You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘perception is reality’. You may have shrugged or expressed a distaste for both sci-fi and psychology, but there is an important point buried in the aphorism. As a way of explaining it, I rather like this version from the JO Rules blog (aimed at junior officers in the US Navy, its advice in this instance deserves a broader audience):
Perception is reality. What it means is that for others, be they your peers, subordinates, or superiors, how they perceive you is reality to them—and how you perceive yourself has nothing to do with it. It means that your behaviours and their results matter infinitely more than your intentions.”
One of the long-standing conundrums of life in the workplace is the gap that exists between managers’ perceptions and those of their employees. This isn’t a new topic for us: last year we commented on a report that showed that managers reported being in regular meetings with their employees that the latter reported were not happening. (A gap that suggests that something more concrete than perception may be in play.)
It was therefore less than uplifting to read Driving Business Results by Building Trust: Findings from 2013 Forum Global Leadership Pulse Survey, published recently by Forum. The Europe, Middle East and Africa Regional Data revealed some additional gaps in perception/reality that beg rather more questions than they answer:
If you are going to declare ‘open house’ at any point, it pays to think a little about a few things:
- How widely you are declaring this, and to whom (and how easily they might pass on the ‘invitation’)
- How you might encourage particular behaviours or shape the conversation
- The real nature of your reputation and broader public opinion
- How prepared you are to hear the comments you might receive
For individuals in their daily lives, the worst outcome is usually not as hideous as it might be: while we might find ourselves weeping into a ludicrously over-catered buffet while our ‘friends’ wash their hair or text flimsy excuses for their absence, our audience is normally restricted to our nearest and dearest. (Although these might not be the comparative adjectives we feel like using about them at the time.)
For an organisation, attempting ‘open house’ on a medium like Twitter is a rather different matter. Despite the lack of catering, there is considerably more scope for ‘egg on face’ moments and for them to be conducted with the blinds open and the neighbourhood’s cameras focused on you.
If, to narrow the example somewhat, you are JP Morgan, frankly you should think twice. The multinational bank has an unfortunate recent history of being on the receiving end of some eye-watering fines, and remains something of a lightning rod following the events of 2008/9. A prudent hand might choose to steer the tiller in the directions marked ‘clean the stables and be seen to do so’ and ‘otherwise keep head below parapet’. But it seems that the bank’s prudent hand was otherwise occupied, while a more cavalier set of digits was let loose on a social media app, and executed a very public version of hanging a sign round the bank’s neck saying ‘Kick me’.
I always appreciate getting updates from Mervyn Dinnen’s blog, not least as the most recent – In Praise of Experience During a Time of Social Media Crisis – pointed me at a fascinating brouhaha I’d not previously been aware of: the case of Cathryn Sloane and a Nextgen Journal article – Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25 – that inflamed rather a lot of passions.
We’ll note the title of the original Journal before we move on, as it illustrates a larger point: the web is an open medium – while we can use titles and names and brands to position ourselves as appealing to particular demographics, the rest of the world is only a click away from stumbling on us. The article title was, of course, the real ‘flamebait’ here, although the article’s tone didn’t help the writer’s case for anyone outside the magical demographic that she sought to ordain and claim. If you must diss everyone over 25, at least do it somewhere where they won’t find it: just realise that the social media you are trumpeting make that harder than ever to achieve.
Confucius famously cursed us to live in interesting times: reading recent blogs and newsletters, I’m picking up a rather different adjective – fearful. Even the usually cheerful Euan Semple started his most recent newsletter with the subheading ‘Paranoia’, although his specific reference was to online privacy and how you might take a few steps to maximise it.
Yet fear has the potential to stalk our working lives in other ways. The blog, The Illusion of Work, recently published a post by Ian Gee called The Tyranny of Transitions, looking at the Kübler-Ross Curve, widely used with reference to organisational change, but originally grounded in work around individual’s responses to grieving. Gee’s article ponders how far organisations may potentially overload individuals with dealing with the emotional transitions of overlapping cycles of change, especially where previous experience may have taught them to be wary or to anticipate difficulty.
Forgive us for hanging a broader point off a recent political headline (especially as we’ve apologised for this already this month), but the reshuffles of both the government ministers and their Shadow counterparts – and the media commentary on them – does beg a larger question or two.
The headlines (see, for example, The Daily Express, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Sky and BBC News) tell us as much about the commentators as they do about the content, although The Spectator deserves an honourable mention for a deadpan headline that may more accurately reflect general public interest: Small Reshuffle in Britain; Not Many Dead.
What’s interesting about the interpretations and responses is the factionalism – looking for signs as to what the changes mean in terms of which interests, tendencies and allegiances are being advantaged. Accepting – naturally – that organisations are not political parties, there are important points here about diversity and strength, sustainability and vanity (and possibly also the difference between product and branding).
Let it never be said that business is slow to respond: the inevitable ‘business lessons from the US Government shutdown’ articles have already started (and I am also about to stand guilty as charged). As individuals, we each have our own take on the world and draw our conclusions and our parallels. The unnamed writer behind a Mintek blog post saw circumstances in Congress as equivalent to a clash between sales and operations in the hotel industry (which, I suspect, they either work in or advise – we all tend to see the relevance of what we do, regardless of where we look). Jack Welch – who shouldn’t need introduction – sees a different lesson entirely: titling his argument Schmooze or Lose: How the Lost Art of Negotiation Led to a Shutdown, It might normally take a brave man or woman to disagree with Mr Welch, but a number of respondents have, including one who plain-speakingly said:
Negotiation? Over what? That train left the station in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was voted on, passed, signed into law and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. The time for negotiating has passed.”
ASK is not, of course, in the business of politics, although we are perhaps in the politics of business. Among the conclusions that might be drawn from looking across the Atlantic are not only that effective working relationships are important in any organisation (as another respondent on Welch’s article put it, “When one side takes the “my way or the highway” stand, then everyone loses”), but that sometimes the pursuit of a single, personal goal or agenda can become so determined that the broader picture gets lost. Indeed, a stance can be taken that so obstructs sympathy, that even the issue in question may be lost. As Public Policy Polling has shown, Congress’s approval rating is currently just 9%, and it is also less popular than head lice, colonoscopies, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts. This was – like the recent reaction to the Daily Mail/Ed Miliband scenario – not the response that was intended, but perhaps passion has obscured the wider view.
The world, or at least the publishers of business related material, appears to have an untiring appetite for material that seeks to illuminate business and workplace behaviour by shining a light on a sporting arena. We’ve recently commented on the research of Brandon Irwin into what we might label ‘silent competition’, but already another example has come our way. Gavin Kilduff, an assistant professor of management and organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business, was interviewed recently at the Strategy + Business blog about The Upsides and Dark Sides of Rivalry.
In the following post, we’ve included extracts from the online Q&A session, and offered our own commentary. Whether you see this as a competitive analysis or as ‘shouting from the sidelines’ – and your choice may merit a moment of self-reflection – we hope that it provides food for thought.
FK [Frieda Klotz]: Are the effects of rivalry positive or negative?
GK [Gavin Kilduff]: I describe rivalry as a double-edged sword. One benefit that I’m investigating may be that when organizations have fierce rivals, the individuals in those organizations may be more committed and more loyal to each other. The presence of a constant rival in their minds may foster greater in-group cohesion. Other benefits include increased motivation and performance. For example, when runners competed against a rival (as opposed to against their other competitors), they ran an average of 5 seconds per kilometer faster in a race. And when we asked individuals to think about personal rivals for just a few minutes, they exhibited increased motivation and persistence on a subsequent task.
The downsides are potentially many, however. Unethical behavior—in the form of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct, for instance—increases when people are competing against their rivals. People seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get an advantage in those situations.
Barclays Bank recently commissioned research into the appeal of benefits packages offered by employers to different generational groupings within the workforce. Someone with a keen interest in pop culture – albeit not very recent pop culture – may have chosen the report’s title: Talking About My Generation. Looking at coverage of the report since its publication, other Who singles might have spoken more clearly about the findings: I’m thinking, for example, about The Seeker, Let’s See Action or the inevitable Won’t Get Fooled Again. And, perhaps we should throw in I’m Free for the interns. There is a fair amount of apparent logical nonsense to wade through in some of the reporting; for example, the Employee Benefits’ website’s following paragraph:
According to the report, the new multi-generational workforce comprises five cohorts: Maturists (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1960), Generation X (between 1961 and 1980), Generation Y (between 1981 and 1995) and Generation Z (born after 1995).”
This assumes that workforces have hitherto always consisted entirely of people of roughly the same age or that organisations have simply not noticed the ageing process at work: reading coverage around the report’s main findings, the former remains errant baloney but the latter may turn out – sadly – to be true.
Sometimes you find things you weren’t looking for, and aren’t what you expected. In this instance, it was a YouTube video that its posters, Big Think, had given a title you could parse as either intriguing or flamebait: Laura Rittenhouse: A Modern Day Orwell on the FOG of Words.
It may be a hangover from last week’s ‘Everyone Still Hates HR’ bonanza (see here and here), but my reader’s heckles rose swiftly. (I managed to issue a cease and desist notice to my writer’s heckles just in time.) YouTube and modern life being what they are, the haterz – as I believe we’re now spelling them – were in there swiftly. Comparing an investor-relations analyst to Orwell had been simply too much for some people:
Orwell? Really? He wouldn’t participate in a system of financial tyranny. She seems to be using her observations for commercial gain, not for critiquing the system.”
No, hating HR isn’t news. It might even count as nostalgia, except that’s usually for things past. Despite ChristopherinHR’s spirited and attention-grabbing opening paragraph in the discipline’s defence, I suspect the tide may be against him. And few articles about a profession – despite Human Resource Executive Online’s assertion that “Fast Company‘s “Why We Hate HR” article failed to provoke much of a widespread reaction” – attract so much attention as Keith Hammonds’ August 2005 article that The Society for Human Resource Management prepares a downloadable Discussion Guide to Debrief the Fortune magazine article, or that the Harvard Business Review blog publishes an article that includes the phrase “As this provocative essay approaches its fifth anniversary …” I can understand that many people may not have liked the music, but Mr Hammonds certainly struck a chord. And some of its notes are still ringing.
You noticed that I dismayed the idea of nostalgia? Keith Hammonds’ article is still being referenced in 2013: The Hindu Business Line did so in May, and DTS Sydney recently published Why (Some) People Hate HR – The Top 10 Criticisms. As we’re dealing in sweeping generalisations here, let’s just say those Australians don’t hold back. Here are just a few quotes: Continue reading