms of social complexity.
Individual hyper-competitiveness is now more seen as potentially destructive and less professional than collaboration. Working purely for profit and ignoring human problems and suffering – the “it’s just business” attitude – is fading out, to be replaced by care and empathy. “I’m the boss” and boss-mentality as a whole is being replaced by humble leadership, people who invest workers as stakeholders. The focus of professionalism is moving towards the value delivered, not the unthinking support of hierarchies, profit, and perception. That, to me, is welcome – and consummately professional.
So what’s next?
I hope this has been an interesting exploration so far, with some food for thought.
As usual, this is designed to get us all questioning traditional patterns and consider how they fit into the rapidly-accelerating changing face of business, especially with the growing focus on people and individualism; thinking from another perspective. I’m sure there will be many different viewpoints depending on industry, age, experience, culture and more – please comment below, I’d love to hear your take on a subject that is both objective and subjective!
I think it’s good to be mindful of how changes are happening – look out for Part II, where I discuss what defines UNprofessionalism.
Note: This is a tweak of an old blog that collates several thoughts, some from other articles and videos I’ve posted recently on LinkeIn. It may be of value…
There is undeniably a resistance to changing management which is deeply entrenched within the business world, predicated on decades of “but we’ve always done it this way!”, even if we know that way doesn’t work on multiple levels. To survive, leadership are slowly realising that they need to be open to different views, focus, and structures – to change. And they need to do this faster.
When I speak of change here, I am speaking about evolution and acceptance of beneficial change within human systems and business, not radical destructive change such as the Climate Emergency or personal enlightenment. Not all change is good – destructive change is to be avoided – but as a result, we shy away from beneficial change, too, and that’s my focus here: the change within ourselves to adapt, not the change we attempt to enforce order on our world through innovation and similar. I talk about human fear of change and comfort zones elsewhere, too, but much of this is applicable.
Whether we experience it individually or within human constructs (religion, organisations, families, clubs, etc), there is a Fear of Change ingrained in us in both business and personal life. Humans are comfort-creatures; we value stability and comfort in our lives, be it professionally or at home. So what happens when the ever-changing Universe rudely reminds us that everything is, ultimately, transient?
It is very human to deny that change is happening, that a system has become (or always was!) un-ordered. The reaction is often to then try to impose order (constraints), and often we do this to systems or situations that cannot by nature be ordered, making the problem worse.
Change represents the oft-acknowledged deepest fear of mankind: that of the unknown. Uncertainty.We know we are here, and find comfort, even in uncomfortable situations; true change will really change things, and this can induce anxiety, worry, discomfort, fear – not only of the consequences, but the change itself.
If something isn’t working, a change is needed for it to begin working. Sometimes the fear of change is so great that we would rather it simply continue not to work, because at least then we know it isn’t working; in other words, we have some form of certainty. This, of course, isn’t helpful in the long term, for delivering value, or in urgent situations, and to accurately gauge this we also need to understand the benefits or risks of making the change.
But what if something is already working?
One response is: why change if something works?(which can also mean, if it sort of works well enough, maybe, also I don’t want to spend money).
Why indeed? But as with everything, this isn’t a black and white situation, much as we love to polarise. It may be barely working, or require workarounds to complete. It may be inefficient or cause rising/unnecessary costs, or added complication and hassle to daily life. If it works well enough, which is highly subjective, you have to ask if it is worth changing. If the benefits of change are outweighed by the risks or clear negatives, or it is poorly perceived or understood, it is probably not worth doing.
But if you take any organisation with working processes in place, the chances are high that people will usually say, “Yes, it works, sort of – but it could work much better” about many of them, and then specify where the inefficiencies impact their overall effectiveness and workload. (A problem I have often found is that, where an organisation does undertake to make changes – be it a new system, process, or team – it is usually a higher-level decision that often doesn’t fully provide training, positioning, and applicable usage to the people actually doing the job, and can be either too simplistic, over-complicated, or ill-applied – in other words, not appropriate to resolving the core issue. This is why listening to the people doing it matters!).
If this is the case, and benefits clearly outweigh risks… why not change it to make it work better?
The place to start with processes, change and the fear of that change is the same: you start with the people.
Why start there?
All processes, all base decisions, and all value delivered stems from the people within an organisation. People are interconnected individuals working within an organisational structure towards a common set of goals in a variety of ways; without those people – and their interconnections – the innovation, the products, the organisation itself would not exist.
Another way to say this is that people both create and are the value delivered by an organisation. Or, to put it in a more succinct fashion, Value Streams are made of People (Keogh).
So, recognising that the value of your organisation is the people is an important step, for a number of reasons. It is people who fear change, not the products or the infrastructure within an organisation; it is people who make an organisation work.
People fear the change wrought in any organisation because it disrupts processes and workarounds that may work imperfectly but still more or less work, and allow at least some value delivery. Worse, it may cause further inefficiency and unnecessary stress, or expose workarounds that are not strictly in line with company policy – but bureaucracy may have left them no other choice to achieve their business goals, which brings potential personal risk into play even in a clearly failing scenario. Gaming Behaviour is a clear sign your organisation is in trouble, and is probably too rigid to even see that, let alone adapt. It doesn’t work properly, and people have to go against it to achieve what it demands.
In this environment, change will not come from people concerned with being perceived as catalysts for disruption; change must come from leadership.
“It works well enough.” “Let sleeping dogs lie”. “Don’t rock the boat.” “Don’t stick your head above the rest.” “Don’t stick your neck out.” “Don’t be sales/delivery prevention.”
These are human qualifications of not wanting to cause further potential problems, and become progressively more fearful of being singled out for causing issues, even if the root aim is to resolve perhaps more fundamental issues within the organisation to provide better, smoother value streams. Politics, bureaucracy, interdependency and tradition can all turn what looks on the surface to be a simple change into a highly complex situation and possibly render a goal unattainable, even though it may be to the greater good of the organisation. In a perfect world, a flexible and reactive enough organisation – one that recognises itself as a complex systemoverall – shouldn’t need covert workarounds; experimentation should be built in.
A root of this fear lies in uncertainty. People require certainty to maintain stability, comfort, and (relatively!) low stress. Knowing a situation is good or bad is far preferable to not knowing if it is good or bad or even what it is, so the natural inclination is to maintain the status quo and not be singled out, as long as this isn’t disruptive enough to become worse than the potential uncertainty (there is a fantastic example of the effects of uncertainty in a study involving rocks and snakes used by Liz Keogh in her talks).
Why do organisations and leaders not recognise this?
Some do, of course, but not many seem to fully realise the causes behind it. One of the most important things to understand is that the landscape has shifted, and it is accelerating in modern business. Knowledge has become the primary global economy, with business being undertaken around the world, around the clock, and data being digitised and made available and changeable at exponentially greater quantities and speeds than ever before.
The management of this knowledge, and the methods used, have become key to an organisation’s productivity, innovation, and agility (Snowden, Stanbridge). Sprawling bureaucracies are giving way to entrepreneurial practices, and many companies are caught between the two, trying to apply often contradictory methodologies of both to their staff and their products.
At the same time, the latest and not yet widely-understood shift to virtual systems, the increasing use of AI and IOT, and knowledge digitisation has moved business to a realm we have no prior experience of or reference for, and this causes fear and concern because we are being forced to changeat both a personal and industrial level at a speed that isn’t just uncomfortable but alarming. Organisations push back against this by acting as they always have with The Cycle of Woe and traditional management – cutting costs, replacing management teams constantly, and so on – but the simple procedures that once seemed to work do not produce any benefits past the extreme short-term (I talk about this in much more detail in https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/red-pill-management-science-christopher-bramley/).
This is because we are now experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (possibly the 6th), which is an entirely new landscape requiring new understanding and actions. Because organisations do not have either, many of them currently “feel like they are in Hell” as a result of the Dark Triad (Kirk):
• Antagonism (“Arseholeness!”)
…and they occur both at an organisational and a personal level.
So how do Organisations and Leaders currently react?
One of the key reasons for these responses may be because of two things:
1) The still-existing and long-term investment in structures based in Taylorism (which dates back to the 19th century, yet is still a core of today’s management science), a root of Process Engineering. This can be interpreted as the belief and (and action upon the belief) that an organisation is a machine with people as cogs or components that will consistently deliver the exact same output in quality and quantity – or, that an organisation conforms exactly to rules.
It contains 3 of Mintzberg’s 10 Strategy Schools:
2) The more recent but equal investment in Systems Thinking which is used to model and project towards perfect goals using outcome-based measures, removing human judgement and relying heavily on causality and prediction.
It contains the other 7 Schools:
The problem with these two widely-used adherences, now used as a combined modern modification of Taylorism, is that they are based on the assumption that business and organisations are ordered, causal and predictable as per the matrix below, whether they are applied in context or not:
Business and Businesses are neither ordered nor predictable. Despite the realisation for decades that modern Taylorism is actually detrimental and only a slight shift from a perception of “machine” to “human” (Peters, Senge, Nonaka), businesses have only just started becoming aware of the importance of truly humanising business and redefining the core values. This is the crucial understanding of moving to the top right sector, Social Complexity.
In other words, a vast number of companies still try to force their organisation to fit the modified concepts of modern Taylorism because it is trusted and traditional, despite being proven ineffective, and act as if it will forever output the exact same quality and quantity in a forecastable fashion.
Why this approach simply doesn’t work
The very presence of humans who can vary output, focus, workloads and innovation both within and driving an organisation dependent on a number of factors that aren’t necessarily causal or logical – that is to say, complexity – means an organisation can’t be a rigidly ordered system. It is by nature complex, un-ordered, but the tools we mostly use to resolve issues are based on it being an ordered structure with simple rules. The understandable preference, based on certainty and comfort, is to seek simplistic identically-repeatable approaches (“recipes”) based on clear and idealistic outcomes (Snowden).
Ontologies in relation to basic Domains (Cynefin)
What’s interesting is that people will try to manage an organisation as ordered when it isn’t, yet adapt very quickly to managing home life which is similarly un-ordered, often within the same day! In other words, between two complex systems, leadership will flip from Modern Taylorism to Social Complexity. This is really interesting, and brings into focus the concept of our different identities, or aspects we transition between seamlessly to fit into different situations (more on those in other articles) – something older generations have more strongly than the newest.
It is also very easy to miss that many instances are multi-ontological. As a very simple example, if I run a lab when coaching, I deal with an obvious domain in much of the basic subject, but also complicated areas in advanced concepts; technical systems I may use to train are largely complicated; and the addition of students themselves bring complexity, as the learners drive the class and every class is different to any before as a result (it’s rare that a session descends into chaos, but it’s not unknown, and usually requires outside influence!). So I can end up dealing with all three ontologies in one course! Order, un-ordered complexity, and un-ordered chaos all require different management, but they can all be managed.
We have to think in terms of multi-complexity in a world that is multiply-complex; there is no simple answer, and another company’s will not be likely to be yours.
The visible effects
50+ years of business practice have left a huge number of organisations not fully comprehending that the shift of many markets from product to service, and Industry 4.0,requires organisational agility and change. Markets are seeing the stifling of innovation and a downwards dive of productivity (Snowden).
This inevitably sparks the above frantic reaction (change of focus, sudden arbitrary swerves to “disrupt the market” without recognition of opportunity outside a narrowly focused goal, cost cutting, redundancies, management team swap-outs, further cash injections, etc) without looking at what is working, and more importantly understanding that this is not a one-fits-all recipe that can merely be transplanted inter-organisation for success (Snowden).
It is becoming clearer that collaboration, reactive approaches, SME level agility and innovationare where markets now grow in this new landscape of people being and delivering value via a knowledge economy, and this is a beneficial realisation for organisations struggling “in Hell” to take a first step into new understanding.
So what now?
“…Where we go from there is a choice I leave up to you…”
The more I look at the current struggles to achieve the results of yesteryear, my own experiences of the last twenty years plus, and the new evidence of Industry 4.0, the more I realise how accurate the above is. Interdependency is clearly now essential in a new, barely understood industry of High Demand/Ambiguity/Complexity/ Relentless Pace (Kirk). We haven’t been here before.
To find balance and prosperity, and deliver real value once more, collaboration, agility of approach and innovation are all required. We need to sense-make; we need to path-find, or forge our own new paths.
“Reacting by “re-acting”, or repeating our actions, merely causes problems to perpetuate. In a new landscape, a new reaction is required for change” (Kirk) – and it’s currently how many companies ARE acting. This is also one of the keys to Cynefin and managing complex situations; it is virtually impossible to close the gap between the current situation and a goal projected based upon causality when dealing with complexity, a system with only some constraints where each aspect affects all others. Instead, you must see where you can make a change, see where you can monitor that change in real-time, and recognise the opportunities to amplify success and ignore failure when it arises via experimentation (Snowden).
Or: instead of trying to achieve an idealistic goal impossible from your current standpoint, instead make changes to the system that may throw up even better goals, watch for them instead of focusing on the old goal exclusively, and then grasp them when they arise. You must start from somewhere, but the key is to start – a certain step is the first one to conquering uncertainty.
“Organisations and people ALL matter, because they drive, innovate and ARE value; we matter because everyone else matters” (Kirk), and industry becomes, not forced into trying to be a destined-to-fail machine system, but a safe-to-fail ecosystem – holistic and interconnected, not only able to adapt to change, but driven by it.
I constantly quote her words here, because they are overwhelmingly true.
You know who is comfortable with change, both because they know it’s needed, and because they were born into this landscape as it developed?
Outliers, and the Millennial Generation. I mention them time and again because, like it or not, they are both the catalysts required, and the workforce and consumers who now need to be engaged in every sector.
The problems we still face
The issue in many organisations, and with many managers, is that it is still the de-facto belief that correlation = causation, and that simple universally-applicable recipes give idealistic outcomes. These beliefs have led to years of failure and problems, and are a driver of the industry “waves” of best practice management fads that don’t work long-term but propagate because they are new, and short or medium term results may have been seen by some other organisations (see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/secret-shortcuts-innovation-christopher-bramley/)
What works to fix or improve one organisation is not necessarily (in fact very unlikely) to work perfectly for other organisations, or work subject to simplification and/for general application. This is a core concept still used that conforms to the Process Engineering ideology. You cannot take something in complex situations and reduce it to a repeatable generic recipe that works perfectly; it just… won’t. No two organisations are alike. Every instance should be approached, investigated, and worked on individually and holistically to see if it should be managed as ordered, or un-ordered (complex or chaotic). There is benefit from seeing what other organisations did to resolve similar problems as long as it is understood the approach and fit must be modified: the incorporation of aspects, rather than the dogmatic following of a whole.
Furthermore, the more people find approaches to be effective, the more they seek to codify the concepts – which is fine to a point, but can easily lead to them then structuring the approaches, modularising them, and then seeking to force them back into the ordered ontology (the Cynefin domains of Obviousness or Complication) as a simple, universally repeatable recipe, when many are ultimately agile and flexible tools to manage un-ordered systems (Complexity or Chaos). This is something that appears to be happening to the concept of Agile at the moment; it is becoming less agile itself as it is taken in by large organisations and constrained (see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/never-mind-buzzwords-christopher-bramley/).
At the same time, there are constant clashes intra-organisation. Organisations want to both be fully ordered with infinitely repeatable output, but also flexible and innovative. The first of these is causal (repeatable cause and effect), and the second is dispositional (you can say where you are and where you may end up, even simulate, but not causally repeat or predict). They are very different in nature. By their very nature and composition, an organisation cannot be a simple ordered system, and this is where the work within Cynefin into Social Complexity/Anthro-Complexity begins to make sense of these systems and the management of complexity and chaos.
There is also the requirement for a deeper comprehension of the fuzzy liminality of whether or not you should make a change, which differs in each situation; a risk/benefit exercise where we weigh up the benefits – deep and long term as well as short term – of making a change, where the former is often ignored in favour of short-term profitability. Where the dangers of making a change are not defined or understood, or are clearly not beneficial, it is wise to consider carefully whether you should do so – and if so, what the correct manner of doing so is.
Finding a new way forward
One of the fundamental movements that resolves many of these issues will be a shift from Hierarchies, where organisations are ranked internally relative to status and authority with a focus on control (power), to Ecosystems, where organisations recognise the relationships of every person to each other and to the organisation, with a focus on delivery (value).
This is geared towards agility, adaptability, acknowledging change and the driving by change, and that organisations are largely complex and cannot be distilled into simple recipes repeatable for idealistic outcomes. The market, the industries, the universe itself inflicts change, as do the people within, and order is impossible to maintain rigidly, so recognising how to manage un-ordered systems is required.
Before this can happen, organisations (and the management thereof!) need to understand how much efficiency and value delivery they will gain from the also-fundamental shifts in their traditional beliefs: it is understandable that organisations wish to impose order and tighten control to make sense, but Dave Snowden warns against the effects of “over-constraining a system that is not naturally constrainable” – you are asking for more inefficiency and problems, not less.
Many of the concepts touch on Agile, Lean, Cynefin, and other concepts and frameworks all at once. There is a reason I tell organisations they need to view this holistically, not just engage firms based on the latest buzzwords and processes.
Change is a fact of business, and life, and can be feared for good reason; but that should not stop change where change is required or beneficial, or strive to stop change that cannot be stopped. Instead of fearing change, we can teach ourselves to change fear into something more productive: an awareness of grasping opportunities that change will throw up. You have to let go of the old with at least one hand to be able to grasp the new.
You only learn when you are open to change, you move outside your comfort zone, and you accept failure as a lesson that builds success; that uncertainty is the point from which new understanding can grow. The more used to taking that first certain step into uncertainty you get, the less you fear the challenge, and the more you relish it. A good teacher can help place your feet on that path, and walk the first steps with you.
Don’t be afraid or too egotistical to reach out to me for help to understand how to change. We all need unbiased guidance with context from time to time.
If you do it correctly, you and your organisation will change for the better.
Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase LLP, is quoted as saying “The American Dream is alive but fraying” in regards to the most recent Business Roundtable report, which explicitly counters the view held for decades that the sole focus of a corporation and its CEO is to maximize profits.
But, tightly woven or fraying, it isn’t really what we think it is. So, why do I say that about “The American Dream”?
Well, here’s an interesting thought exercise:
The American Dream is really the Global Dream
The American Dream is based upon a number of ideals, and although it’s archetypical it actually isn’t a purely American dream at all. It’s founded upon the idea that capitalism, which is a fundament of modern global business, can align with hard work, passion, and freedom to allow a genuine opportunity for prosperity, success and upward social mobility for families, in a society that (hypothetically) has relatively few barriers to this.
I’m sure we can mostly agree that this is now something that is represented as a dream in some way across most countries around the world. Partially, this has come about because elements of America’s culture have spread for the last 100+ years, through media, film and business especially (for example, the ubiquity of McDonald’s is incredible – I have seen one on a beach on a small island in the Philippines, with people lining up!), alongside the fact that English, more specifically US English, has become the primary business language worldwide (as mentioned in other articles, language frames our thoughts, so when you think in American English you think in more American terms).
So it’s no longer constrained by the East and West coast, if it ever truly was.
The Largest Generation are a Global People
A growing number of people are having trouble with the concept of the American Dream however, and they are invariably of the Millennial generation. They’re aware that it’s harder than ever before to achieve it, and they know it’s really world-wide. It’s further out of reach for them than previous generations – think of the difference between buying a house in the midst of the Baby-Boomer generation, and the difficulty faced by Millennials today. It’s also rapidly being considered to not be what it’s represented as, too, because in reality there are considerable barriers in much of the west (at the least) to widespread individual prosperity, success and upward familial social mobility.
Additionally, they have a strong sense of personal brand, identity, and belonging – they aren’t prepared to become a cog in a machine. They want to be stakeholders, part of a solution, and visibly recognised as such. They want to be acknowledged as individuals.
They are different; they are coming into spending and directorship power as they hits their 40s; they engage and think differently to previous generations. They hold a primary strong identity across work, personal and online presence which is also a personal Brand, and they think less in terms of cultural identity and more in terms of individuality as a member of Humanity at large. I’ll post another article later on what it means to be Millennial and what the generations mean, but for now it’s enough to understand:
They have a Global Dream, not an American one, and they are demanding it.
Isn’t Capitalism part of the problem?
This is one of those “Yes… and No” answers. Capitalism per se isn’t necessarily a problem, but hyper-capitalism is – the basic description of Neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism doesn’t align with the above Roundtable shift because it essentially promotes the belief that nothing has value unless it makes money (I’ll delve into Neoliberalism more deeply elsewhere). This is oppositional to finding value in individuality, humanity, culture, work-life balance, integrity, mental and physical health, and all the other human things we have begun demanding again, because many of these things don’t bring financial profit; they are rewarding in other ways. Neoliberalism aligns very well with bureaucracy, in fact, because both have been used to removed human aspects from business in the name of efficiency (whether that efficiency has been achieved is widely open for debate, watch for other articles!).
A larger part of the problem is humanity’s proclivity towards polarising. We rarely tend to take a measured middle ground when we can leap in and pendulum across to one end of a scale!
In the grand scheme, Capitalism isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive to socialism – a mixed economic system can allow for capital, private property, and economic freedom, while allowing governments some control to achieve social aims, allowing monopolies etc but regulated, and a whole host of other balances.
In the same way, Socialism isn’t necessarily bad as a democratic ideal – anyone believing in a free health service and looking after veterans and homeless, and similar is aligned with it. A true mixed economy would essentially allow us to pursue earning for ourselves without being too selfish, which is a great idea – precisely what we want to achieve in business right now, in many ways.
In practice this is hard to achieve, and it’s estimated it’s less efficient than a free market. Certainly those markets such as France that are considered partially mixed economies I believe to still be quite weighted towards the capitalism side. But I think the point is that it’s something that can be explored, and the people best suited to (and with the most right to) this exploration are, now, the Millennial Generation with a Global view.
This is all highly complex, of course – it involves mindsets, markets, the environment, the current state of business, engagement, and a whole host of other areas (hence my widely varying work).
So really, the original American Dream has elements of a mixed economy – but the current practicality is really very neoliberal, and in my opinion, very unhealthy for both businesses and individuals long term. I do not believe the (Global) Dream is being realised right now, but I think we’re looking in that direction.
This is obviously a widely-shared opinion, given not only the Roundtable report itself (which puts a stamp of formal authenticity on the movement), but the radical and sweeping shifts in business practice and focus, championed by people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Brigette Hyancinth, Bill and Melinda Gates, and increasing numbers of other leaders (the 180 of the Roundtable inclusive) too exhaustive to list.
I’m seeing it here on LinkedIn from a majority of you, too.
The Choice Faced By Us All
Currently the Global Dream is propped against a Global Nightmare. We’re making great strides in redefining business and the humanity within it; we’re moving towards value for stakeholders – the shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers and communities – over simple profit for shareholders. But Neoliberal attitudes still have a lot of weight, and many companies are reluctant to let go of bureaucratic control and that focus. It takes effort. We’re still getting used to the (long-overdue) realisation that the environment is now a critical factor in all this, as well. We need radical attitude changes, and we’re moving that way.
I think we’ve got a real chance at a bright, productive, kind future where we can still earn our own way and benefit individually as well as together, and I’m encouraged by the wealth of forward-thinking I’m seeing on platforms like LinkedIn. But many companies still need help; many executives still need encouragement to find a new path which will be even more profitable, because change is frightening at a personal and professional level, and uncertainty is the biggest source of our fear. Ego plays a part; refusal or inability to see the rapid market shifts and engagement changes plays another.
Some of us specialise in helping businesses find certainty in uncertainty. Reach out to us!But don’t just reach out to specialists like me – reach out to the greatest asset you have as well. Your employees, your customers – your outliers, your mavericks, the Millennial generation. They have new and innovative ways forward to help this dream be realised. Use all of us!
From my own work, I strongly suspect the Dream will not be realised by bureaucracies, but by ecosystems, for a number of reasons.
You can’t make changes in a complex system without affecting everything else in that system. That’s why I have such a holistic approach, and advocate us all to do so; it’s needed for true change. If we want all the things I see discussed every day here for business and individual alike, we have to make large changes, together – and that really needs championing by the people best able to bring about this change.
Isn’t it time many of us stepped back and let the new generation that is going to live this future at least help guide it? If anyone is going to make this Global Dream happen, it’s them.
Every relationship has multiple aspects, and they will differ depending on the type of relationship, the intensity, and more, but we are finding that integrity is more critical than ever.
There are four things that many of the others fall under without which a relationship simply cannot sustain itself, and that – for me – help define integrity. This is true for ALL relationships – it doesn’t matter if this is business, marriage, friendship, or even family! Without all four foundations a relationship will fail, sooner or later.
Learn to apply these in every aspect of your life and you’ll see a difference. All of them are vital, but the last is the most critical – and the most often missing – because the rest all depend upon it.
So what are they?
A Form of Love or Respect – a Basis
All relationships have to be based on something, to have a heart, and you cannot even have a simple business relationship or partnership if you don’t respect the other in the relationship – or if they don’t respect you. With closer relationships, there may also be fondness, deep regard, or love – but if you don’t even have basic respect for someone, why do you have a relationship with them? And how long do you think that will last?
Being honest to yourself and others is vital for a relationship’s stability. This doesn’t necessarily mean telling everything without diplomacy, but it means not misleading others, being direct where it’s needed; having transparency where required, being deserving of trust. If you are not honest, trust will quickly evaporate and the relationship will fail. People don’t want to marry or do business with dishonest people. It’s an old cliché, but it’s actually true: Honesty IS the best policy in relationship terms, because it signifies respect or love, and it is both justified by and inspires trust.
Hand in hand with honesty goes trust. Trust is vital – sustainable, beneficial relationships are mutual, with give and take. How can you do either if you cannot trust the other person? Trust is a concept that is both active and passive. People feel they have to earn trust, but also you should, unless given a specific reason not to, trust someone you respect and have formed a relationship with on a mutual basis of respect. This is a part of risk and reward, and justification for honesty. If you trust someone, respect someone, and you’re both honest, you will collaborate optimally in whatever you do.
So, what is the fourth? This most critical of all?
The basis of everything we do together?
Without communication, you cannot express respect, love, honesty, trust, teaching, learning, feedback, a multitude of other things. And yet, communication is where we most often fail; in business, in marriage, in friendship, in family. The importance of clear, mutual communication based on respect, trust and honesty cannot be understated. It is the principle foundation upon which all relationships are constructed, and upon which the other foundations depend. It’s also the least clear, because individuality, context, assumption, mental patterns and traditions, and much more that I speak of in other articles and posts skews it, so we are very often communicating together on different levels even when we want to be aligned.
No wonder mistakes are made so often! Communication is probably the most crucial to understand or fix before any others. It’s quite literally how you interface with all other humans, and will define how a relationship works. True communication is also based on discourse, not one-way instruction, which is easier – and modern management has fallen into a very tempting pattern of dictation and expectation as a result. For ideas on learning to listen and accept other communication, have a read of 3 Things You Can Do To Immediately Enhance Your Leadership.
So, these are (for want of a better title!) Chris’s Four Foundations of Sustainable Relationships. It doesn’t matter who we are – base a relationship upon these principles, and it has a good chance of being extremely mutually rewarding. Miss one, and it’s likely to fail.
I’d love to hear what people think – please comment below or give me a shout! I find many people add elements to this, although often they loosely fit under the 4 above.
Here are three simple things anyone, especially in management or Leadership, can do to increase communication, context, and decision-making ability exponentially:
Talk to your employees on a personal level. Listen to their ideas, and value them as people.
Don’t just ask what they can do for you – ask what you can do for them!
Get honest, constructive feedback, and act on it where appropriate
These three things can help change how culture works in a company, and help the company start the journey towards being an ecosystem.
What do they really amount to?
Making people in your company Stakeholders.
What do these things mean?
Talking to people personally helps you care more about them, and helps them understand this. It avoids them becoming a mere component to you. If you also humanise yourself to them, they will care more about you as well, and you will find that translates to caring more about your business. This also steers away from the pitfalls of assumption – you assume less when you know someone better.
Employees have come to expect that they give a lot and get little back in modern business. There’s little more disengaging and demotivating than this, and you won’t get their best! Having a genuine interest in their needs helps you understand their drivers better and thus manage better, and it lets then know they are getting value back from you. It truly promotes the realisation that you’re all in this together, and collaboration is the best way forward. Value doesn’t just come from monetary reward; it comes from job satisfaction, achievement, and integration. Consider this when you create “awards”.
Leadership is habit-forming because it’s so immersed in the company, and it’s easy to become used to hearing only positivity, especially in a toxic culture that helps promote sycophantism. It’s important to get honest, grounded feedback from everyone, not just direct-line reports or peers, because it will help you understand what’s really going on within your company, and without too. This is also a great opportunity to get left-field ideas and suggestions which might spark some interesting thoughts and directions. Feedback benefits those who give it, but it also hugely benefits leadership. Just be sure that you then act appropriately; ignoring valid feedback is often worse than not asking in the first place! And if you don’t act if it’s valid, you only end up weakening your leadership and the organisation long-term. Don’t fall prey to inattentional blindness or hubris!
Why is all this important?
With a better understanding of individuals and the culture within an organisation, you are acknowledging that each agent within the system that makes up your company has an effect on the whole. If you work for your employees, and they know it, if you invest them in the company’s success and make it their success as well as yours, they will strive to make the company succeed – naturally.
Company Culture is crucial. It is made of the interactions between people, and is defined by the actions and inactions of Leaders. If the interactions are bad, and bad behaviour is supported by either action or inaction, the business is not as effective as it could be and the people aren’t as happy. Look at companies with toxic cultures, or that dehumanise and fully model decision-making – they are often mired in unhappiness, red tape, lack of innovation and progress, staff turnover and a hundred other problems. How is this beneficial?
Culture defines basic ethics, accountability, honesty, and whether people want to work there. If you have a good, open culture, you will get less gaming behaviour, less sycophantism, more accuracy for decisions, better grounding, and more investment – the ability to move forward as an organism aligned, not fighting itself.
Remember, people are becoming more aware that a company has to fit them, as well as their fitting the company. Ethics, accountability, humanity all matter, especially to the people beginning to make up not only the larger part of your workforce but your new customers as well. Creating an ecosystem makes people stakeholders on multiple levels.
Ecosystems are better for modern companies because they are in line with the changing values of business and individuals, but also because older bureaucracy and hierarchy is not capable of keeping up or innovating at the speed the modern market is.
This doesn’t mean Leadership loses power. It means Leadership gains valuable insight.
If you demand their all and extra work, and treat people as less important or even human, you won’t get their best, but if they have a better connection with you and are stakeholders in what you all do, they are more likely to give freely if their all and do extra – and you’ll get their best.
Explore the idea of working for your employees! Prove your worth, and they’ll prove theirs over and again.
If you want to talk more about leadership, decision-making and how to improve it, please reach out to me!