Leadership Equation- Perspectives and Experiences
By: Shawn P. Quigley
Previously on the Learning Organization
In our last discussion we surmised that the experiences we provide to our workers plays a major role in how they react, what they do and how well they perform. In this discussion we will look into how one’s position; perspective, changes the effect of an experience. When I think about perspective, it reminds me of the example of the three blind men looking at an elephant for the first time. The first man touched the elephant’s trunk and thought it was the branch of a great tree moving in the wind. The second man touched the elephant’s leg and thought it was a column of a beautiful building. The last man was at the tail, could only smell the odor and said, “Both of you are full of it and I smell it from here.” This is a crude example, but shows that where you start change what you think.
For a good portion of leaders and managers, we have worked our way up through the ranks to our current position. This we would assume provides us insight into how our employees see things, but as with most assumptions, they can lead to faulty conclusions. A good leader does not base actions or reactions on assumptions. These help, but actions are or should be based upon facts. Facts and not subjective, they are not affected by perspective because they are facts. Referring to the analogy above, the elephant is an elephant that is a fact. What the men concluded was their assumption based solely upon their perspective. Having said that we need to delve into what can change an individual’s perspective and how this will influence the direction of where we go.
Perspectives (and Direction)
We will first look at direction based upon perspective. If we assume; not a good thing, we know the current status of our system and base our corrective and/or improvement actions on that, our plans will probably end up with results that are not what we are striving. We must first determine our actual starting point. How can this be done if we all have different perspectives on our present status? This reminds me of the saying: they are three truths, yours, mine, and ours only one of which is right. We all believe that our perspective is right and usually will push that point to exhaustion. This brings us back to the learning organization model. An open mental model will allow for a discussion of the perspectives held by others. This exploration coupled with supporting data will enable us to determine a more accurate starting point, where a ridged mental model will stifle this discussion and push forward on faulty data. The ridged model may be alright for small or short term items, but longer and more complex situations all but demands an open mental model. Think of it this way, if you are off by two degrees and travel one mile you may only miss your destination by a foot or two. However, if you are off by the same amount and your journey is for 100 miles you will be in the wrong place when you are done. This error will cause a self-filling prophecy of continual modification based on a faulty conclusion. By that one might conclude that the actions taken were ineffective and require change, but it was not the wrong action but the wrong starting point that caused the wrong results.
Typical Improvement Approach
The typical approach is to change is to start with where they want to be, which is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. You cannot tell how to get were you need to go until you know where you truly are. Therefore, the greater portion of change analysis should be to determine the actual starting point, not the perceived starting point. How do you do this? This task can be very subjective and time consuming. This is something that companies and most people try to avoid due to the “perceived” time and cost. Having said that, what is more time and cost consuming; constantly changing direction or spending a little up front time to know from where thus allowing for better direction? Note that this is not to say that modifications to the direction will not be required during the change process, but they are better understood using this model because their basis is better understood and conclusions will not be based on faulty data.
Let us get back to the main topic of how an employee’s perspective changes their experience and thus their behavior and performance. When we were looking at how perception changed our actions for change or improvement, we were also actually discussing how it affected our workforce’s experience. Our employees could perceive what we might see as a minor change as a major change. What we see as an improvement could be seen as an unnecessary burden.