Where Are The Boundary Lines?

Several years ago my wife and I loaded into our mini-van with some other members of her family and drove from where we lived at the time in Normal, IL (it’s a real place!) to Lincoln, Nebraska because our local college basketball team was playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We had a great time on the drive over and then watching a couple games.

When we started home later the same night a blizzard hit. We drove most of the way home in white-out conditions. That’s what you call white-knuckle driving. We had to be home for some reason by a certain time the next day so we kept going. In those conditions you can see better with just the parking lights on because they don’t reflect so much light back at you off the blowing snow. Your best friends are the lines on the road, if you can see them. That solid white line on the right tells you where the edge of the road is and the dashed line on the left let’s you know you’re in your lane. When you can’t find the boundary lines, your stress level really goes up.

A Little Off Topic

Last night my wife and I went to Costco for gas and then pulled into the parking lot. I was going to run in for a couple things and get the hot-dog-and-a-coke-for-$1.50 deal for our dinner on the way out. Right after we parked we heard someone screaming. It was a high pitched scream like a child so we quickly looked around worried that some child may be hurt. Then we saw what was happening. A toddler apparently didn’t want to get out of the shopping cart and into the car. He was screaming at and hitting his mom with nearby grandma looking on trying to calm him down.

My wife, who is something of an expert on raising children, was horrified. She’s the one who made the connection between driving when you can’t see the boundary lines and the stress children feel when the boundary lines of behavior aren’t clear. There is security in knowing where the lines are. Under normal conditions the lines aren’t restrictive, they’re safe. “Can you imagine,” she said, “what would happen if everyone just drove wherever they wanted?!” When conditions turn stressful, the lines are a blessing!

To take the analogy a little further, you can’t paint the lines during the snowstorm. They have to be put in place when the weather is good. Teaching children where the boundaries are when everyone is calm and happy is the way to prevent outbursts like what we saw last night. Early, consistent, loving reinforcement is the key. When one of our five children was tired or cranky and tested the boundaries (and they did!), one quick look from Mom was usually all it took to remind them where the lines were. They felt secure in knowing that.

Expand the Truth

The same is true in work relationships between employers and employees. Whether the boundaries are about attendance, workplace behavior, or safety, for example, establish them early and reinforce them consistently. We’re happier and more productive when we feel secure in knowing what’s expected of us.

When we were white-knuckling it back home from Nebraska in that blizzard, you could feel the tension ease when we could see the lines on the road. Then we only had to worry about tail lights suddenly appearing in front of us. But, at least we knew we were safely on the road.

How to Successfully Navigate the Chaos of Change

This week I’m posting an article I ran across awhile ago. This article, by Steven M. Smith, effectively applies a family therapist’s change model to the business environment. I’ve reprinted it below for your convenience.

Improvement is always possible. This conviction is the heart of the transformation system developed by family therapist Virginia Satir. Her system helps people improve their lives by transforming the way they see and express themselves.

An element of the Satir System is a five-stage change model (see the picture) that describes the effects each stage has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. Using the principles embodied in this model, you can improve how you process change and how you help others process change.

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

The group is at a familiar place. The performance pattern is consistent. Stable relationships give members a sense of belonging and identity. Members know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Implicit and explicit rules underlie behavior. Members attach survival value to the rules, even if they are harmful. For instance, the chief of an engineering group has an explicit rule — all projects must be completed on schedule. When the flu halts the work of several engineers, the chief requires the group to compensate by working ten hours a day, seven days a week. After experiencing too many crises at both work and home, the engineers begin to bicker and the project falls apart.

For this group, the chief’s explicit rule about deadlines is their Late Status Quo. They don’t necessarily enjoy the amount of work they had to do, but they know and understand what is expected of them. The team feels the pressure from the chief’s rule about deadlines and compensates accordingly. The pressure works for small problems. With a major problem, like the flu, the group cannot cope with the chief’s expectations and a pattern of dysfunctional behavior starts.

Poor communication is a symptom of a dysfunctional group. Members use blaming, placating, and other incongruent communication styles to cope with feelings like anger and guilt. Stress may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal pain that create an unexplainable increase in absenteeism.

Caught in a web of dysfunctional concepts, the members whose opinions count the most are unaware of the imbalance between the group and its environment. New information and concepts from outside the group can open members up to the possibility of improvement.

Stage 2: Resistance

The group confronts a foreign element that requires a response. Often imported by a small minority seeking change, this element brings the members whose opinions count the most face to face with a crucial issue.
A foreign element threatens the stability of familiar power structures. Most members resist by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or blaming someone for causing the problem. These blocking tactics are accompanied by unconscious physical responses, such as shallow breathing and closed posture.

Resistance clogs awareness and conceals the desires highlighted by the foreign element. For example, a powerful minority within the marketing department of a tool manufacturer engages a consultant to do a market survey. She finds a disturbing trend: A growing number of clients believe that a competitor is producing superior quality products at a lower price. Middle and upper management vehemently deny the findings and dispute the validity of the survey methods. But after a series of frank discussions with key clients, upper management accepts the findings. They develop a vision for propelling the company into a position as the industry leader in product quality and support.

Members in this stage need help opening up, becoming aware, and overcoming the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

The group enters the unknown. Relationships shatter: Old expectations may no longer be valid; old reactions may cease to be effective; and old behaviors may not be possible.

The loss of belonging and identity triggers anxiousness and vulnerability. On occasion, these feelings may set off nervous disorders such as shaking, dizziness, tics, and rashes. Members may behave uncharacteristically as they revert to childhood survival rules. For instance, a manufacturing company cancels the development of a major new product, reduces the number of employees, and reorganizes. Many of the surviving employees lose their ability to concentrate for much of the day. Desperately seeking new relationships that offer hope, the employees search for different jobs. Both manufacturing yield and product quality takes a nosedive.

Managers of groups experiencing chaos should plan for group performance to plummet during this stage. Until the members accept the foreign element, members form only halfhearted relationships with each other. Chaos is the period of erratic performance that mirrors the search for a beneficial relationship to the foreign element.

All members in this stage need help focusing on their feelings, acknowledging their fear, and using their support systems. Management needs special help avoiding any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions. The chaos stage is vital to the transformation process.

Stage 4: Integration

The members discover a transforming idea that shows how the foreign element can benefit them. The group becomes excited. New relationships emerge that offer the opportunity for identity and belonging. With practice, performance improves rapidly.

For instance, an experienced accounting group must convert to a new computer system. The group resists the new system fearing it will turn them into novices. But the members eventually discover that skill with this widely used system increases their value in the marketplace. Believing that the change may lead to salary increases or better jobs, the members begin a vigorous conversion to the new system.

Awareness of new possibilities enables authorship of new rules that build functional reactions, expectations, and behaviors. Members may feel euphoric and invincible, as the transforming idea may be so powerful that it becomes a panacea.

Members in this stage need more support than might be first thought. They can become frustrated when things fail to work perfectly the first time. Although members feel good, they are also afraid that any transformation might mysteriously evaporate disconnecting them from their new relationships and plunging them back into chaos. The members need reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

If the change is well conceived and assimilated, the group and its environment are in better accord and performance stabilizes at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo.

A healthy group is calm and alert. Members are centered with more erect posture and deeper breathing. They feel free to observe and communicate what is really happening. A sense of accomplishment and possibility permeates the atmosphere.

In this stage, the members continue to need to feel safe so they can practice. Everyone, manager and members, needs to encourage each other to continue exploring the imbalances between the group and its environment so that there is less resistance to change.

I’ve observed groups, after many change cycles, become learning organizations?they learn how to cope with change. The members of these organizations are not threatened or anxious about the types of situations that they used to experience as foreign element. Instead, these situations excite and motivate them.

For example, the customer services group of a computer manufacturer learns to adapt their repair policies and techniques to any new product. Supporting a new computer system used to scare the group but not anymore. Management communicates and reinforces the vision of seamless new product support. Some members influence the design of support features for the new products. Other members plan and teach training courses. All members provide feedback to improve the process.

Postscript: Coping With Change

Virginia Satir’s Change Model describes the change patterns she saw during therapy with families. In my experience, the patterns she describes occur with any group of people when confronted by change.

I use this model to select how to help a group make a successful transformation from an Old Status Quo to a New Status Quo. Table 1 summarizes my suggestions on how to help during each stage of the change model:

Stage Description How to Help
1 Late Status Quo Encourage people to seek improvement information and concepts from outside the group.
2 Resistance Help people to open up, become aware, and overcome the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

 

3 Chaos Help build a safe environment that enables people to focus on their feelings, acknowledge their fear, and use their support systems. Help management avoid any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions.
4 Integration Offer reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.
5 New Status Quo Help people feel safe so they can practice.
Table 1. Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.
The actions in Table 1 will help people cope. Actions that inhibit coping retards an organization’s ability to make core changes. These organization are resisting the fundamental foreign element of change. But organizations that create a safe environment where people are encouraged to cope increase their capacity for change and are much more able to respond effectively to whatever challenges are thrown their way.

 

How to Turn Bad Experiences Into a Win

Our second oldest son used to love playing with LEGOs. He had a big bin of them that he would dig in for hours gathering just the right pieces for his newest creation. Every once in awhile a stray LEGO would get left behind when he was done and had put the bin away. You know where this is going! If I walked by in the dark or if the color of that piece happened to blend in with the carpet and I stepped on it in bare feet … Ouch! That is one kind of painful experience.

There are other kinds of painful experiences. Some create emotional pain that doesn’t go away as fast as the stepped-on-a-LEGO pain. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants pain, nobody looks forward to painful experiences. But they happen. As the late family therapist and author, Virginia Satir said, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Another quote that really resonated with a group of colleagues recently comes from Dennis Wholey. He said, “Expecting the world to treat your fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.”

No Pain No Gain?

We’ve all heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s usually associated with physical exercise. The idea is that when you stretch (see my last post), and then exercise your muscles, your muscles feel sore afterward. That soreness is an indicator that you have worked your muscles sufficiently to strengthen them. “No soreness, no gain” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “no pain, no gain.”

If you injure yourself during an activity, that also hurts. But the no-pain-no-gain model doesn’t apply then. That kind of pain sets you back. Injury pain is more like the emotionally painful experiences I mentioned above. But, let’s talk about how to turn that kind of pain into gain.

John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Pain” in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. That law says, “Good management of Bad experiences leads to Great growth.” Even the pain of injury can be turned to gain if we keep a few things in mind. the first thing is that turning pain into gain takes action. It won’t just happen because you had the bad experience. John McDonnell said, “Every problem introduces a person to himself.” When the painful experience or the problem comes, I need to be willing to look in the mirror and ask, “How did I contribute to this?” We usually can’t change the circumstances of the problem and we certainly can’t change the other people involved. But, we can change ourselves.

How To Turn Pain to Gain

Try taking these practical steps and see if you can’t change that pain into gain:

  1. Define the problem – without a clear understanding of the actual problem, I’ll never be able to solve it. Remember, for this exercise, the problem I’m defining is not other people or the circumstances, it’s what’s going on inside me?
  2. Understand your emotion – call it by name. Am I angry, scared, frustrated, hopeless? Calling the emotion by name helps you gain mastery of it.
  3. Articulate the lesson – what, specifically, have I learned? Is it that I shouldn’t say this to that person? Is it that I should do this in that situation? What is the lesson?
  4. Identify a desired change – OK, so, what do I want to be different next time? What words should I use or what actions should I take or avoid?
  5. Brainstorm numerous pathways – I shouldn’t give in to the belief that I can’t get there from here. In fact, there are many routes between point A and point B.  I should think of at least 5 things I can do to bring about the desired change.
  6. Receive other’s input – ask around. Others are often willing to share their perspective on my actions if I ask.
  7. Implement a course of action – planning a trip is great, but if I don’t actually make the journey all I have is a marked up map. I need to start moving in the direction of my growth plan.

Bad experiences don’t have to be just bad experiences. They can become a win when they are catalysts to growth. It all depends on how we manage them.

Well Known?

Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” John C. Maxwell said, “You have to know yourself to grow yourself.” Self-knowledge or self-awareness is essential to healthy relationships on the personal level and at work. The question is, “How well do we know ourselves?” the “Johari Window” is one tool that can help us consider an answer to that question. This tool was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (Jo-Hari, get it?) in 1955. The Window into our relationships with ourselves and others has four panes.

The Arena

This is what everyone knows about us. “Everyone knows Jane is a free spirit.” “Everyone knows John is analytical and reserved.” It’s our public self, we are very aware of it and others can easily see it. It’s how we present ourselves in public both automatically and intentionally. By automatic I mean our habits of interaction with others. By intentional I mean what we make a concerted effort to be sure people see about us. The Arena is not the whole story.

The Facade (Mask)

This is the “us” no one else knows about, the hidden us. It sounds ominous and almost sinister, but that’s only true of those who are hiding evil or criminal thoughts and intentions. For most of us, we keep fears and dreams here. Ironically, we keep dreams here because of fear of ridicule for having such dreams.

We can have different masks at work or at home. We may behave differently in those arenas. In that case the mask at work may simply be that our personal interests are none of anyone else’s business, but our family knows all about them. So, masks are not necessarily bad, they are just part of how we control the arena. This is like when someone at work discovers on social media that Bill plays in a band and says, “I had no idea he was a musician.”

The Blind Spot

This is the opposite of the Mask. It’s what everyone else knows about us and usually wishes we knew. Obviously, there is no self-awareness in this pane of the window. Here is where we have the greatest opportunity to grow.

A few years ago my wife started taking a medication. One evening a couple weeks after taking it, she was re-reading the documentation and asked, “Have I been aggressive lately?” The entire family answered in unison, “YES!” It was a side effect of the medication but she hadn’t been aware of it. When she asked and learned the answer, that knowledge moved from the Blind Spot pane to the Arena and she was able to manage that side effect very well.

The Unknown

This is the adventure of self-awareness. When my wife and I first began to date, almost everything was in this pane of the window. The excitement and fun of the last decades together has been discovering things about ourselves and each other.

The same can be true for other personal and work relationships. Making the unknown known is the adventure of the journey.

Practical Steps

Looking through the Johari Window is a step toward self-awareness and growth. The exercise of thinking about things in different ways expands our thinking and provides growth.

There are other practical tools that can help as well. One is the DISC Model personality test. I’m a certified trainer in the DISC Model and would be happy to help you and your organization work through the assessment. It will help you gain a clearer understanding of your personal patterns and how they effect your communication and interaction within your work environment and/or family.

There is a small fee for this service. Please feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com.

How to Make a Habit of Cultivating

People generally don’t like change. On the other hand, one of life’s intrinsic motivators is “Mastery” or the desire to get better at things. That’s why people will spend countless hours practicing and playing an instrument with no intent they will ever make a dime at it professionally. Or, how many people play video games professionally? or golf? You get the idea.

Think about that, though. If I improve at something, isn’t that growth? And, isn’t growth, by definition, equal to change? Well, if I find it motivating to get better at things (or grow = change), but I don’t like change, isn’t that a contradiction? It sure seems like it. Maybe the question is, “what does it mean when people say they don’t like change?”

Several years ago my wife and I were having lunch with another couple who were friends of ours. We were talking about personal growth and development. At one point in the conversation my friend’s wife made a telling comment. She said, “If growth means I have to experience any pain, then I’m fine just the way I am.” Bingo! It’s likely what people don’t like is not the change, but the anticipated “pain” we often associate with growth.

What Pain?

We love the flower or the food we get from plants, the result of the growth. So we cultivate. Cultivating means to prepare the soil for planting and to promote the growth of the plants. We prepare soil by breaking it up and introducing fertilizer. What’s the best fertilizer? To put it nicely, dung. To promote growth we make sure to plant the seed where it will be exposed to rain and sunlight. We also pull up any weeds that may start to grow in the vicinity and we often need to prune the plant as it grows. Pruning is cutting away growth that is not healthy for the plant. Wow! “Breaking up, dung, rain, pulling, cutting away,” Ouch! Growth can involve pain . . . “No pain, no gain” so the saying goes.

The pain for us may come in the form of feedback from co-workers that identifies an area where we need to grow. It may come from a boss in the form of an evaluation or discipline. It could come from a mistake we make that identifies a deficiency. It’s often said that failure is a great teacher. None of these is particularly pleasant. But, they are often the beginning of growth.

Putting it to Work

The Engager Dynamic called Cultivate is all about creating an environment at work that promotes growth. The first step is to make the pain bearable. Really, you’re just changing people’s perception of it. If you make continuous improvement part of your culture, if “we get better” is just “how we do things around here,” then feedback, evaluation, and even failure become normal. When they become normal, they seem less painful and can even become as welcome as eating healthily or a morning workout. To achieve this you must allow freedom for mistakes and failure without retribution as necessary steps of improvement. Failing forward is part of a continuous improvement culture.

Making it a Habit

Once you’ve removed the fear of punishment for mistakes, the environment will be much more conducive to growth. The following three elements will promote learning and development for your team.

  1. Exposure – give your people the opportunity to be exposed to new things. Take someone to a meeting they don’t usually attend. Give them a chance to spend time in another job or department for a day. Introduce them to someone who is an expert in an area of their interest. I put this element first because often this exposure excites a motivation for the next.
  2. Education – having been exposed to something of interest, people are often filled with questions to which they sincerely want answers. Now they’re ready to go to “class.” This may be in the form of online learning, or in-person classes your company offers. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money to send someone to a seminar or class or school if your company offers tuition reimbursement. On the other hand, it may be a simple as letting them spend time with a mentor. NOTE: too often, leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the totality of Learning and Development. They believe if they send someone to a class and they get a certificate, then they should know everything they need to know. In fact, education is only about 20% of the learning package.
  3. Experiences – here is where you really get the benefit. Focus up to 70% of your development plan on providing opportunities for your people to put into practice what they’re learning. We retain only about 50% of what we see and hear. We retain over 80% of what we experience for ourselves. Give people guided experience at leading meetings. putting together presentations, whatever their learning path is about. As I suggested in my post on Training, if you really want them to know their stuff, let them teach you or someone else what they’re learning. We retain 95% of what we teach.

Weave these elements into the every day routine of your organization or team and you will have a thriving garden of engaged, productive people.

How to Make a Habit of Training

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

In my post on the Engager Dynamic – Train, I said that one of the mistakes leaders often make, when it comes to training, is to delegate it entirely to someone else. I believe it’s a mistake because there is no better time to make a strong connection with someone than when they’re learning something they care about from you. Employees care about learning what they need to be successful in their new job.

You don’t have to be the one who teaches them everything they need to know to be successful. Pick one thing you’re an expert at and spend some time with employees training them on that.

I know of one company, the largest of its kind in the country, where the CEO takes over an hour to engage with every New Employee Orientation class. His purpose is to share the history of the company which is over 50 years old and to connect with the group on what the company’s mission means to him. It’s genius! It doesn’t hurt that he’s a charismatic salesman, but the head of the company making himself available to it’s newest employees is training of the highest order. This is a leader who is an engager. He makes a connection with every new employee by inspiring them with the company mission.

Make it a Habit

What are the skills that got you to your current role? What are you best at? Chances are they’re things you care about so this should be fun. Pick one of those skills. Now ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why is this skill important?
  2. How did I learn this skill? (Not just who taught you but what steps did    you go through in the learning process?)
  3. What does excellent look like for this skill?

Now you have an outline to a training. Take some notes. Write down why the skill is important, how it connects to the mission/vision of the organization and what it does personally for the people who develop it.

Question number 3 above gives you what educators call a learning objective. Write this down next. When you’re training someone it’s good to let them know ahead of time what they’ll be able to do once they’ve completed the training.

Now, break down the skill into steps. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Have you ever been in a meeting where they did an icebreaker about giving or following directions? I’ve seen ones where you had to guide a blindfolded person through a maze with only verbal directions, or where you’ve had to write directions to building a Lego toy, or describe to someone how to draw a picture you’re looking at. It can be pretty funny because of how difficult it is to give clear directions.

You might want to try a “wax-on-wax-off” drill to improve this step. Write down the steps involved in brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Try it with several everyday things you do. Now, ask someone else to follow your written directions. Have some fun with it until you’re pretty good at writing clear, step-by-step instructions. Now, go back and re-write the steps to the skill you’re training on.

Put it to Work

You now have the most of a training prepared. You can put it into a Power Point presentation or simply organize your notes. Decide how long it will take to go through what you’ve put together. Figure out what hands-on practice you should provide as part of the training. Is this skill best learned one-on-one or can you train a group?

Now you need (a) trainee(s). Which of the people on your team could use the opportunity to develop this skill? Schedule time with them and go through your training. Receive their feedback and observe them using the skill later. What might you do to improve the training?

Finally, like the leader at the company I mentioned above, you may want to get yourself scheduled into New Employee Orientation as a regular presentation. To build on what Aristotle said, becoming excellent and helping people become excellent will make you a powerful engager.