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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #81
(June 30, 2020)

Is it Time to Boost Your Managerial "Immune System"?

I know you're familiar with the "Fight or Flight" phenomenon but let me take a quick minute to expound on what you may already know. In essence, the goal of any living creature is to ensure the survival of its species. It makes sense, then, that every species has evolved various mechanisms to help protect itself from the many hazards that exist. One such mechanism—universally referred to as "fight or flight"—refers to the physiological reaction that occurs when we are in the presence of danger. This danger triggers the release of adrenaline that prepares the body to either stay and deal with the threat (the "fight") or to run away to safety (the "flight").

For our ancient ancestors, this fight-or-flight mechanism was the deciding factor between making dinner ... or being dinner.

But fight-or-flight is all about our intellect—how the information from (all of) our senses are processed and used to identify potential threats and how we develop adaptive strategies and learn from previous experiences. Some of the resulting adaptation happens at the level of habits and reflexes, while some adaptation occurs at the level of conscious reasoning. Case in point—you only put your hand on a hot stove once!

So what does this have to do with our managerial "immune system"? As powerful as you may be intellectually, this functioning has very little to do with your ultimate survival at the cellular level. That's the domain of your body's immune system which detects invisible and otherwise indiscernible threats that your intellect has no ability to detect. This enormously complex (yet efficient) family of cells and antibodies keeps us from being eradicated by the first random bacteria or virus that we stumble upon. We count on our immune system to be on guard around-the-clock and to execute quickly with aggressive responses to any potential threat. This is done behind the scenes and, in the majority of cases, with very little conscious awareness that a battle is being waged on our behalf.

The distinction I've made between intellectual threat-detection and immune system threat-detection can easily be applied to help you lead and manage more effectively in the workplace. Here's how ...

Managers use their intellect to help ensure the survival of the organization. This brainpower is used to identify macro-trends (think SWOT) and to create adaptive responses such as new strategies and/or organizational change initiatives. However, without an immune system operating at the molecular (employee) level, many potential threats to organizations, such as low quality, poor customer service, and reduced employee engagement, morale, and attitude, to name a few, become firmly ingrained in the organization's culture—in its DNA. Like many real-life diseases, it may take a long time for these types of threats to manifest to the point where they are recognized. Unfortunately, this is frequently after significant damage has already been done.

One of the easiest ways to boost your managerial immune system is embedded in a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it." My interpretation of this is we use our intellect to solve problems; but it's the strength of our metaphorical immune system that allow us to become PROBLEM-FINDERS—recognizing threats as problems long before their consequences become apparent. This week's HVAs will boost your managerial immune system and better equip you to lead change and avoid predictable surprises.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), look for opportunities to become a better 'problem-finder.' The HVAs listed below are proven methods to discover any small problems and any potential failures while they are still "threats" and not real problems (with real consequences):

  • Become an Ethnographer: Anthropologists know that if they want to study people in natural settings they need to reduce the impact of the "Observer Effect." In essence, just observing people will influence/modify what people do. As an (appropriate) example, when the 'boss' shows up, behaviors frequently change. If you want the truth, use the tools of ethnographic research: Don't simply ask people how things are going; Don't depend solely on data from surveys and focus groups; Don't just listen to what people say. Instead, eliminate the Observer Effect by walking in their shoes—literally. If that means taking off your dress shoes and putting on a pair of construction boots or rubber boots and donning a hard hat to walk the job site ... do it! Observe how employees and customers actually behave by working side-by-side.
  • Hunt for Patterns and Connect the Dots: Anyone can be a Monday-Morning Quarterback and be critical of the plays called after the fact. That's easy. But to see things early, you'll need to become especially adept at observing the unexpected without allowing preconceptions to bias what you're seeing. Reflect on, and bolster, your individual and collective pattern-recognition capability. Recognize that most—if not all—large-scale problems and failures are preceded by small problems. To connect-the-dots among disparate issues that may initially seem unrelated, you'll need to forge a strong trust-bond both for and from your team so that information flows to you unfettered.
  • Listen to Feelings: This is a tough one for me, personally, because my tendency is to always look at the logical or rational thought process. But to truly understand, we need to develop our capacity for empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand a situation through another person's eyes—whether you agree with that person or not. Empathy requires that you appreciate opposing points of view without losing sight of your own. Connecting with your employees through genuine openness to their perspective gives you insights and understanding that are impossible to attain without empathy. Here's something to think about: the word "attention" comes from the Latin word attendere, meaning "to reach toward." What can you do today to "reach toward" your team?
  • Adopt the "Five Whys": One of the more powerful problem-finding tools in the Six Sigma Methodology is known as "The Five Whys." Based on observation and experience, the actual number of 'whys' isn't that critical, but five is a good rule of thumb. The overarching goal is to keep revising a question to ultimately get to the root causes of a problem. In case you've only been introduced to this informally, here are the steps of the Five Whys process: 1) Write down the details of the specific problem to help you visualize the problem in its entirety; this also helps the team to stay grounded and keeps them from seeking answers prematurely. 2) Ask why the problem is happening and write down the answers below the problem. 3) If the answers you and your team provided don't clearly identify the root cause of the problem (identified in Step 1), utilize the responses you've written down to revise the why. Keep looping back to Step 3 until there is agreement that the root causes are identified. [Note: The Five Whys can be easily modified to work with virtual meetings.]

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say."

— Andy Stanley —