Choosing Slow Death: Manager 6

Our final manager talks about losing faith in their leaders.

“Our top management people are ill-equipped to deal with the realities of our situation.  We need sweeping changes.  Their tools obtained at the best business schools, are simply inadequate for facing our current competitive environment.  They know how to manage, not how to lead.  Besides, it is too late.  We cannot be saved by willing it, even from the top.  It’s like trying to find a golf swing the day before the Masters.”

I the process of slow death people lose faith in their leaders.  This occurs because people in leadership positions tend to resort to control and the processes of normal management.  But they need to do the opposite:  to learn, to envision, to join with their people in the process of deep change.  Because they continue to follow normal practices, they lose crucial time.  When the moment of crisis arrives, the organization does not have the characteristics it needs for survival.  It is too late.

Reflection:

Are any of these patterns familiar?

Have you experienced them in your own organization?

What could you or other leaders have done to halt the process of slow death and turn it around?

(The Deep Change Field Guide, p. 31-34)

Choosing Slow Death: Manager 5

Manager #5 tells us why he thinks it is too late for his company.

“I think our company has about twelve to eighteen months, and then it will be too late.  To be truly competitive, we have to alter the underlying system.  That means, however, getting past the ever-present and undeniably important daily tasks.  It means doing more.  I think we keep busy because it is a kind of opium.  We don’t know how to confront the deep change process, so we keep ourselves busy with the normal stuff and try not to notice what’s really happening.  I’m not optimistic.  There is no vision from the top, and the changes continue to be incremental.  As I see it, we are very clearly choosing slow death.”

A change in the underlying system of an organization is usually a very big change.  It is not only technological but also political, and therefore full of potential conflict.  In this case, “doing more” means dealing with the underlying system, but people are unwilling to do so.  Instead, they stay busy.  Note that staying busy is “a kind of opium.”  The logic of task pursuit acts like a drug that dulls people and helps them avoid the work of deep change needed to turn the company around.

 

Reflection:

Are any of these patterns familiar?

Have you experienced them in your own organization?

What could you or other leaders have done to halt the process of slow death and turn it around?

(The Deep Change Field Guide, p. 31-34)

Choosing Slow Death: Manager 4

Manager 4 describes a process familiar to many.

“We are dying.  In the meantime, my boss goes around reducing everything to numbers and charts.  He leaves the real task of leadership to others.  Because we no longer believe in the organization’s future, we’re all tending to our own personal futures.  I would love to e thinking about constructive alternatives, but it’s simply too late.”

Here we see the difference between management and leadership.  Organizations need people who can actually lead the deep change process.  This means reaching hearts as well as heads.

Note that there is a point in the process of slow death when people give up on the pursuit of the organizational good and simply begin to take care of themselves.  This is a sure sign of the slow death process.  It is a common occurrence in human collectives.

Reflection:

Are any of these patterns familiar?

Have you experienced them in your own organization?

What could you or other leaders have done to halt the process of slow death and turn it around?

(The Deep Change Field Guide, p. 31-34)

Choosing Slow Death: Manager 3

Manager 3 in our slow death series said the following.

“As a member of a top-management team, I experienced the slow death of a major corporation ten years ago.  We…resisted change until we were forced to engage an entire series of wild and uncoordinated changes.  Finally, we went through a slow, painful death.  It was a merger that few of our people survived.  Now I’m experiencing it all over again.  It is a haunting case of, ‘Hey, I’ve been here before.'”

Here we see another conservative culture that was impervious to change.  The manager notes a pattern that is often a part of the slow death process, the shift to “wild and uncoordinated changes.”  With this shift, slow death tends to turn into fast death, at which point it is usually too late to turn things around; the organization is so weakened that it dies.  Note that this observer, a top manager, has seen the process before, and is watching it unfold once again.

Reflection:

Are any of these patterns familiar?

Have you experienced them in your own organization?

What could you or other leaders have done to halt the process of slow death and turn it around?

(The Deep Change Field Guide, p. 31-34)

Choosing Slow Death: Manager 2

The second Manager I spoke to described the slow death process at his company this way.

“Slow death is what we are about — a conservative, ‘Don’t rock the boat’ culture: executives three to five years from retirement, little long-range planning, no vision, and denial of all external criticism.  We make superficial changes…but we make no real change in our basic structures and processes.  We are on a course that is clear to all.”

Large hierarchies are a natural seedbed for the emergence of a conservative culture.  Constructive disagreement is a sign of organizational health, but in a conservative culture criticism is often stifled.  A climate of constructive conflict indicates effective leadership.  In this case the manager’s last sentence is an interesting one.  He points out that everyone recognizes where the organization is probably headed: first to a crisis, then to the same downsizing process mentioned in the first case.

Reflection:

Are any of these patterns familiar?

Have you experienced them in your own organization?

What could you or other leaders have done to halt the process of slow death and turn it around?

(The Deep Change Field Guide, p. 31-34)

Turning Points

I once gave a talk about deep change to a group of venture capitalists and CEOs of start-up firms.  A woman I will call Anna came up to tell me her own story of self change.  She began with a declaration:  “I have a very unique skill.  I create companies.  I bring people together, and out of nothing, I make something.  That is what I do.”  Although she said this with enormous confidence, it was not a statement of hubris.  Rather, she spoke with a sense of wonder.  It was as if she was being vitalized by this recognition of her own ability.

I was impressed.  Imagine being confident that you can enter new situations and bring people together in such a way that a new company emerges.  This is adaptive confidence — the belief in one’s capacity to lead deep change.  I asked her how she had acquired this capacity.

“I went through a terrible life crisis,” she said.  “I was without work.  I hungered to get back into my comfort zone.  So I took a job just like the one I was in before.  After three months, I realized that I had made a mistake.  So I decided to leave my job and live without an income.  Previously I thought people loved me because I made money, I discovered that they loved me because of who I am.  I discovered that I could do things I did not know I could do.  I gained a new identity and a higher level of confidence in myself.  I could see in new ways and I was not afraid to try new things.

Turning points cause us to see ourselves differently.  Whether they result from positive or negative events, they capture our attention and invite a new definition of self.  When this happens, we, like Anna, discover two things for sure:  we know that we can change, and thus we know that others can change too.  This knowledge is essential to people who seek to lead deep change.  As we use self-reflection to grow and become more positive and more influential, we acquire the desire to change our external context, a trait sometimes called developmental readiness (Avolio and Hannah, 2008).  This may create a virtuous cycle of initiative and learning.  Living in this cycle we become empowered and empowering to others.

  • The Deep Change Field Guide, p. 73-73

“They Became What They Beheld”

The great visionary poet and artist William Blake, whose career spanned the turn of the nineteenth century, was deeply concerned with the idea of transformation.  Blake was a revolutionary in the sense that he believed society needed not just superficial reform but profound change.  He did not believe that political action alone would bring about radical change.  Political revolutions, he noted, have a way of reestablishing the tyranny they were intended to overthrow.  Instead, the idea of revolution had to come first of all in people’s thinking and being.  Truly meaningful change would happen only when people awoke to the infinite potential that was inside them.

In Blake’s mythical language, the world that I have described as the normal state is described as “fallen.”  It is the world of self-concern, routine, conformity, and hypocrisy.  Our longing for a more virtuous world is a sign that a better world is possible.

Most of us, however, see the normal world as something to accept and conform to.  When we are in that state of passive acceptance, our view of ourselves diminishes.  According to Blake, that is because our relationship with the world around us is reciprocal:  the reality we perceive and the view we have of ourselves feed on one another.  Describing this relationship, he wrote:  “They became what they beheld.”  When we accept the world as it is (that is, when we are in the normal state), we deny our innate ability to see something better, and hence our ability to be something better.  The better world we seek can be found within us, if only we change our vision. (Kazin, 1974, p. 487)

Deep Change Field Guide, p. 120-121

The Walking Dead

I was walking down a long hallway in a room where hundreds of people were working. The place felt lifeless- people seemed reluctant to be there, spoke in low tones, and moved slowly, as if they were dragging heavy weights behind them. My companion seemed to read my mind as she remarked, “Here we house the legions of the walking dead.”

In the words of Thoreau, they are living lives of “quiet desperation.”

Managers tend to recognize the slow death of their people and they tend to complain about it. They speak as if it were a constraint. They do not see it as an opportunity. Making deep change in such situations is what a leader does

(Quinn, The Deep Change Field Guide: pg. 29).

Reflection

When have I seen people in slow death?

How have I helped them?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

A Surprising Key to Organizational Change

I was working with a company that wanted to make a big change. I shared a short case in which a similar company tried to make the same change but failed. The case did not specify the explanation for failure. The executives wanted one but I would not cooperate. I told them that they would have to give me an explanation.

A heavy silence filled the room. Finally, one of the most influential members of the group said, “The leaders of the company didn’t change their behavior.

I nodded. Then I challenged them: “Identify one time today when one of you said you were going to change your behavior.” No one raised a hand.

There was a long pause. Something important and unusual was happening. These executives were suddenly seeing something that few people ever clearly see – the incongruity of asking for deep change in others while failing to model deep change.

Turning an organization positive usually requires a change in culture. Culture change is deep change. Deep organizational change has to be led by a person who is willing to make deep personal change. Few people believe this and few organizations succeed at deep change (Quinn, The Deep Change Field Guide: pg. 47-48).

Reflection
When have I made deep personal change?

When have I helped others make deep personal change?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


 

The Unexpected Importance of Work-Life Balance

Creating a positive organization often seems impossible. To do so requires a leader who puts the collective good ahead of the personal good. Conventional assumptions suggest that people are inherently self-interested. People who accept this often assume that life is a zero-sum game.   “Pretend to care about the organization, but always take care of yourself first.”

It is, however, possible to change. Consider a case from Csikszenmihalyi (1997). The case describes Keith, a manager who worked seventy hours a week, neglecting his family and his own personal growth and hoarding credit for his accomplishments, in an attempt to impress his superiors and win a promotion. Nevertheless, he was still passed over.

“Finally Keith resigned himself to having reached the ceiling of his career, and decided to find his rewards elsewhere. He spent more time with the family, took up a hobby, became involved in community activities. Because he was no longer struggling so hard, his behavior on the job became more relaxed, less selfish, and more objective. In fact, he began to act more like a leader whose personal agenda takes second place to the well-being of the company. Keith’s boss was finally impressed, and he received his promotion.”

Keith’s shift was an exercise in deep change. He outgrew the assumptions of conventional self-interest and entered the realm of positive leadership.

As he made the change he became a more effective version of himself and others were able to do the same.

– Deep Change Field Guide (pg. 82)

Reflection

Have you ever seen a change like this one?

How could this kind of development be accelerated?

How could we use this positive passage to get better?