Joseph J. Lacroix
In the absence of something, there's nothing. If there's no explanation, confusion
reigns. If there's no plan, people lack direction. Without vision, progress is apt
to be disjoined. Where there's silence, the void is filled with destructive gossip.
Organizations without something in the way to prevent it, will spiral downward in
terms of performance, productivity, and innovation.
The popularity of "fad of the month" comments among an organization's workers is a clear indication that managers are searching for answers. Searching for something to put in the way of that downward spiral where there is now an apparent void. As managers and leaders search, followership doubts that the latest fad will be the answer. Fads come and go. People want a simple, fast, and enduring message that will help organizations stop the downward spiral and reverse it. There is a useful message.
Participate fully in understanding what's involved in the current condition, and engage your full range of talent in finding resolutions to complex problems. Come together collaboratively to make a meaningful contribution, and leave your favorite "one best solution" at the door. Voice that solution without being wedded to it. Demonstrate your belief in each other's sense of good will by listening to what people mean by what they say, without the confusion of words getting in the way of their message. Try new solutions. Here's how.
Together, develop a common mental model of your organization. Don't bother to involve everyone in every discussion about the business you're in. Not everyone will want to participate in all discussions, but insist that everyone get involved in some aspect of work life development before you're done. There is a price for citizenship in every organization. People can no longer say, "That's management's job to figure our corporate direction." As long as management will ask front line workers to engage their spirit in achieving organizational dreams, the front line workers must be involved in developing those dreams as well.
This common mental model is as important as a common language, or common working hours. The common language brings people closer to joint understanding - an imperative for conducting business. Common working hours brings people together so their presence with one another can achieve something that cannot be achieved while they are apart. The common mental model does the same kind of thing. It establishes a standard against which people who work together can relate their experience, "Are we on track, or are we off track?" If achievements in performance, productivity, or innovation are important, they must be measurable against this common mental model from which standards can be derived.
To help the search for a common mental model along, there are five levels of achievement that are imperatives for dialog in modern organizations. The first of these levels is individual performance. An individual must do some work alone with inherent skills, abilities, and talents that are unique. Organizations must provide the means for individuals to learn what they need to know, but may no longer be responsible for "teaching" them these skills. Learning is, after all, an individual attribute.
Next, individuals form into one or more team productivity situations where synergy in solving urgent problems becomes an imperative. Teams are here to stay. There is nothing "faddish" about learning to work better and more productively in a team environment. Team structures may come and go quickly, the composition of a team may follow organization lines or not.
Organizations are structured so that work group innovation can occur within areas of pre-determined discipline. Finding new and better ways to solve old problems faster is expected to occur within clusters of people who are working on the same or similar problems. Accountants and finance people will likely become innovators of new financial breakthroughs if they did not work together in a common structure.
People are also tied together in the expectation that network effectiveness will yield a coordinated effort to do the right things for the right reasons involving the right people at just the right moment. People resist the notion of network effectiveness because the network typically spans organization boundaries and traditional management training and education resists shared authority (effective networks and work group innovation are nearly a paradox).
Finally, organization profitability or fiscal vitality assures that value-added exists along a web of human interaction to best achieve the organizations' ultimate purpose. Sustaining fiscal vitality allows organizations to grow and prosper. When individuals know that they add value to that vitality, individuals in organizations can achieve both the stability they need for security, and the instability they require for constant innovation.
The outline for one approach to a common mental model involves five nested levels of organization complexity that appear to be unavoidable if success is to be achieved. Each level requires attention and nurture to make its optimum contribution to overall success. Neither management nor followership can claim sole responsibility for these complex structures, yet both must fully participate in the process. If organizations are to fulfill their purpose they must create this and other common models to fill the void where nothing all too often prevails.
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