What Is The Myth?
That successfully delivering a transformation program will be recognised by influential senior executives as a significant achievement, and you will be given the opportunities and rewards you’re expecting.
Where Did This Myth Come From?
There will be a build-up of experiences that support the assumptions behind this myth.
For many people, their childhood was a time when they were encouraged to try new things. They had parents, carers, teachers, or coaches who noticed their successes and praised their efforts.
Society in general teaches us that you don’t get anywhere without hard work. Well-known studies such as the marshmallow test (first conducted by a team led by Walter Mischel at Stanford University) demonstrate that the ability to accept delayed gratification is the strongest predictor of success and happiness in life.
Early in your career you were probably looked after and given opportunities. You will have observed that, in many organisations, people who put in the hours and deliver results are widely acknowledged.
You may have also experienced high growth periods in the economy where you benefited from a perceived shortage of employees with a combination of talent, results orientation, and a strong work ethic.
Positive feedback is often received when you are prepared to be a team player and don’t behave with a sense of entitlement.
From this backdrop it is entirely reasonable to have developed the belief that hard work and achieving goals equals success, that if you do the right thing by others they will do the right thing by you, and that delivering success for others will bring the outcomes you are looking for.
What Is The Truth?
Well, I’ve probably saved the hardest myth to accept for last. After everything you’ve been through, everything you’ve put up with, surely the recognition you’ve wanted – maybe that next step up the corporate ladder – is going to be offered to you?
The truth is that your reputation for hard work and delivering successful programs is a great starting point, but there are two additional elements that are essential for your corporate career to flourish in ways that are meaningful to you.
The first additional element is knowing what success looks like for you, both in the short and long term. Those who know what they want get what they want, and understand that achieving their goals requires more than hard work.
To attain the success you both desire and deserve, you need to be able to describe it, so that others can help you realise your aims. It’s important to recognise that you’re a grown-up now! Nobody else is responsible for looking after your career progression; you are.
It’s a typically unspoken assumption, once you have risen above the junior management ranks, that you will know how to develop your support networks, fend for yourself, and be an equal at the table. Inside, you may not feel confident, but others will presume you are because of the position you hold.
Many of us don’t appreciate the power of knowing what you want. It can be easy to be scathing or envious of those who get ahead without appearing to work as hard as the individuals you identify more strongly with.
The second additional element is using the power of marketing yourself. Those who are selected for opportunities and promotions are most likely to be individuals who have effectively run a personal marketing campaign, often over years.
These individuals either unconsciously or deliberately have established their own brand, communicating with their networks consistently and regularly to reinforce their positioning and messages. This allows them to be considered for a range of opportunities, including ones they’re not yet aware of, as they will be known to those looking for appropriate candidates.
It is possible for this to happen accidentally, but it’s obviously preferable that you don’t leave it to chance. Like any product, being great isn’t enough; people must know about you and what you can do for them. They need to know and understand your value proposition!
What Is The Myth?
That you will be allowed to decide, based on your position, how to run your program and choose who you have on your team.
Where Did This Myth Come From?
Working for a large organisation, you will be familiar with the many processes and rules that have been put in place, over time, to allow the organisation to function.
While it’s easy to feel that rules and processes are excessive, there will always be a reason why they were put in place. Ideally they are revisited regularly to ensure they are still necessary and effective.
If we assume for the sake of argument that they are, you will in all likelihood also be assuming there is delegated authority commensurate with a role’s responsibilities. Such delegation will dictate the dollar value of a contract that you are permitted to sign, the number or seniority of people you can hire, who else has to be party to the approvals, etc.
It’s natural to assume that the authority level of your role will be reasonably clear and unambiguous, and allow you to run your program without unnecessary interference.
What Is The Truth?
Delegated authorities are largely based on what’s currently in place and needs to be refreshed or maintained. If what you’re aiming to achieve is truly transformational then, by definition, it hasn’t been done before. Often the outcome is being defined by the program itself. This can and will challenge existing frameworks.
The Importance of Clarity
This challenge may be easier to conceptualise if you consider the well-known story, “If Henry Ford had asked his customers, they would have told him they wanted a faster horse….”
Authority based on existing processes and practices can leave major decisions, such as those that will lead to the early end of a key product’s life, with no established framework and no clarity as to who has this authority.
Failure to clarify the extent of your authority to make such decisions is likely to mean procrastination and delays. This will apply especially when working with less senior people in the organisation whose roles often exist to ensure a strong level of compliance to standard processes.
There can also be unexpected consequences when those to whom you report observe that something isn’t working; instead of giving you more authority, they start to interfere.
The absence of an agreed authority framework will give those who seek to control default permission to micromanage. It almost goes without saying that very little transformational change has been achieved through micromanagement!
The truth is that you need to pay attention to the key decisions in your program that are potentially not covered by existing authority frameworks, as well as the level of support for your leadership style, if you are to avoid delays or challenges to your authority.
Yes, it is true extra effort achieves more in the short term; that’s one of the reasons why you do it. But the long-term cost can be much higher than you think.
After one or more big pushes to achieve critical deadlines, you’ll become increasingly exhausted and so will many of your team. The big problem is that the last deadline, the one that seemed so critical, wasn’t the end of the challenges or the program.
What is the Truth?
The truth is that working harder only solves very short-term issues. The harsh truth is that working harder will neither address vulnerabilities in your leadership nor underlying issues in the program.
Logic decrees that if all parts of an equation are fixed, nothing can change. To translate this to the world of transformation programs: to achieve a fixed deadline with the same resources means the outcome will change. If the outcome can’t change, the resources or timing have to.
Being able to clearly articulate options that recognise this reality, while still offering choice, is essential to managing the often-conflicting priorities of your executives, yourself, and your team.
What Needs To Be Understood To Work With This Truth?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This statement was made by Reinhold Niebuhr, a highly respected American theologian who lived in the 20th century. Mr Niebuhr was an intellectual and public commentator who argued for realism with both the political and religious communities.
For me, his words hold especially true for leaders of transformation programs! The organisation you work for will have things that you will not be able to change, and recognising those, rather than expending energy fighting or complaining about them, will save time and effort better spent elsewhere.
Remember, systems have inertia; they don’t easily change. Friction is created when change is initiated. Courage and energy are required for you to challenge the things you can and need to change in order to deliver a successful program.
Changing Your Approach
If you find yourself working harder and longer, the first question is whether you’re working on the right things. Consider the following to help you arrive at an answer:
Why do you think you have to work even harder?
What is currently causing you to use this approach?
Are you avoiding someone or something?
And, importantly, what are your other options?
The third point above will challenge you to consider whether you are using your courage in the right way for the right reasons.
In the same way that a major storm will find the parts of your roof that leak, a major transformation program will highlight the areas of your leadership and support structure that are the most vulnerable. Identifying these vulnerabilities will allow you to seek the support and techniques that are going to be the most helpful to you in overcoming the challenges you will face.
Working harder, rather than taking time to consider a broader set of options, can be driven by the desire to avoid taking certain actions – especially in areas of leadership that you find challenging.
Identifying the root cause of your tendency to rely on working extra hours is the first step to changing your approach.
Support and coaching to assist with this identification process, as well as exploring alternative ways of working, are likely to have major benefits for your health and well-being. You will also be setting a powerful example to your team, with flow-on benefits for the whole program.
Subject matter experts are very often hard workers with valuable organisational memory. They know how things work and, most importantly, know how to fix things when they don’t work. In the world of large organisations, this often applies to IT systems.
Referred to as SMEs, they are always known to their immediate managers and colleagues. They are the people you get sent to when no one else knows the answer.
What is the Myth?
They are the ones who are in demand for every project under the sun, because it is assumed that having direct access to a person who knows so much about a certain area will save time and rework.
They are often seen as stars and treated with kid gloves. These individuals often work crazy hours, and are seen to be self-sacrificing and dedicated to keeping everything in their specialised world working well.
And often they are, so why wouldn’t SMEs be the ones to play a starring role in your team? They have so much knowledge that it’s difficult to imagine how you can achieve any effective change without them.
These experienced and hardworking individuals are used to being stars, so it’s natural to assume they will shine in an environment that’s all about the things they know.
What Is the Truth?
The individuals who hold the positions of SME will be in those roles because of what they already know and understand about ‘x’, where x is a topic central to your program.
Their credibility will be based on this knowledge and understanding, as well as the way they have worked over time to solve problems, and are likely to have rescued their team and organisation in one or more crises.
The truth is that knowledge often equates to power, and expert power diminishes to the extent it is shared. Therefore, while their knowledge is vital, some SMEs will subtly or even overtly sabotage a team’s progress and its ability to identify radically new solutions.
SME’s Have the Most to Lose
When someone is unconsciously competent in a specialty, it can take a lot of effort and skill to communicate with those who are low in that competence. Not all SMEs will be open to the personal growth required to embrace new ideas and changes.
It won’t be unusual, when considering alternative ways of doing things, to be told, “You don’t understand”, or “It can’t be done”, or “It won’t work that way”, or “That’s very courageous!”
As individuals, SMEs have the most to lose from any major change because they will forgo the power and status that comes from knowing more about a topic than anyone else in the organisation.
This understanding can often be tied to their sense of self-worth, their status, and also their income. So be aware that, of all the people on your team, they can be the ones most motivated to hold onto the status quo or, alternatively, have a closed view of what constitutes the ultimate ‘fix’ – which may be one that they have personally been championing for some time.
Bring out the Best in Your Team
It is true that you will be hard pressed to successfully implement any significant changes without working with, and benefiting from, the knowledge and experience of the organisation’s current experts.
In addition, the credibility of your team’s solutions is likely to be questioned where they are not supported by a respected SME. The key is to understand and be able to bring out the best in the entire team, including your SMEs.
While your SMEs won’t inevitably be the stars on your team, it’s also true that they could be. Either way, there is every likelihood that you won’t be able to achieve very much without working with them. The exceptions will be those that have created an impression of expertise that is not real. In large organisations, I’d suggest this is rare; what’s more common is for the importance of their area of expertise to be overstated.
So the first consideration is to determine what type of SME you are working with. You can then look at how to optimise your team setup and style of working to make it as engaging an experience as possible for the SME, as well as the rest of the team.
A considered review of your SMEs will provide the insights you need. Is their area of knowledge essential to your success? Are they team players, willing and keen to share their skills and understanding with others? Do they find it difficult to work in teams or relate to others’ ways of thinking?
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”
– Marie Curie
What Is The Myth?
If you have good intentions and don’t like office politics, it shouldn’t be necessary to spend time understanding why, and how, people use power in organisations.
Where Did This Myth Come From?
Office politics is almost invariably regarded as negative. Power is often experienced as a force used by someone to get their own way or to dominate others. Those of us who feel their heart is in the right place, and don’t like taking sides or bad-mouthing others, are unlikely to see power in a positive light.
If you also believe in hard work and the ability to deliver results through working well with others, you may well feel that it shouldn’t be necessary to spend time understanding how power works in the organisation. This could well be true if you’ve been rewarded for achieving great team results employing a collaborative approach, and have concluded that the overt use of power is ‘old school’.
What Is the Truth?
It’s possible that you don’t really want to understand how power operates, because you often see power being used for selfish motives.
You may well believe that if you don’t engage in this type of behaviour you will be a better human being – that it is nobler to stay out of the realm of office politics and the overt use of power.
While understandable, there’s a lot that can’t be achieved when you turn a blind eye to the reality of power. Ignoring this reality is risking throwing the baby out with the bath water!
Power is not limited to leaders or organisations, and it’s not restricted to acts of domination. It’s a basic force in every social interaction. Power defines the way we relate to each other. It dictates whether you get listened to, and determines whether your needs take priority – or get any attention at all.
The truth is that each of us expresses power in a way that best meets our six needs as a human, as explained by Tony Robbins and summarised in the following table.
Driven By Needs
Beyond safety (certainty) and stimulation (uncertainty) we want to be looked up to and have purpose and direction (significance), as well as bonding with others to grow our sense of who we are (connection). Above and beyond this, we want to learn, grow, and contribute to others.
Like it or not we are all, in our own way, driven by these needs.
It is important to note that these needs are not always, or even often, met in a positive way. It is extremely common for people to find significance by exerting power in a very passive way, such as resistance and refusal to engage, as well as aggressively – for example through dictatorial behaviour and language.
Whether at home or at work, connection with others is ideally achieved through genuinely supportive relationships. However, the need to be accepted and fit in can also be met by constantly seeking to please, even where a high level of self-sacrifice is involved.
We are not only humans, we are mammals; and as mammals we group together for safety, support, and connection. All groups of mammals have some form of pecking order, and we’re all familiar with the concept and role of an ‘alpha’ being head of the herd. This is no different in the corporate world.
In my experience, only a small percentage of senior executives have learnt how to balance power and decisiveness with empathy and connection. Many err on the side of decisiveness and single-mindedness; not so many veer towards connection and broad engagement.
To ignore this truth is to leave yourself at the mercy of behaviours that you don’t understand and can’t deal with. Understanding does not mean you have to behave in a way that doesn’t sit well with you.
To avoid burnout, and steer yourself and your transformation program to a successful outcome, you will benefit enormously from appreciating more deeply why others act the way they do.
There is a tendency in each of us to assume that if we explain the logic behind a choice or belief to someone else, they will come to the same conclusion.
You hear this play out every day, on everything from small issues like how to pack a dishwasher, right up to global ones like climate change – discussions where logical arguments trade blows without moving the opposing view one iota.
We all hold truths, things we believe; some very significant, such as deep religious beliefs, while others are less so, such as “I never win anything.” Have you ever seen logic changing these beliefs? Ever? That’s because it doesn’t!
So why then do we think that, when we explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, those listening will automatically join the party? Even a moment’s reflection will remind us that everyone listens to what’s being said using their own frame of reference. How does this affect me, is this interesting or important to me, are you changing my world?
Our Reliance on Logic
Where does this trust in, and seeming reliance on, logic come from?
When we look around, it’s not that hard to figure out. We are frequently told, first as children and later as adolescents and adults, that there’s almost always a scientific explanation; that if you understand how things work, you will be able to figure out all that you need to. That everything can be understood if you know the right logic.
There is no doubt that this is true for a lot of our world. It means we know how to construct bridges that stay intact in an earthquake, and build skyscrapers with dozens of floors. We know how to compile and read bus and train timetables. The relentless quest for finding out how things work is viewed as not only inevitable, but also desirable.
So it isn’t so strange that, even though we don’t always understand the logic or science behind a thing or event, we learn to trust logic. We can start to think that if we don’t understand something, it’s just because we haven’t got to grips with its logic or because it’s not our area of expertise.
Given the complexity of the modern world, it’s not really so odd that many people hold onto what seems logical in an attempt to reduce the level of ambiguity that exists in their lives.
What Is The Truth?
The truth is that each person’s experience and current situation will influence how they hear your messages and the ways in which they respond.
What a person believes when they hear a case for change or a new idea will be heavily dependent on whether they feel engaged at the level of their interest and concern.