While organizations and Human Resources promote theories of engagement, multiple generations, and cultural fit, we continue to seek the recipes and others to show us ‘what matters or what should matter to a diverse workforce. Paradoxically this causes a dependence on others to point out how we should be engaged or what cultural fit ought to be – therefore alienating and causing us to feel less engaged and more like misfits.

Currently, the majority of organization, leadership, and team development, we seek examples and expect our workplace plus situation to fit into the example. When we do not fit, we think we are broken and not the example. After all, the expert should know better how to lead the company…. right?

“The life conditions in question prompt men and woman to seek examples, not leaders. They prompt them to expect people in the limelight – all of them and any of them – to show how ‘things that matter’ (now confined to their own four walls and locked there) are done. After all, they are told daily that what is wrong with their lives came from their own mistakes, has been their own fault and ought to be repaired with their own tools and by their own efforts. No wonder, therefore, if they assume that showing them how to handle the tools and make the efforts is the major – perhaps the only – use of people who pretend to be ‘in the know.’ They have been told repeatedly by those ‘people in the know’ that no one else will do the job which could be done by themselves, by each one of them separately.” – Zygmunt Bauman. Liquid Modernity pp 71.

While business thinker gurus and authors like to believe that their recipe will work for you, and it may. The abdication of accountability for progress to you, as the person who did not understand or apply the solution correctly, along with the focus on you figuring out what to do – causes much of the current disengagement.

Systems-Drive-Behavior and each is Accountable for doing Their Best

In researching the tension between individuals and the organization, we tend to focus more on the individual to figure out how to navigate a bad organizational design that encourages political and manipulative behavior to get recognized or get ahead. The political and manipulative behavior of the organization, designed by the systems, is against our better nature. We understand the choice – For me to survive in this environment, these behaviors get me ahead, leaving me behind. When we use manipulation and trust-repelling behaviors to get ahead, we feel stressed and disengaged because we are repelling the people we know and work with. In some instances, the same people who helped us get to where we are today.

How does a trust-attracting organization happen?

I will avoid sharing a recipe or 10-step solution – it would be appropriately ironic if I did 🙂 …

I also understand that ‘people develop, not organizations’ and that people make up organizations. Organizations are different than individuals. When a group of people comes together, they find affinity and shared behaviors that are accepted or rejected by the group.

Ideas to try lessening disengagement
Seek out those that disagree with current behaviors.
  • While consulting a manufacturing organization, I led a study that found that the more changes made from the management level, the more workarounds the front line created to avoid the change.
  • We developed a ‘workaround team’ and openly found those doing things differently. These differences were documented, and the people were interviewed and left to continue their work. Through gathering these ideas, we found an increase in trust throughout the organization. We identified many, many bad ideas from management – leading to better ways to make change happen and improved output.
Openly invite problems and not solutions.
  • I know the mantra “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” sounds like leadership – It’s not. When you only want solutions, people hide all the problems.
  • One CEO I know has a just fix-it line on the organization’s Key-Result-Areas’. Each manager lists customer, process, product, and people problems in this line. They must document and share these problems in monthly management team meetings. Sometimes the problems can be solved, and often they cannot. Knowing the problems supports the organization in determining what to do and what not to do.
bring me solutions not problems - this leads to disengagement with leadership and organizations
Listen and talk to people, watch them work, observe the problems, and ask how you can help
  • As a manager of an organization, data is helpful, and your discretion is necessary. You can gain a qualitative temperature of what is happening by talking with people regularly. These discussions and listening attract trust and build the organization’s capacity to accept and recover from threats.
  • One High School Administrator I know found very low trust and hostile culture in a new school. For the first 18 months (while doing many other things), she chose to have bi-weekly 1 on 1 meetings with each of the employees, which she called these “Intentional Conversations.” In the 1 on 1’s, the first 10-15 minutes were school-based stuff (goals, roles, procedures, behaviors); the remaining 15 minutes were just time to share. She told each person, “What is said here stays here with me. Anything you say, I will not share with anyone. If you say you ate tuna fish for dinner and someone else finds out, it is because you told them, not me.”  After 10 months, the change in trust and conversations in the 1-on-1s plus staff/ faculty meetings was much better.
Be thoughtful and purposeful about your organization’s design.
  • Adding too many layers of management, not having enough support, creating unclear roles, or promoting people who are not right for the role all hurt the organization. You can research and determine what works, BUT do it slowly and thoughtfully. Create a safe-to-fail experiment and form a hypothesis of what you expect to have to happen. From the experiment and hypothesis, seek contrary evidence, and look to see where you are wrong. Be on the lookout for what worked to increase and what did not work to decrease.
  • The design of your organization or team will increase or decrease your capacity to handle more work or grow. As an executive manager, the systems and integration of the whole organization are your accountability and authority.

Recipes are useful until applied and tested within your context of need. Learning from them can be helpful, and adjusting them based on your organizational, leadership, or team need is necessary. Those that do something different are those that stand as leaders.