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Berger Blog

Expanding the discussion of Generatonal issues in organizations, Leadership, and Individual & Professional Growth.

If the blog fits...

Saturday, July 24, 2004

It is kind of amazing, now that the blog is less of a phenomenon and more of a staple of the leading edge.  An article in like homedepotsucks.com) have been around for a while, but it may be that companies are taking this phenomenon and doing something useful with the incredibly rich content – other than hiding from it, that is.

One of the hardest things to get from people inside of organizations is honest perspective.  Their truth, for all of its glory and pain, its insight and cutting acuity, is one of the things that I need to really work at to get – and I’m really good at it!  In many controlled settings, people are afraid to say what they think to the people who really need to hear them.  Fear is a real factor for businesses and organizations.  People think that if they say what they think, their boss will get pissed off at them and either (more overtly) fire them or (more covertly) use passive aggressive techniques to let them know not to speak out again.

But the blog is not a controlled environment.  It is, for the most part, free.  You can post, opine, orate, and flame with a fair degree of anonymity and a potential for HUGE reach.  What’s great about this Wired article, is that the powers in question are facing the music, and looking for the messages they can use for positive change.

I have found that while lots of leaders say they want to get the feedback and want to change (“I have an open door policy”), they really don’t want to hear it, don’t want to change, and don’t want to be made to look stupid or suspect in their judgment.

With this newer medium, it seems as though a few people are getting the message that they can choose to continue running from the critiques – to absolutely no avail, mind you --  or they can face it and do something. 

I’ll be paying real close attention to see where this moves, especially as the phenomenon part of the blog continues to make its way further and further into mainstream and starts showing up on more execs’ computers.  Are we moving to a place where flames become  feedback and public criticism becomes one of the CEO’s best friends and competitive advantages?

posted by Michael Berger, 7:16 AM | link | 1 comments |

Are we calling this complaining?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

There was an article the New York Times last week that talked about British society's shift toward complaining, reporting that "Britain’s Stiff Upper Lip is Being Twisted Into a Snarl."

Essentially, the writer pointed out the ways that the Brits are whining and suing like the best of us on this side of the pond. While this may speak to a shift in a cultural stereotype, for me it speaks to a broader reality that confronts cultures and organizations alike.
People aren't just going to sit by and take what is given, reacting with passivity or powerlessness as those "leaders" in power sometimes wish the "followers" or the little people would accept.
Are we talking about a cultural revolution?  Not necessarily.  Challenging authority was wildly fashionable in the late 1950s and through the '60s.  When we got to the "Me" times of the '70s and '80s, we stopped worrying about challenging and started worrying about our own gratification.  A generation later, we have experienced the riches, the unthinkable growth in prosperity, and now we are feeling the next part of the cycle.  However, with many people living through this entire cycle, and many in the workworld only participating in the last 20+ years, people are left saying, "Forget this!  I can serve me and I can do it in a way that isn't totally selfish, but it isn't totally self-less either."
What does that mean?  I think that it means that people are going to want to be a part of the bigger whole -- society, the company, the workgroup, etc. -- but not following blindly.  More and more of us are willing to confront the Status Quo and try to make it smarter and more sensible for the present and for the future.
With changes is market, geopolitics, economies, and technology moving as rapidly as they've been for the past 15 years, the pressure to challenge has never been greater.  Similarly, never has the resistance, at least in some sectors and in some organizaitons. 
And here lies the divide.  Which side do you fall on?  Are you gently with the tide?  Are you riding the crest of the wave?  Are you treading water nearby, watching it flow ahead of you?  Or are you moving where you need to go, using the forces that exist outside of you along with your own ability to move yourself?  The reality is that neither choice is Right or Wrong.  They are all choices.  Each with an impact, both positive and negative, on the individuals within the system as well as the system itself.  More than preaching a direction -- which isn't that useful unless I understand much more about the individual reality -- I ask for you to be curious.
What's the benefit of each of the different stances?  What is the impact of staying put?  What's the impact of really pushing again the status quo?  What do you think is possible that isn't seen by others?  What do you think is impossible that may not be?
Is this whining or compaling?  That's a way to look at it.  Or is this pusing that boundaries.  Probably.  And to what end and for whose benefit?  Also critical questions to ask. 
Yes, in my opionion, Americans do look for ways to complain or sue for reasons that sometimes seem like only self-promotion, and at the expense of others.  But that's not always the case.  There are lots of people and lots of situations where a healthy dose of questioning and complaining -- as long as it is brought with ideas and a different vision of the future -- is exactly what is needed. 
posted by Michael Berger, 8:41 PM | link | 0 comments |

Digging for the keys to change

Thursday, July 08, 2004

This week, I was working with a senior executive board that I do some regular work with. The group – and the company – is facing some real hard challenges that are pushing them to take an honest look at the way they have been functioning and leading their organization. There are some big organization-wide issues on the table. My belief is that these need to be confronted. The leaders of the company need to step forward and look for the ways they have played key roles in the creation of the current state the company.

It’s so easy – especially when you are standing fairly detached from something – to say, “Don’t you see how your behavior is leading to this result? Now, go fix it!”
I also isn’t that hard to get someone to see this – to see his or her role, the actual words or behaviors that support or act out that role. Also, I’ve been able to get executives to answer my question, “So, what else might you have done in this situation?” to begin to see something by looking at the path not taken.

However, when the reality hits, it isn’t easy at all. People don’t see what they have created. They don’t see what their roles have been in the creation (or perpetuation). And they aren’t all that interested in doing something different. (“That would be like me saying that I was wrong!)

There are some key questions that I have to focus on. When people are facing a change, I try to find out
- What are you committed to protecting?
- What are you committed to holding on to?
- What are you unwilling to give up in order to allow you to move to a new place or a new perspective?

When you can open the doors or remove the “cover” off of the hidden commitments, new possibilities emerge. And these aren’t rational things either.

For a manager who has her staff shaking in fear all of the time, that manager may be protecting the fact that she feels way over her head. She may feel that if she doesn’t come off so strong and so authoritative, then she would be overrun by her staff, who, she thinks, really know more than she does anyway.

For the manager who feels he is under scrutiny of senior leadership, every move he or his team makes has to be perfect or he’ll get nailed. Therefore, micro-managing is the only guarantee of success.

Each of these hypothetical managers has a commitment that is not what it appears. I tell people all of the time that their boss didn’t come to work each day to make their lives miserable (One person actually thought her manager did!). They are people who are trying to do the best they can in the face of fears and challenge and pressures. This is true for front line staffers, EVPs, and CEOs alike.

What is needed is a little bit of pushing. Figure out what the underlying commitments are, and then see what you can do to honor those and gently move to a new commitment.

posted by Michael Berger, 1:35 PM | link | 0 comments |

Are we willing...?

Friday, July 02, 2004

I was talking with a close colleague about a developmental program she facilitates. The program takes participants a full two-years to complete, with participant meeting monthly as a large group, weekly in small groups, and with two intensive two-week sessions in summers. It takes time. It takes attention. It takes energy. Both from the participants and on the facilitators.

She is just finishing with one cohort group and starting with another. The goal is a broad-based shift in the way the participants see themselves in the world, relative to their organization, relative to the people who work with and for them, and relative to themselves.

Their perspective changes.

Their language changes.

They change.

When I think about my own practice and when I talk to others who work on changing individuals and changing organizations, there is always a tension that is present. How much time will it take to really help people see the changes they report to want? What factors are keeping the people from seeing and making the change? Will the client give me the time to see this through? These are very legitimate questions that are always hanging around.

I spoke with her more about the outgoing group. They had written a final paper, of sorts, that gave them the time and the space to reflect – in fairly clear ways – about what the changes were they saw in themselves. By and large, it was a transformational experience. My colleague said that she really began to see a pronounced shift in people after the first year. The second year was there to push further and to build in this new space these people now inhabit.

A year. A year. How many organizations are willing to invest this much time? Actually, more than you think. But not enough. We are asking so much of people now – of leaders, of managers, of staffer. We are asking them to do more, think more critically, be more daring and creative, but expect them to rise to a new level after a week of leadership development or a few sessions with a strategic coach.

Are we ready to do more to help the people move to where they need to go to make a real difference in the future?
posted by Michael Berger, 9:56 PM | link | 0 comments |
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