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Archive for the ‘change’ Category

People, Performance and Perception

Posted by Anadi Upadhyaya on August 25, 2013

A commonly heard complaint: “My manager is a control-freak and practice micro-management. He asks for suggestions but provide them all himself. He doesn’t believe in imperfection and try to fit us into his unrealistic expectations.”

Perceiver believes that it is the reality but he might be just focusing on the aspects which reinforce his existing beliefs.  Your friends, co-workers or the society don’t know “a real you” but “they know you as they perceive you” as they always have perception about you.  But when most of the decision makers in an organization shares the same perception about someone than it doesn’t really matter what “reality is” as “perception becomes the reality”.Perception

It’s hard for an organization to get required contribution from an individual who is not able to accomplish his own goals within organization and in order to achieve your purpose you need to know that how people perceive you. Any undesired perception about you, your products or services will not go away if you deny its existence.

It‘s not possible for you to communicate with each perceiver to explain who you really are, in case you are not happy about it. But before you make any effort to change perception, you need to understand three critical factors which contribute to perception formation process. And they are:

  1. Your performance: How you perform in a given context contributes majorly towards perception about you. Initial performance is a foundation stone in this process and often takes a lot of effort to change, in case you want to change it later, for better.
  2. Your competitor’s performance: Comparison and competition are unavoidable and if you are afraid of them, then you really fear your own incompetence.  You need to know what your competitor’s are doing before they walk over you.
  3. Perceivers’ viewpoint:  You are dealing with humans and they are prone to mistakes and prejudices. It can go in your favor or against you. These people can be your customers, key influencers in your organization or anyone who is a stakeholder in your current or future endeavors.

You may want to manage one or more of these factors depending on your power of influence but at minimal you should always be in a position to improve your own performance.

If you don’t want to be defined by what you are not, if you want to feed your opportunities and starve your problems; you need to take charge to change perception about you and the time is now. But what if you have already tried your best and are fully convinced that perception about you is unchangeable? You are neither the first nor the last person to feel it, recharge your batteries and hit the trail again. New jobs are waiting to be done, new teams are waiting to be led and new ideas are waiting to be born…

Photo Credit: Unknown

Posted in change, leadership, management | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Abandoning Successful Careers to Embrace Our Vocations: A Less Than Historic Lesson from the Life of Vincent van Gogh

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 25, 2011

Many of us have probably felt at one time or another that we were in the wrong job or that our jobs lacked any real meaning or purpose beyond a monthly paycheck.  We can’t always explain why we feel this way; only that something doesn’t feel right or that life and work seem out of balance.  When our jobs feel like a “bad fit” we usually see the problem as a mismatch between what we are currently doing and what we want to do.  For some this problem occurs because they lack the right skill set, education or experience to pursue a particular job.  As a result the way forward tends to be reasonably clear, even if the transition to a new career requires considerable time, effort and resources.  But for others who have the right competencies and training the way forward is less obvious.  In this case they already have the right tools, but are working in the wrong jobs.  As a result they can stumble around for years making minor career adjustments or lateral moves that never really take them in a new direction.  But with very few exceptions a job in one organization or company tends to be exactly like the same job any place else.  Whether you’re an engineer, consultant, bank teller, flight attendant or truck driver the responsibilities and tasks associated with your job remain fairly constant.

For those who find themselves in this situation the prospect of continuing in the same career for ten, twenty or thirty more years can be daunting.  But why is the way forward so elusive?  Why do we spend years going around in circles – switching teams, managers or companies – but never locate the real source of the problem?  I think there may be two reasons.  First, we underestimate the extent of the change that needs to be made.  We are already using our talents and our training, we may also be well paid and highly regarded in our organization, and many of us will have already spent a decade or more mastering a particular set of skills – the so-called “10,000-hour-rule.”  In short we have achieved a high degree of success and we use our success as proof that we must be in the right job.  So the changes we make never take us outside our current set of tasks and responsibilities and we remain tethered to our ill-fitting jobs.  We also get stuck because we do not fully understand, appreciate or value our experience, training, and qualifications – the talent we have for getting the job done.  We think of our jobs only in terms of what we do or how we do it; but give very little consideration to the reason behind our work – the why.  While the what and how of our jobs can be used to define our competence, proficiency, experience and knowledge, the reason behind our work – the whyis defined by our values, passion, inspiration and dreams.  It is these less tangible qualities, I believe, that offer us a way forward.

Consider the painter Vincent van Gogh.  What if he had been employed as a paint-by-numbers contractor?  He would come to work every day and paint the pictures his employer requested of him – landscapes, animals, architecture, portraits, etc. – all predefined in terms of the content and the colors required for each segment of the painting.  The job would require him to follow the paint-by-numbers system and he would get paid based on the hours he spent painting or the number of pieces he completed each day.  He would clearly be working in a job that utilized his talents as well as one that incorporated his passion for painting; but would he find any real meaning or value in such a job?  And would transferring to a new organization or company or painting other subject matter using the paint-by-numbers system make him feel any better?  When we stand before the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, when we see the colors mix and blend and merge, transforming simple paint and canvas into priceless art we begin to understand why these beautiful paintings would be impossible in a paint-by-numbers world.  We comprehend as well why individuals like van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Rousseau and Seurat would never be happy doing this kind of work.

Many of us spend a lifetime in jobs that utilize our talents but never fully embrace our values or aspirations.  Because we get lost in successful and often lucrative careers, we never seem to locate our real vocations – the jobs we are “called” to do.   For some the way forward is clear: embrace your passion, believe in your dreams and invest your time and resources developing the talents necessary to reach your goals.  But for those who find themselves stuck in paint-by-number jobs, the path from career to vocation requires a different approach.  Instead of an MBA or doctorate, we must invest in a new vision – one that will encompass not only our talents, but our values, passion, inspiration and dreams.  We must also be willing to look beyond the boundaries of our current jobs and consider opportunities in other sectors or industries – the not-for-profit world, public service, or a new business venture.  When we risk giving up our careers to find a place where what we do and who we are begin to mix and blend and merge, we set into motion a set of changes that can transform our jobs into a true calling.  And though few will dare to venture into these uncharted waters, those who do may yet find a life and a career as beautiful and priceless as a painting by Vincent van Gogh.

Posted in change, competency, Job Fit | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Paragons and Renegades

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 13, 2011

Recently I’ve been playing Mass Effect, a role-playing game (RPG) set in outer space.  (Feel free to insert your favorite Star Trek related nerd joke here.)  As with many of the sophisticated RPG options in the market today, the game is designed around a series of tasks, or quests, which get more difficult as the game progresses.  For me though, the actual game play – star ships, swordplay or sorcery – is not as interesting as the character development, the role part of the game.  Some of the RPG games I’ve played let you choose the moral disposition of your character, whether you want to be a good guy or a bad guy.  So from the beginning of the game your choices are determined by your role as the hero or the villain.  Accordingly your actions and personality are based on your predetermined nature.  However, some of the more sophisticated games, including Mass Effect, make your character’s nature a matter of nurture – meaning you become either moral or immoral based on the choices you make during the game.  In Mass Effect you develop either as a paragon or as a renegade.  But here is where the game and I started to have problems.

From the beginning I assumed each quest could be solved either “positively” (helping me develop as a paragon) or “negatively” (earning me points as a renegade).  So as the options were presented I made what I believed to be the “right” choice.  In some cases the “positive” and “negative” choices were clear.  But for some of the tasks there was only one choice to make and in almost every instance that choice was “negative” and earned me renegade points.  This not only frustrated me, it also made me question whether there was any point in trying to do “the right thing.”  I also thought it was unfair because in real life we always have more than one choice.  But do we really?  Are there times when “breaking the rules” is the only option?  The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that the game was playing fair – that there are times when the only way forward is to become a renegade.

But here be dragons my friends.  This is a slippery slope that can lead to all kinds of problems, not the least of which being chaos, anarchy and unemployment!  So the question seems to be, when is breaking the rules acceptable, even necessary, and when should it be avoided?  In his book The Way We Are, Allen Wheelis wrestles with this problem and suggests a way forward of sorts.

Does not all creativity originate in boundary violations, in breaking through to realms outside the old limits?  The completely moral life – that is, the meticulous observance of all of the rules – leads, for both the individual and the group, to a rigidity that falls increasingly at odds with a changing world.  Yet boundary violations, if reckless – reckless measurable, usually, only after the act and its consequences – destroy the individual and destroy the social order.  The individual becomes an outlaw, the group becomes a mob.

Creative change in a society issues from violations great enough to alter the social structure, but not so great as to bring it down altogether.  One wants a society of law that allows some laws to be ignored.  It is those violations we let stand that organize the ongoing transformation of social structure.  The observance of rules, with a wise measure of slippage, coupled with the violation of rules, with an ironic measure of prudence, creates flexibility, strengthens the group, and thereby creates the possibility of nonviolent change in the social order.

So the questions we need to consider then are first, whether the breaking of a rule is reckless, that is, does the risk – the potential consequences of our choice – outweigh the hoped for reward; and second, whether our violation of the rules also serves the interest of progress, meaning the way forward can only be achieved if the rules are broken?  I understand this is perhaps an overly simplified way to think about this problem and I’m not suggesting that the ends justify the means. Yet I do think that there are times when progress is utterly blocked by “the rules” – the business processes we’ve had in place “since the company was founded”; our multi-layered bureaucracies with their endless forms and approval chains; the “blockers” in the organization whose raison d’être is to obstruct, obfuscate, and aggravate.  In these instances I believe the judicious breaking of the rules is most definitely in order.  Understanding that the point is not to bring down the system (or your career), but to move the business forward – the end result being a stronger, more flexible organization.

Acknowledging that we may need to play the renegade from time to time is not easy, especially for those of us who, by nature, are designed to play by the rules: We want to do the right thing for the right reasons.  We want to work for companies that value and respect their workers and treat them fairly.  And we want to believe that everyone else in the organization wants the same.  But if we are honest, we know things are not always this way; and if we can learn to make choices based on what we know, then we can also learn to accept that we may have to break the rules so that the world in which we live and work can evolve beyond what it is, to what we want it to be.  Building a bridge to span this gap is only possible when individuals, who are paragons by nature, can also learn to wisely nurture their inner renegade.

Posted in change, development, learning, risk, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Promoting and Poisoning Change

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 6, 2011

And now, at last, we come to the final post in this series.  Thanks for sticking with me.  We’ve already covered the necessity of choice as well as the catalysts and essential elements that ignite and fuel the transformation process.  Previously we also noted that there were agents that amplify and weaken the transformation process.  These agents are called promoters and poisons; and what is true in chemistry is also true in our personal and vocational lives.  There are attitudes, ideas, and people that can strengthen and support our efforts or can resist, even spoil our endeavors.  Though these agents will differ depending on our objectives and personal circumstances, I do think there are some that will always be present.

Let’s start with the agents that poison the transformation process.  Chief among them, I think, is cynicism.  A cynic is distrustful of someone else’s ideas or motives; but cynicism does not necessarily need to be directed outwardly, toward others; it can also be aimed inwardly, at our own thoughts and intentions.  Now questioning our ideas and motives is certainly a part of the decision making process; but cynicism is not the same as honest reflection.  Cynicism becomes an end in itself.  It is designed to obstruct and incapacitate.  A cynic, including our own inner pessimist, is only concerned with why something cannot be done, and does care to offer ideas on how to reach our goal. Cynicism is static.  It stands still, frozen in time, incapable of action.  Whereas idealism moves us forward.  It chooses to act and embraces change.

Another agent that is toxic to change is perfectionism.  Perfectionism poisons our efforts in two ways.  The first sounds something like this: “You’ll never get everything sorted out the way you want it, so why bother trying.”  There’s a truth hidden in this lie that makes it hard to dispute, which is why we so often accept it at face value.  The truth being that we will never get everything sorted out.  Life is complicated and messy and there are too many components to account for all the possibilities; but the lie comes in the assertion that we shouldn’t try.  Human history has shown that progress is dependent on the attempt, even if that effort ends in failure the first, second, tenth or hundredth time.  Success is built on failure.  If we don’t try we can’t fail. If we don’t fail we will never succeed.

The other way perfectionism poisons our efforts sounds something like this: “You’re doing it all wrong?”  Second-guessing every decision, critiquing every step you make, brooding over the other choices, the ones you “should” have made, becomes a drag, a literal weight, on the transformation process.  We lose momentum and, more importantly, we lose focus.  We spend our time drifting among the “what-ifs” and the path forward turns into a maze of endless possibilities.  A choice is a choice and once we make it we need to move forward, whether it leads to failure or to success.  When we choose to move to a new location, then we must leave our old homes behind.  When we choose to start a new career, then we must leave our old jobs behind.  When we choose to follow our own dreams, then we must give up the dreams that others have for us.   In the end we can either risk a change, and move forward with our lives, or we can play it safe and remain where we are; but if we choose the latter then we surrender all hope of ever finding any real meaning or purpose in life.

Which brings us finally to the agents, which facilitate, enhance and strengthen our efforts to change and perhaps also those things, which give meaning and purpose to our lives: optimism and connectionOptimism is so much more than “positive-thinking.”  Optimism is rooted in honesty and action.  We cannot simply hope that things will work out for the best; we must act and we must do so honestly.  When we fail – and we will – we must choose to persist, to move forward, and not simply fall back into the old routines.  We pause, re-evaluate, and adjust our course; driven not by perfectionism, but from an honest awareness that our first instinct may not always be the right way to go.  We all have a blindside when it comes to making decisions because we tend to overvalue our intuition.  We trust our gut more than is reasonable or rational.  Dan Ariely proves this point over and over again in his books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality.  In the decision making process we are rarely (if ever) rational.  This means we need others to help broaden our viewpoint, to challenge our assumptions, and to support our choices.  Not cynics, but honest, invested, objective individuals who can help inform our decisions without undue influence or hidden motives.

Here is where connection becomes an essential agent in helping to promote and sustain meaningful change.  Having others – friends, family, and colleagues – who can offer honest, objective insight is critical.  Our natural – meaning irrational – decision making process is nearly impossible to overcome, even when we know we are being unreasonable.  We have only to look at our histories, the patterns in our lives that repeat over and over again to see this is true.  Though the final decision must be ours, having others in our lives who are willing to debate, disagree, and suggest other possibilities seriously ups our chances for success.  In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown makes this point clear.

Connection [is] the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.  One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.”  Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone.  Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves.  It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.”  The truth is we are both.

Change – meaningful, sustained transformation – will likely prove to be the hardest and the most rewarding venture we can embark upon; and reclaiming our lives and our vocations and our dreams may require a significant and fundamental transformation in how we think about ourselves and our place and purpose in this world.  But the risk, by comparison, is small.  Because if our lives and vocations and dreams are not already our own, then what can we loose by choosing to leave them behind in search of a more authentic and meaningful life?

Posted in change, failure, goals | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »