Published on Mar 01, 2021
Despite its hugely destructive nature, the Covid pandemic is providing leaders with a unique opportunity to engage in powerful conversations with people at all levels of their organisations. It’s a once in a generation learning opportunity. A chance to challenge all aspects of our existing business models. A major reset button for leaders who want to rise to the challenge of reinventing their value propositions. However, we know, that in many organisations powerful and difficult conversations are still not encouraged. Hard wired beliefs that you should follow the leader and not “rock the boat” persist. Senior management teams are often riddled with a lack of trust, which in turn leads to a fear of both conflict and powerful conversations. It results in what my colleague and leading executive coach, James McLeod, readily describes as an “acceptance of the ordinary.” A corrosive culture, whereby performance drops to the lowest common denominator rather than being constantly challenged to drive up performance and value creation.
The above observations are not new, we all experience this dysfunctionality at one time or another in our careers. Collectively these forms of behaviour deter us from making optimum choices and decisions. It’s also worth highlighting that customers experience similar failings. A simple change in my telecoms billing during this crisis led me to engage in thirteen separate telephone conversations over a two-hour period!! Suffice to say, the company involved is often cited as one of the worst customer focused businesses in the UK. It probably gets away with this response because in some areas it still has an almost “monopolistic” position. As the customer I have no choice but to wait until they get their act organised to answer my query!
In such organisations it is highly probable that difficult discussions about these poor service levels are side-stepped or avoided by staff. Sensitive and critical issues will no doubt be relegated to the corridors, one to one Zoom calls or other “safe spaces”- all for fear of upsetting the politically acceptable line of thinking. There are still too many corporate meetings where people don’t speak up even when they know something is either dysfunctional or plain “wrong!” The lack of truth in selling and product quality is everywhere – financial services, automotive, telecoms and digital service providers.
We all know of organisations where their sheer complexity inhibits faster service and progress. Where too much time and effort is spent focusing on the wrong things or having to communicate with far too many people, to get anything done. There are those other organisations where a prevailing culture of “being nice” and “friendly,” means that defective behaviours or practices are also not challenged. Wonderful as many aspects of a ‘nice” culture are, it can also lead to an acceptance of the ordinary.
In the face of intense customer and financial pressures and an ever-changing world, leaders have a real incentive to create a working culture where any “acceptance of the ordinary” is shunned upon. Covid reminds us what organisations really need to be spending time on – the customer & employees! The ideas and insights of all employees need to be liberated. Setting the right context and establishing effective ground-rules to enable powerful conversations to take place is a key leadership skill. As is being alert to the political strategies and game playing of “time-served” managers defending their traditional empires and domains. The creation of “safe spaces” to help people cut through dysfunctional norms and behaviours that stifle truthful debate is essential to success. Only by placing employees at the centre of powerful conversations rather than at the margins can we generate the levels of organisational learning required to prosper in a fast changing world.
Our new programme, Powerful Conversations in Fast Changing World, examines and explores the concept of the “Acceptance of the Ordinary” and how it can be overcome. To find out more, click here.
Published on Mar 01, 2021 by Mark Thomas