Thursday, November 19, 2009

Emerging needs (3) – Ties that bind?

Emerging needs (3) – Ties that bind?

Torrey Orton

November 19, 2009

So the Oz coal industry is not spending its governmental freebies for "clean coal" development research and commercialisation. Almost no-one with industry awareness, except the industry mouthpiece Australian Coal Association, thinks they are even trying. How can this be so? There's a host of factors, one of which I want to enlarge a bit. It is the natural entropic forces in organisations, specifically the multiple creature comforts of present arrangements, especially for large and deeply embedded organisations, of which coal is one. Ties that bind.

Try the American automobile industry for another – with decades of encouragement to build useful and energy efficient cars, they've done little, even in the face of dramatic innovativeness from their close worst enemy, Toyota. Their leaders rode to a Congressional hearing on their futures in private planes at the edge of the great downturn. Didn't they know? Obviously never thought about it. Ties that bind.

A micro lesson on resistance

A lesson I learned a while back in executive coaching is that a key development moment for a major shift in coachee approach occurs when he/she doesn't know what to do in a critical workplace relationship. Typically, this is when a personally 'tried and true' approach fails repeatedly with one person or group. The exec is stymied by their own inability to work in a different way. Even high levels of notional motivators like failure to meet objectives, KPI's and similar Taylorist contrivances do not provide the energy and discipline required to change their behaviour. That executives are systemically impervious to disincentives (except in placing their own remuneration pleas) is increasingly acknowledged. Ties that bind.

To do differently – to become effective in the area of agreed ineffectiveness - they would have to learn a new approach. That involves a period of personal vulnerability. This period has two main steps: acknowledgment of the specific incompetence and learning the new one. Resistance flowers in the uncertainty (and implicit loss of face) that accompanies the acknowledgment of incompetence and then flourishes in the anxiety of learning new behaviour. Ties that bind.

Acknowledge the stymie

The pathway to a solution is simple: acknowledge the stymie. But this usually includes acknowledging a weakness – namely not knowing what to do. Around that dilemma many exec's get stuck in their habitual range of communication competences. Many relationship breakdowns can be tentatively sourced to this failure. I'm not the first person to discover this, so it must be hard to learn. I can only guess that it's too hard to be included in leadership trainings or is on the very hard end of the learning spectrum for such events and so few are pushed to extend themselves into this territory of personal vulnerability. They probably would not get a bonus for trying and might get a career limiting file note for embarrassing the leadership. Ties that bind.

Among many factors, this may be a difficult learn because workplace social system(s) are resistant to change, like families, cultures and major human institutions. The resistance arises from the very functionality that is suspect – traditional ways of doing things. Its source is the tension between the ease of present need fulfilment arrangements and the threats of new ones. Few people go into any form of perceived dark night willingly (and those who do personally – the suiciders / euthanasiers - are vilified for weakness, self-indulgence and disrespect of the god(s)).

An outstanding bind – whistle blowing

We are increasingly in a bind about a number of things. The typical diversity of the responses is on with issues like climate change, health reform, and economic system constraints. Not a few ring appropriate alarm bells on each of these – each a whistle-blower of a sort. Trouble is, we have become inured to the whistle and demonise the blowers, unless they shrill for our ties that bind.

It seems that governance can never catch up with work arounds. Wholly normal and wholly necessary…just who we have to work with. If we can notice our own bindings we may do better speaking to others of theirs.

These are the ties that bind.

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