Guess who drew this map? If you need a tip, the only people who can stop the whole world from exploding is management. Management has the scissors, the fuse is on their side and instead of cutting it they are spending time fighting. All the damage of course will be to the “field.” Headquarter and Field are natural adversaries. HQ makes rules and policies to keep things fair and quality high (a/k/a consistency) while people in the field need the flexibility to adapt and see fairness as related to work ethic or talent instead of some HQ policy. Both are right. This dilemma has to be rediscovered by each new team that has begun to think it is about personality differences, or to accuse the other side of not understanding the real issues. This map was a message to the boss. And for reasons I can’t explain, she took it much better than a year of complaints.
“I’m the HR director standing on stilts because I have to talk to the director, but I don’t really have any power. Labor Relations (L.R.) and Personnel (Pers) are about to make me fall down.” This was a state government organization. Notice that “Labor” is in a turret with a fence around it with a window but no door. The central turret is open at the top with a person clearly “available.” The stance of this person reminds me of the woman behind the desk when I needed to change a class in college. She was the one person who could make it happen, but she really was sick of students asking to change classes. “Administration” the place you go when you are a problem…have a problem…same difference. THEN..look at IT. Information Technology was considered invasive at this agency and they talked like “aliens” thus the UFO. Try to understand with lots of stupid questions and you get “You don’t need to know that. Just (insert jargon) and you will be fine.” This one picture created insight for the HR person about balance and boundaries. The HR guys who kept agreeing they had to stop using jargon, finally “got it” from seeing themselves portrayed here. Notice also they are portrayed as lazy. IT guys simply have a different definition of urgent than most employees. Fixing your laptop does not equal a system-wide failure.
“The progression of a career in leadership”
I keep threatening to write a book titled “Leadershit.” This drawing is a great representation of why!
image New hires are sucked into the vortex of organizational leadership theories about white water, chaos theory, flexibility, doing more with less, participative decision making, strategic thinking, reliability and clear focus without any regard to the massive internal conflicts these impossible-to-maintain and mutually exclusive values set up.
Eventually being flexible can be interpreted as unreliable and white water is going to mess with people’s expectations for clear direction and focus. Simply reading most organizations’ list of leadership competencies is enough to make the most competent person feel incompetent OR to feel compelled to lie to himself or others (or both) about who she/he really is.
Good intentions created these “reach for the stars” lists of leadership qualities, but they have encouraged systems designed without regard for the fallibility and flawed nature of human beings. This creates a situation where every honest human being (who says, “Oops, I screwed up” every now and then) can easily be rejected in favor of the more image conscious less-competent individual who blames someone else. I taught leadership for years, and yes, I know that we have a “new definition” of leadership.
But the problem remains – even the leading leaders model is unrealistically positive. Facing the shadow side of human nature is scary, but incredibly valuable. The place where our common humanity can be revealed is the birthplace of compassion and tolerance. True cooperation does not occur between people who feel they must hide their flaws from each other.
This hiding separates them so much that ideas don’t flow freely, information is bottlenecked, and hesitation chokes their voices. Creative collaboration require strong connections between people that can only be born from a “warts and all” authenticity.
“We give 100%” is less believable than, “We give 100%, except for when we don’t.” If a group wants to develop trust, a good place to start is for EVERYONE to be honest about who they are and who they aren’t. In the best intentions to pursue high standards we have created a culture that doesn’t tolerate human flaws very well.
No wonder people are burning out and leaving their jobs… and it is the most creative, authentic and courageous ones that we lose as a result. Let’s try to make our workplaces safe for human beings and maybe we’d have more around when we need them.
This was drawn by a cross-functional task team in a high tech company where distrust was a big problem. Projects were way behind deadline, blame had eroded working relationships and a dangerous apathy drained employees of enthusiasm. The first two meetings with this group were frustrating – either no one was willing to speak or they flipped into a blaming tirade against management. Yet, when the group abandoned language and turned to image and metaphor, they could suddenly see several sides at the same time. Everyone laid their cards on the table.
The whole group combined their individual maps to create this picture. The CEO is sitting on a throne on top of a mountain with his hands firmly placed over his ears. The factory is way off to one side. It looks like slave’s quarters. Administrative offices are at the base of the mountain filled with “carpet people” (some groups didn’t have carpet in their office) leaning back with their feet propped up on their desks. On an island far away was a fort that housed the design engineers. Sentries were posted to keep everyone else out (and to keep engineers silly enough to want to fraternize, in). One lone HR person floats on a raft midway between the mainland and the island, without oars, vainly attempting to bring the groups together.
Obviously it required a facilitated process to handle these “dangerous truths,” but the power of these visual representations broke down barriers and opened the eyes of those who had refused to see the problems. You should have seen the face of the CEO when he saw this drawing! The metaphors shot right past his usual defenses of being angry or self-righteous and he just stood there, slack-jawed, taking it in. In a split second he saw what they saw and understood their point of view whereas months of discussions, mountains of reports and even the most articulate anonymous emails had not done the trick. The people who drew the pictures got an eyeful too. Their frustrations and anger seemed to drain into the pictures and leave them better prepared to look for solutions. They could see how they contributed to the problems as well.
The drawing exercise was a tiny piece of a larger process but it was a catalyst, nonetheless. They saw things they didn’t see before – and it changed them. The CEO started listening, the engineers dismantled their fort (parts of it, anyway) and the factory and the main office began to communicate more. Once exposed, blame either makes it’s point or gets cancelled out by the bigger picture. In the silence, many people don’t realize their “oppressors” feel like victims, too.
This picture was drawn by an employee of a large bureaucratic organization. When she lifted it up, there was a hush of recognition in the group. She said “This is me in the vice. But it could be any of us, really. We are all taking turns. All of these people are just waiting their turn. When we aren’t on the block getting screwed, we are helping turn the ropes and screwing each other.” The emotional content of this picture is powerful. Whereas, this group had verbally described their problem as having too much work and not enough support, this picture shows more of the story. It reveals how the group was contributing to their own misery by how they treated each other.
Other drawings dealt with more typical good guy/bad guy themes. One showed a garden (one manager was a sun, the other a cloud). Another person drew a boat splitting down the middle as the two divisions rowed in different directions. One side was happy the other sad. Yet, all it takes is one deep thinker in a group. Given a chance to effectively share how they see things, one perceptive soul can transform the rest. This woman held a mirror up to the group that revealed a view they were missing. It revealed that their problems weren’t necessarily all being caused by those big bad senior managers! Those big bad senior managers might have provided the vice, but it was the people in the room that were turning the screws on each other!
I could have preached cooperation for days on end, but they needed to see if for themselves. Once they saw their own contributions to the stress, they were no longer powerless victims. It was too bad (and very telling) that both directors were “no show’s” that day. A dialogue about dangerous truths only benefits the people in the room. But their progress proves that a group can make real improvements even without leadership buy-in. Reports to date show complaints from the field are down, formal grievances are down, and people are taking more responsibility to solve their own problems.