I can’t do that…..What will they think?

Why do so many people spend their lives in various states of ‘fear’ about what other people think of them?

For most people, their behaviours and actions are directed and determined by a set of ‘rules’ that are derived from a mixture of societal, religious, cultural, legal or family rules about what to do and how to behave. Sadly people self-adjust their behaviours because they are fearful of the disastrous consequences that WILL result from any deviation from these rules. Even the so-called ‘individuals who ‘do their own thing, still look for feedback and desperately want their ‘tribe’ to like them. Really they are not so independent, rather they vie for position on the ‘I’m an individual ranking’ – the more out there the cooler they are.

The knots people get themselves into, the level of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, unfulfilled goals and dreams because of these rules, is staggering. In fact, as a behaviourist working with people/businesses on modifying their behaviours to achieve their best outcomed day in and day out, most of what I do is around working with people to let go of these rules and stories. The amount of stress, anxiety and ‘depression’ I see with people because they emphatically ‘believe they have no choice’ but to live their lives according to these rules, is alarming.

When people are challenged about their belief in and adherence to these rules, most people believe they have no other option but to ‘follow the rules’. Moreover, they have concocted a whole set of catastrophic consequences that absolutely will occur, just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow if they don’t abide by the rules. There is no rationale, proof or actual evidence for their ‘fixed beliefs’ that these consequences WILL happen, it is the ‘truth’.

Think about a time you did something you didn’t want to do and made you pretty unhappy – but you did it anyway. What is worse is that you then spent the next countless hours, days or longer, justifying and rationalising why you did something you really didn’t want to do.

A further alarming factor is that social media and the need for ‘likes’ has grossly exacerbated this problem. People have literally become ‘like’ junkies which take the whole thing of ‘what will they think of me’, to a new level. Social media, in the beginning, served as somewhat of an antidote to these rules as people felt freer online than they did in ‘real life’, and would post things that they would not ‘normally’ be brave enough to say face to face. However, once the ‘negative’ feedback either real or perceived – ironically according to ‘rules’ – started to kick in and the whole obsession with ‘likes’ was ignited, we now have an added level of complexity to the ‘rules’ that people behave by.

This is particularly prevalent in cultures within businesses, where people behave according to ‘unwritten ground rules’. Behaving according to ‘rules’ at work are often the most stressful as people’s job security and stability is linked to the ‘adherence’ to these rules. However, in most cases, managers and employers are shocked when they learn about the unwritten ground rules within their business.

So how do people let go of the ‘rules’?

The first thing people need to do is challenge why they believe the rules are true? They need to look at what the rule they believe to be true makes them do, and what they want to do – provided it is fair and reasonable. Then they need to look at how big the gap is between ‘the rule behaviour’ and what they want to do. Generally speaking the wider the gap the greater the ‘fear’ and also the more likely it is that the ‘so-called rule’ is a perceived truth rather than actual truth. Then an open, honest and direct conversation is needed with the person/persons who are ‘setting the rule’ to assess whether it is, in fact, the ‘truth’. In all cases involving reasonable people – these rules are unfounded. The cases where it is not, involve narcissists and other unpleasant characters.

When people have done this once they can begin to look at other area’s of their lives where they behave according to ‘rules’ and apply the same process. The key to doing things differently and feeling a whole lot better is open, transparent and honest communication. These ‘rules’ serve to create ‘false stories’ that people live their lives by, because they become whom they think they are, that is another post.

Who are you?

Just an aside on ‘reading people’ – we can all read people – it is perhaps the most important innate skill we have because the most ‘dangerous thing’ to us is actually other people. It has been a while since I saw a ‘threatening animal, bird or inspect’ wandering about, Hitchcock’s The Birds was fantasy – I believe. Most people are completely unaware of this ability in ‘normal’ situations, however, there is a growing group who have become excessively sensitive to perceived criticism or negative sentiments toward them, which I would hazard a guess was the case with a lot of people in the train carriage. This is not conscious awareness, but rather unconscious ‘distrust’ and it is determined by people’s default mood (negative) rather than truth in most cases.

I feel that the modern day interpretation of quiet desperation is more about dissatisfaction and a sense of being on a treadmill of ever-escalating empty promises that wear people down. I sensed in the train on that Monday morning when the weather had turned cold, that for many it was going to be a long winter. The morning and evening commute would increasingly be taken in the dark and the absence of sunshine and daylight is well known to decrease people moods. This ever-escalating treadmill of empty promises has been borne out of technology decimating ‘time’. Ironically if people could re-learn to savour experiences and interactions with people and slow things down a bit, the difference it would make would be phenomenal. But many people have resigned themselves to ‘this is the way it is’, and take this on as their story. They fully own their “I have no choice but to stay on the treadmill because this is the way it is”.

It doesn’t have to be this way and the reason that the collective sentiment in the train carriage was so easy to read, was because of emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is well understood and it is what drives the popularity of ‘stuff’ and big corporations understand and use it to promote their products/services with great success. It took an effort to stand apart from the collective ‘feeling’ in the train carriage, however, I am well practised in deliberately not sliding down a slippery negative emotional slope. It starts with learning to be consciously aware, which is much easier said than done when so many people are ‘asleep’ (unaware) for want of a better word. Once you learn to pay attention and notice the prevailing sentiments/moods – you can then consciously choose to feel differently. Being wired for sound (as at least half the carriage was) does not work to immune people from the collective mood, as it only serves as a temporary, thinly veiled distraction. What happens when you increase your awareness and notice what is around you – is that you step into the present. The present is all there is, there is no past – it has gone, and there is no future – it’s not here yet.

The irony is that most people have no clue how to be ‘present’ despite the popularity of mindfulness etc. Actually being able to ‘be present at all times’ is extremely difficult. Vigilant awareness is the only thing you need, and once you have mastered it you will realise that you are not the ‘prevailing sentiment of resignation’ on a Monday morning – you have a choiceYou can choose exactly who you are and how you are going to feel. Who are you going to be? Choose the one thing that actually matters, how you feel, you are not the story of this is the way it is – you are in control of writing your own story.

Human watching – fascinating albeit scary

Our cycling group were sitting outside on the footpath of our regular haunt, tucking into coffee and breakfast this past Saturday morning as is the norm. This is a central location from where we all reside and one of the more salubrious suburbs in town. A lively discussion was being had regarding misleading media headlines and how manipulative and provocative the media was when ‘reporting’ a particular vehement view under the guise of objectivity. This lively discussion was interrupted by ‘a stream of colourful abuse’ and we turned around to see a male person hanging out of his stationary car hurling abuse at the car in front. “come on get out of your car you f….b….gutless f….. p…..” the other driver responded with the finger gesture which served to wind the abuse hurler up even more.

We saw that the boom gates were down for a train and that this situation could get messy. The cafe was packed with families and there were a group of elderly people walking along the street. Silence descended and the trepidation was palpable, given the abuse being hurled was far louder than the clanging railway warning bells. Thankfully neither of the perpetrators alighted their vehicles, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the booms raised and the bells stopped. That was not the end of it, as the first car driven by Mr. Middle Finger proceeded, he did a massive ‘burnout’ filling the air with putrid black smoke which blew over us, rather than who we assumed was the intended target, Mr. Get Out of Your F….. Car behind.

We were dumbstruck as was everyone else, what on earth was the point of all that? Human’s and their behaviours are increasingly unfathomable, as these types of incidents which are increasing cannot be explained in any rational way. What could possibly be that important to promote such a tirade of vitriol? The reality is there is not one iota of rational thinking involved with these incidents. It is pure out of control animal rage, self-control is out the window as is any capacity to see the consequences. These situations cause the survival instinct to kick in with those witnessing it, all of us on the footpath and in the cafe, and for good reason.

When people are out of control their ‘physical strength increases’ and this situation which could easily have spilled out on to the road and become really ugly. Had this occurred, most of us on the footpath would have retreated somewhere ‘out of the danger zone’. A few bold males may have stepped in to ‘calm them down’, but given the level of lack of control they would most likely have also retreated, or moved to protect the vulnerable.

The whole situation was quite surreal and played out over about 4 minutes, where ironically the perpetrators were completely out of control, yet the witnesses were on high alert and in complete control. A further irony is that both groups the ‘road ragers’, and the witnesses, were both operating from polar opposites ends of ‘animal or survival’ instinctual behaviours. There was little if any ‘rational’ thinking going on with either group. The ‘road ragers’ were in fight response mode, and the witnesses were in flight response mode.

This situation was a classic example of Busy Brain Syndrome at play, where access to rational thinking with the ‘road ragers’ was completely absent. It was Saturday morning, virtually no traffic and a relatively quite road, what could possibly have precipitated such a reaction. The answer is probably nothing. BBS causes the stress response to become locked on and therefore people ‘react’ rather than stop and think, which is why we are seeing an alarming increase in these sorts of incidents.

The situation put a dampener on everyone’s Saturday morning, and it could have been much worse had they actually got out of their cars. These behaviours detract from the greater good and serve to make people more distrusting of ‘others’ as there is no rhyme or reason for such behaviours.



Why is it TRUE?

I was in a meeting last week running through a demo of our behaviour change tracking software and was asked where my notebook wall-paper image was from. Its Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains located in the East African Rift, a truly stunning place. I was then asked about the caption on the image.

As a behaviouralist and researcher pretty much everything I do with work, involves assisting businesses with understanding, improving, changing or modifying people behaviours in some way or other. I believe it is up to me to practice what I preach, hence the caption as background on all my devices. Continuing on from my previous post about taking control of our attitudes, this caption is a very powerful tool in being able to actually do so.

We know that in excessive of 60% of everything we do each day is an automatic habit, and that as life gets busier more things are being ‘pushed’ to habits, because Busy Brain Syndrome continues to relentlessly erode our brain bandwidth. Whilst we intellectually understand that we do have control over our attitudes, most of time (90%) we actually have no conscious cognizance of our attitudes and prevailing beliefs. We put ourselves in DRIVE and off we go.

Our underlying attitudes and beliefs determine the way we see the world, and the way we react to ‘every‘ situation and person we come across – period.

The reality is that for the majority of people, these underlying attitudes and beliefs are not even their own. They have been acquired through family, school, friends, work, media, literature, culture and a whole host of other influences. If we examine disagreements from simple things such as attending a family function to global conflicts, what underpins each side of these disagreements is a belief or attitude that is emphatically ‘true’ for each side.

Negotiators skills lie in breaking down these concrete ‘truths’ that people hold to various extents, so that a new perspective or ‘truth’ can be applied by each party to resolve the conflict or disagreement. The caption above facilitates ‘being’ your own negotiator at all times. through being mindful of what ‘your’ truths are in any given situation.

I find that the most challenging aspect of this process is to actually be mindful or aware, of how we think and behave in any situation. Are we actually being ‘open minded’, objective, really listening and understanding the countless situations we find ourselves in from day to day? Or are we in DRIVE and operating on what we subconsciously believe to be TRUE?

Breaking a habit is hard because of the nature of habits – they are unconscious. The fact that I have this caption on my device (s) wall paper/background means I am subliminally programming myself over and over to be aware and pay attention with all interactions with people, and situations I find myself in. In effect, this causes me to stop and think rather than ‘just reacting’.

By not ‘assuming’ anything to be true, means that you can truly have an open mind. This is not to say that we don’t have preferences and preferred experiences, we do. However when we ask the question why is this true?’ we are much more likely to open our minds, rather than unintentionally, blindly reacting to people and things with closed minds.

This is most liberating as the problem with ‘truths’ is that people tend to become boiling mad when ‘someone or something’ transgresses’ their truth, and the media is littered with such stories on a daily basis. I would hazard a guess that the majority of ‘behavioural issues’ within organisations also have ‘concrete’ individual truths’ at their core.

There is a place for ‘truth and beliefs’ however, if we actually paid more attention to how much these ‘truths’ drive our behaviours, and behave with integrity and respect at all times, then we would all get along a bit better.

The One thing that really matters with each New Year

surrealistic picture of an apple reflecting in the mirror

New Year is an extraordinary time – it is almost like we all get permission slips to be authentic, open and full of hope, and we take to that hope with what seems like more vigor each year.

What usually happens next is an acceleration back down the slippery slope to mediocrity, thoughts of “I really wanted things to be different this year” and feelings of inadequacy as we humans are hard task masters upon ourselves.

So what is the ONE thing that matters – I could peddle out a usual ‘clique’ like be nicer to others and blah blah blah. But that stuff doesn’t even get to go in one ear and out the other any more. As much as we like to think it does – it doesn’t. If if did then life would be different.

What matters is that you have full control over your attitudes. Hope is not a productive attitude as too often it is associated with passivity. When Barack Obama became president there was much rejoicing, now things will change as we have a black, liberal, caring man as president of the US. And the potential was absolutely there for real change however, what happened was this.

The populace treated his presidency like attending a glorious show that was acclaimed to be one of the greatest shows to come to town. They took their seats and became passive spectators – over to you Barack. They took on the attitude of hope and with it passivity – its up to you to change things for us. How could one man effectively change anything when the populace checkout from getting involved and doing their bit, both in deed and attitude. As it transpired, it was not long before Barack was condemned for not doing enough, of ’empty promises’ the populace were outraged.

When you examine your attitude this New Year, dig deep to see what is really going on. Do you believe that you can achieve those desires that naturally flood in with a New Year and that lovely sense of a ‘tabula rasa’? Are you really committed to succeeding with those changes you dream about? Or is your underlying attitude that of a passivist – why bother it won’t happen, because it has always failed in the past.

The insidious thing is that this underlying attitude which drives passivity, has become a habit for most people. No one intends to fail or give up on the ideas that are alive and real at this time, the hope that things are going to be better this year. But the insidious nature and resistence of habits means it won’t be long before people are back to the grind and feeling despondent. Then comes the justification for the ‘failure’ and cynicism is more deeply embedded.

Changing attitudes is incredibly difficult and it takes a huge effort to change an attitude. If there is any time of the year when success with changing attitudes is optimal, it is now as the possibility of actually succeeding is given a massive shot in the arm. So the only thing that does matter this New Year is the effort you put into minding and managing your attitudes. Your attitudes translate directly to your experience of life

We’re let down by our back-end

If I had a $ for each time I heard that statement my wealth would rival the US President elect. What is the back-end? In a word, the important part of your business offering – delivery and the support service that go with it. Sales and marketing being held up as more important than delivery is way past its used by date. Yet old patterns, paradigms and beliefs are difficult to shift despite the overwhelming evidence and even catastrophic fallout to the contrary. I would hazard a guess that most ‘re-structures, cost-cutting and re-processing initiatives are driven by ‘back-end’ problems.

Our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world has compounded these back-end problems inordinately. If we were to really analyse the ‘actual problem’ we would find that communication or lack there of is the major contributing factor. For example, how much call centre time is consumed by customers complaining about ‘not getting what they were promised’, or a problem not being resolved despite assurances that it would be? Again I would hazard a guess this would consume the bulk of call centre ‘minutes’. Lets face it customers do not call to say ‘hey you’ve done a great job and I am happy’.

The root cause of these communication problems as we discussed in my last post, is ‘silo’s’. Sales by comparison to delivery in a VUCA world is relatively straight forward (if we discount the madness of decision by committee that has drawn out the sales process to triple or quadruple the time it took a few short years ago – that is another post). Delivery, on the other hand has seen radical increases in complexity as customer ‘choices’ expand, which seems to be the way most businesses deal with a customer driven market place. A hangover from ‘delighting’ your customers? The margin for error has increased exponentially, without the effect of silo’s and poor communication. If we think about how efficiency works – removal of variation is seen as paramount, yet increased customer choice and demands has increased variation and thereby reduces efficiency by default as there is so much more that can go wrong.

Many organisation’s are still ‘sales driven’ which is a further factor exacerbating the complexity of delivery. The tendency to ‘over-promise’ to get the sale over the line in our time of overly drawn out sales processes and timelines, is on the increase. Whilst these ‘over-promises’ maybe considered unworthy of mentioning or even overlooked – the fallout at the ‘back-end’ can be catastrophic. So whilst an organisation may have the best systems and technology to support their ‘sales and delivery’ functions – these systems are only as good as the ‘information and data’ that is input to the system. Even self-service systems are not immune from user input errors. Again these issue’s exist before the ‘layer of silo’s and the resulting communication gaps are accounted for.

How do we begin to resolve this? Once again we find that silo’s and lack of communication are a product of a VUCA world, which has caused a pandemic of Busy Brain Syndrome. BBS has severely eroded peoples ability to pay attention and stay focused. It is the cause of ‘so called avoidance behaviours’ – the sales people ‘omitting’ information for example – as these avoidance behaviours are ‘brain driven’ rather than intentional. I am certain we have all been in a position (many times a day) where we forget what we were doing, or what we told someone or what information we passed on – “I’m sure I told you” – only to find that we didn’t. How mortified to we feel when we realise – usually due to some minor or major disaster at the back-end – that we didn’t pass on the information, or complete the task. Well not everyone feels mortified – some don’t seem to care – but that is yet another post.

Silo’s – decimate efficienycy

I was at a family function over the weekend and chatting to my cousin who is a free-lance writer and editor. She was recently asked to do a job for a large government department that was in her words, an extraordinary experience.

The job was essentially a consulting role on how to write a workbook linked to a theoretical text to enable self-learning. The department (within the larger department) was one of more than 20 departments all doing the same thing within their ‘subject matter expertise’. Upon being briefed about the job and establishing time lines and agreeing costs, she went away and began to research the task. When she realised that most of the other ‘departments’ had already written many ‘workbooks’ and that collectively there was an abundance of expertise in the organisation, she called her sponsor and asked why they were not seeking to save time and money by utilising existing people and expertise?

The response from her sponsor was “haven’t you heard of silo’s? thats how things work around here”,

This is not an isolated case and unfortunately ‘silo’s, disparate groups and lack of cohesion are on the increase within organisations – even small organisations. Why?

Busyness or more aptly overwhelm and overload which leads to avoidance behaviours, are on the rise both within organisations and more generally. People have become adept at rationalising and justifying why they avoid things, and why so often they fail to take the most efficient pathway with performing tasks. This is primarily because the more efficient pathway will more often than not involve collaborating with other people, as was the case with my cousins experience. So why is this so challenging?

Sadly it is because a further fallout of busyness and overload is decision paralysis. This leads people to think ‘if I involve ‘x’ from another department that means the time frame to get this thing done will blow out because they will prioritise all of ‘their demanding tasks first’. And so it goes around. Silo’s have not become pandemic due to intentions of people to isolate themselves into their ‘own manageable department’ – far from it. Ask anyone and they will lament the existence of silo’s, yet at the same time uphold them.

What is the solution? A radical overhaul of internal communications within businesses with a return of power to team leaders. Additionally, visibility of what is transpiring within teams with operational managers who are responsible for efficiency of the collective teams output in meeting business objectives. Such a system means information is collected by teams from the customer interface, fed upstream by team leaders and then directions for responses fed back down from operational leaders who have visibility across all teams thereby creating a feedback loop.Such a system by default removes silo’s and moreover removes the reason they exist.

Moreover such communications systems also exist yet ironically silo’s are stalling their widespread use.

Leading for Profit or Purpose?

The purpose of a business at its core is no different today than it was back in the days of the great traders of the Indus Valley 1000’s of years ago, for example. To these traders it was simply, I have something that you want which I trade for something I want, or for $. Why? To support myself, my family and community. Trade has always been at the forefront of innovation which has propagated new things that people wanted and have traded since time ad infinitum.

From the 1950’s it seems that the essence or purpose of ‘trade’ was replaced by volume. The focus was no longer upon what I produce or trade for my tribe who want to trade with me, but rather on volume and as much profit as possible. Fast track to today in our digitised global world of shareholders who are from all over the world, not delivering as much as possible means unhappy shareholders and bad press. For these businesses the focus is on getting more and more sales, rather than focusing on delivering excellence, which means ensuring that the people delivering your product or service can do so and are supported and recognised for the value they add.  For the profit focused business it is about keeping the shareholders happy, which includes family members in some family owned businesses. There are many exceptions to this thankfully, and most smaller businesses are still traders – value is the focus.

When there is a focus at the ‘top’ within a business on crating as much profit as possible, what tends to happen is that the pressure to ‘deliver’ is passed on to ‘operations’ and that pressure increases the further down the line you go. This does not sit favorably with the majority of operational employee’s, who come to work to deliver value because they want to feel good about what they do. They care and are motivated MORE about what they do in delivering the product or service to a customer, than they do about making profits for the business.

Yes granted making profits for the business is important as it keeps them in a job. However, they are employed to ‘do something’ in the delivery chain – that is what they are good at and is what ‘rings their bell’. What occurs with an overemphasis on ‘profits’ is that operational people don’t feel valued. They don’t feel valued for what they do, their specific unique contribution and why they turn up to work each day. People believe it or not are really only concerned with their own contribution. Sure they are part of a team, but really the bit that matters most to them is their bit, the part they play. Trust me this is a great thing for businesses – those businesses who are most successful today are so because they get this and they leverage it. They are the employer’s of choice, the businesses where time fly’s because people are getting what they want, they feel good because they matter and know that what they contribute matters and is valued.

We all need to ‘feel’ valued, and to feel that what we contribute at work matters. What people actually want at the end of each day is to go home with the feeling that what they just spent 7+ hours doing, was valued and mattered. In businesses that are purpose driven rather than profit driven, the way things are done around here – their culture – is different. Managers or people leaders know that their primary default role is to support and acknowledge their people. Their prime focus and main job is to recognise their people’ and acknowledge their efforts, with results usually being that excellence is delivered on time every time.

However, in a profit focused business – these same ‘people’ managers are more worried about the pressure of volume and increasing the return for shareholders, and in many cases their remuneration is linked to the bottom line. Recognising and acknowledging their people takes a back seat – something that they do if they get around to it, because they are too busy meeting the pressure from above.

What we find is that these business have to create systems, and processes to make sure that people managers recognise and reward their people – it is almost as though it gets in the way of business – “you mean I have to take time to say well done?”  To the purpose driven business – which by the way all employees want to work for, the very idea of this is madness. The irony is that profit comes from purpose, it doesn’t work the other way around.

Time to throw out the crystal ball

I enjoy reading HBR article’s and find that the majority are well written, the point argued with relevant and compelling examples and case study’s, leaving the reader feeling as though they have something to take away from the investment of their time reading the article. However, sometimes there are headlines that catch your attention and you look forward to what promises to be some enlightened wisdom, yet are sadly disappointed. In some cases the advice is self-serving for the author with no semblance of relativity to the real world, as was the case with an article regarding leaders and decision making I read recently.

Decision making in the modern day business has changed as much as technology over the past decade and a half. This article would never have been published if it was a tech article in a tech publication, as it was pretty much saying that the analogue phone is the best communication device to meet modern demands.

However, to cut the author some slack this line is a bit of a clue as to where collective thinking still is with decision making:

“In today’s complex, fluid, interdependent world, none of us can predict the future with total accuracy”

None of us can predict the future with total accuracy?

Isn’t the very nature of uncertainty – unpredictability?

I was floored with this statement and realised that we have a long way to go in getting ‘comfortable’ with uncertainly. We are still so entrenched in industrial age thinking with business decision making and how it should work. In the industrial age things moved slowly and tried and tested methods of ‘predicting’ likely scenario’s with market and customer behaviours usually worked a treat to ‘assure’ business decision makers that they would ‘get it right’. Not so now, nor for the past 10+ years – so why on earth are we still finding ‘advice’ in one of the most reputable business journals globally, straight out of the ‘olden days’. I worked through the ‘baby bathwater’ thing with this article thinking perhaps there are some ageless gems in here, sadly lacking.

The other thing is that we still think far too long term with decisions – another relic of the industrial age, that is still stuck in the business psyche. Getting back to the obvious in our VUCA world – compromised ‘future predictability’ – why is it we seemingly deny this and continually ‘fight for certainty’?

So how do we get more comfortable with uncertainty?

We have to change our expectations, get rid fear of getting it wrong, and find a new way. Changing expectations is the easy part – face reality. We all know that in a customer driven world the ‘control baton’ is no longer in the hands of businesses – this is not such a scary concept. Fear of getting it wrong – this is another relic of industrial age business structures and thinking where people were ‘engaged’ on a time based model with outputs to be achieved and failure to do so was met with punitive measures meant to control and standardise output. How to overcome this? Shift to output based work practices which will radically reduce error rates by default.

The second part of ‘fear of getting it wrong’ permeates the cultures of most of our organisations – from workers at the front line to top decision makers, and requires a whole new way of thinking and behaving. Fear of getting it wrong at its core is a desire to be ‘in control’ – a natural and instinctive human behaviour. The irony is that this ‘fear feeds itself’ and the more things speed up and become uncertain, the ‘reaction’ is fear largely of loss of control (primal animal thing – that BTW, we humans are). Decision making is compromised as we are not designed to make decision’s when in fear mode. Not only are we likely to make ‘reactive decisions’, but the process of decision making is stalled in the fear state’ – think of the rabbit in the headlights of the car – they freeze.

The learned gentleman who wrote the HRB article suggested his 20+ year old formula or ‘script’ was the panacea for making decisions when under pressure. There is an absence of ‘cognition’ and rational thinking in the fear/pressured state, so an industrial age ‘script’ is like handing a person having a heart attack a book about healthy living – won’t work so well. To deal with the ‘fear’ and pressure – again two things. The first is to ‘let go’ of this unrealistic, redundant need to have control over the future. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next week or next year. This will do incredible things to our mental mind state. People will be free and relaxed with open flowing minds.

This leads me to part two – when are minds are ‘free, aware and open’ we can make decisions and moreover they will be good decisions, the best for the moment. A remarkable thing occurs when our mindspace is freed up. We engage our whole intelligence, we see what is in front of us, we evaluate it from our past experiences and learning’s, we compare it to new things we may have read about or heard about (they do get stored), and we make an informed, intelligent and the most accurate decision for that moment.

The irony is that the world moves so fast and the scenario where that decision was made will most likely change within a short period of time. So the decision is adjusted and adapted to meet this new scenario – and it will be the right for a short time only, until the next change occurs.

This type of thinking and decision making is for want of a better term ‘just in time’ decision making – where the decision is made for now, with full knowledge that there will need to be an adjustment really soon as things move in our fluid world. This process works a treat with the right ‘people data’ systems in place – the right information at the right time to know what to do.

Slow down – that’s how we do things around here

I had a very interesting conversation recently regarding continuous improvement and efficiency within the public sector with a people improvement professional – lets call him Jake. We were talking about how efficiency was perceived by staff and how the success of initiatives introduced as ‘good idea’s to make things more efficient was ascertained. Jake had just resigned and had come to the realisation that for most of the past 5 years where he was involved in delivering improvement initiatives, there had been a complete disconnect between the improvement initiative and the overall purpose of the organisation (to provide service to the public). More alarmingly he realised that over the period of 5 years, not one of these initiatives had carried through over time nor was there any clear reporting on the outcomes.

When I asked Jake why these ‘initiatives’ were delivered in the first place, he explained that it was more political in terms of who came up with the idea and what their (or their departments) agenda was. He explained that is was more about ‘giving people’ kudos for their idea rather than for any strategic or business imperative where the initiative could make a demonstrable genuine improvement. I found this to be quite extraordinary particularly given that this was the public purse and that this division of the public sector was the largest, the most expensive where there are gross shortages with so many services.

This is half the story, I asked Jake about the ‘various departments’ within departments and what their purpose was. It seems that EFT positions are created because of some perceived need, not a strategic or evidence based need but rather to run one of these initiatives for example. Once the initiative was completed (or not as in many cases) these newly created EFT people would stay – we don’t like to get rid of EFT positions was Jake’s response.

So what do these people do? I asked. Not very much apparently. A further factor that had contributed to Jake deciding to leave was that increasingly ‘work’ was on a go slow. Upon explanation he said if you are ‘efficient’ and work fast you are going against the grain and pressured to slow down. Jake’s interpretation was that over the 5 year period of recruiting additional EFT employees to roll out an ‘initiative’ and then retaining that person following the cessation of the initiative, had resulted in a significant number of people who were employed with no real job. So they were ‘given things to do’. This was usually something that some other ‘department or group’ was doing just with a different label as the left hand had no idea what the right hand was doing. So therefore in order to keep these people occupied in some manner of speaking – work processes had slowed down markedly.

Jake recognised that he no longer fit the ‘mould’ of the sector as he was efficient and enthusiastic and constantly seeking purposeful ways to do things more effectively and efficiently. He found the practice of deliberate ‘go slow’ to be abhorrent, hence finding himself with no choice but to leave. I asked Jake if he could see a way for the public sector organisation to break out of this nexus? He was not optimistic suggesting it had become ingrained in the culture of the way they did things.