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:
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.
Every discipline has its fetishes – inanimate objects attributed with magical properties. (Analysts have spreadsheets, consultants have models, but creatives? If there’s a consensus – and we are talking about creatives here – it may be Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu deity, patron of arts and sciences and the deva (deity) of intellect and wisdom who is a) principally known as the remover of obstacles, and b) associated particularly with merchants and traders. These two attributes are not entirely unconnected.
If you look back through the online archives of The Guardian’s Writers Room series, you will probably be struck by the individuality of not just the rooms, but the elements that creatives as diverse as David Starkey, Richard Sennett and Will Self choose to stress. Or, as Philip Hensher said:
I’ve never written successfully at a desk – whenever anyone tries to give me a desk, it always fills up immediately with old bits of paper, and, after a week or two, I go back to writing on the end of the dining table, clearing it all up before dinner.”
Beyond their idiosyncrasy, these individuals have little in common beyond perhaps a certain messiness and an occasional tendency to illicit pleasure (Martin Amis says of his writing room that “It’s ideal – you can’t hear the children and you can smoke”, while Richard Sennett – whose The Craftsman we reviewed here previously – confessing to using a 15 year old word processing program about which he confessed “the IT department has decided that it is an “illegitimate” piece of software – which makes for a certain thrill”).
I know you don’t really have the time, so I’ll try to keep this short. Is 1,000 words ok? You have a window?
I am, of course, addressing what Ed Smith recently described as ‘the theatre of busyness’ in his New Statesman column: that nagging doubt that we should be filling our time – with work, of course – as hectically as possible. Or at the very least being seen to do so. Despite admitting his past life as a competitive sportsman, he is pretty much agin it, as Geoff Boycott might say. But the general situation is pretty endemic for those of us in employment. (Although the use of the adjective ‘gainful’ might be rather more subjective.)
The BBC recently sidled alongside the issue in a two part Radio 4 series, Slow Coach. There was a play at aligning the programme content – looking at the pressures of time, life but mostly work on three participants – with the broader Slow Movement, not least in the involvement of Carl Honore, best known for his book In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed. This was the first book to review the octopus-like spread of The Slow Movement, to use its popular umbrella term: for a broader overview, visit the website of the World Institute of Slowness.
As he so often does, Dan Rockwell spiked my interest with a recent article about motivation and enhancing performance. His article – which you can read at his Leadership Freak blog – was inspiring by the research work of Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University. Irwin was researching the motivation impact of working/practising a skill alongside a more skilled practitioner-partner, and discovered that a silent ‘mentor’ achieved significantly better results than one who punctuated their endeavours with ‘things like “Come on,” “You can do it,” and “You got this.” ‘.
Irwin’s research is based in the gym and in physical activity, but he was more than willing to defend his research in a Harvard Business Magazine article:
Having a partner who was better than you appeared to be incredibly motivating, however—a 33% improvement in performance is huge—as long as that person didn’t try to motivate you.”
Writing about business, like much of business behaviour, tends to shy away from anything that we might classify as cynicism: the power of positive thinking is, perhaps, too pervasive an influence. Monty Python once sang the words “When you’re chewin’ on life’s gristle, don’t grumble give a whistle/And this’ll help things turn out for the best”, and they might not be out of place in The Company Song, if company songs were the kind of thing we still did.
Which is why I was surprised – in a refreshing sort of way – to read Jamie Duck being quoted at Jon Ingham’s Strategic HCM Blog, talking about change management and behavioural change:
By now, the troops have been through so many of these programmes that they’re sceptical. Companies today are full of ‘change survivors’, cynical people who’ve learned how to live through change programmes without really changing at all. The new programme is just another management fad in an endless series of management fads.”
The tension in my living room is electrifying. Well, it’s not every day you find out you have a bumblebee colony in your back-garden, is it? Only an hour to go, and I can go back to watch them woozily float in and out of their nest, paralytic on nectar, and quietly congratulating myself on allowing them to live in harmony with nature. A quick whizz through The Apprentice Final and I can go back to doing something positive about sustainability …
The first relief comes when Dara O’Briain appears to explain that, despite the TV listings, there won’t actually be two hours of this: the show runs straight into the ‘You’re Hired/Fired’ sequence, where there will be plentiful opportunities for those of us in the remedial stream to revisit the copious learning opportunities that Series 9 has brought us. And demonstrating the serious commitment to business education and the antipathy towards mockery that epitomises the show, the panel includes business gurus and ethical masterminds, Lorraine Kelly and Hugh Dennis. (Has anyone else noticed the percentage of comedians on the You’re Fired panels – I know we’re making entertainment here, but making entertainment of what exactly?)
I missed the Wimbledon Men’s Single’s Final – at least in real time, being abroad at the time – but having now had the opportunity to catch up with it, I think two things deserve celebrating. The first of these – Andy Murray’s victory – is perhaps a little obvious, although that is hardly to detract from it.
The second is more easily overlooked, although it was also noticed by Matthew Syed, writing in The Times: I am referring to Novak Djokovic’s grace in defeat. It does not require more than a rudimentary grasp of its rules and scoring system to understand that tennis is, at any level, a competitive sport, and a Wimbledon final and a Grand Slam win especially so. When playing the game is your profession, it’s surely safe to assume that you do not walk onto court with the intention of losing. (Although Syed has previously had interesting things to say about the winning mindset in an earlier article about an interview with Andy Murray.)
The expression “Mum’s the word” has nothing to do with maternity, nor even with preserving familial values. It comes from the older English meaning of ‘mum’ as silence: ‘keeping Mum’ is about keeping your lips together, not your nuclear family. But not speaking out – despite the apparent wisdom of another familiar adage about it being better to be thought stupid than to open your mouth and prove it – is not necessarily synonymous with wisdom. Sometimes ‘it’ – whatever it might be – actually does need saying.
Indeed, this was one of the themes that emerged during the questions to presenters and the table conversations at our recent BAFTA Breakfast Meeting, where a reluctance to speak out or to ask questions was seen as often being a symptom of a dysfunctional organisational culture. And a symptom, moreover, that can express itself in more than one way: Continue reading
There are a fair few tropes that remain perpetual battlegrounds in the world of L&D, HR and OD: profits vs people as an over-riding focus and talent’s opposing ‘nature’ vs. ‘nurture’ battalions spring immediately to mind. One of the more abstract of these perennial topics is the divide between process and creativity – or perhaps we should say the perceived divide. We’re not the only people to have trotted round the block a few times on this one: indeed, we’ve written about it before here in several contexts – including HR’s impact on innovation, Google’s Innovation Time Off policy and the story of MIT’s Building 20, and jazz (not once but twice).
That this is an issue that will probably never leave us is well-illustrated by a blog post by Todd Williams, although the apparently inflammatory title – Process Stifles Creativity – was perhaps a rather knowing case of squirting lighter fluid onto the bonfire. Todd’s themes are more balanced than his title suggests, but one sentence very much stood out for me:
People are not rewarded for being creative with the process; in fact, the reaction is quite the opposite.”