Enlightened Conflict

organizational exhaustion

May 12th, 2017

exhausted organization puppy tie

 

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“I prefer physical exhaustion over mental fatigue any day.”

—-

Clotilde Hesme

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“There is a construct in computer programming called ‘the infinite loop’ which enables a computer to do what no other physical machine can do – to operate in perpetuity without tiring.

 

In the same way it doesn’t know exhaustion, it doesn’t know when it’s wrong and it can keep doing the wrong thing over and over without tiring.”

 

—–

John Maeda

 

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So.

 

ideas within organizationLeading an organization is not like running a race … well … at least it is not like running a sprint.

 

Okay.

I am being stupid.

 

It’s not like running a race.

Nothing like it.

 

It is more like managing the health of a body in which you do want some exercise and you do want some healthy eating and you do want to insure proper amount of sleep.

Suggesting you want to run a business like you are in some marathon is silly and misguided.

 

It is just as misguided to think about an organization like a machine with gears and moving parts and keeping it well-oiled and full of gas and shit like that.

 

I say all of that to talk about organizational exhaustion.

 

If you stay away from silly metaphors about what an organization is, or is not, simplistically you are trying to insure your organization is putting forth a proper amount of effort against the efforts you want it, and need it, to be working against. This is a daily, weekly, monthly and annual leadership objective.

 

Different leaders have different styles working against this objective but, simplistically, that is the objective.

 

Now.

HOW you meet this objective typically takes some experience.

What do I mean?

 

I assume most leaders do not inherently know exactly how to do this … pacing an organization takes some experience and some practice, some mistakes and some successes and then you zero in on how to do it well <or just keep getting better at it>.

 

Using me as an example … I liked a hard charging group when I got to a eat sleep work organizational exhaustionteam/group management level. And I, personally, would be ecstatic if I didn’t have to sleep and I could go 24/7.

And, in the beginning, that was my vision for my groups.

 

By the way … in general … good intentions … bad idea.

 

But what that meant was that I probably learned this lesson, pacing and applying effort appropriately, too slowly <and I most likely will have a bunch of past team members chuckling painfully in agreement>. Going hard charging all the time is not sustainable — you juts have a constantly exhausted group.

Effective hard charging doesn’t mean 24/7 it means picking your moments and going hard.

 

That said… in desiring to have hard charging organizations there were certainly some lessons anyone would learn to limit needless organizational exhaustion.

Here are a couple I learned along the way:

 

  • I had to be consistent.

 

It doesn’t get discussed often enough but expectations go both ways. As a leader setting clear expectations is certainly expected <and I will mention that in my second learning> but it really helps an organization if you establish clearly what people can expect of you – behaviorally and attitudinally.

 

Words surely matter.

Setting expectations surely matter.

Actions surely matter.

But consistency matters above all. No leader is perfect and no leader will make the perfect decisions, let alone good decisions, all the time. Therefore it becomes incredibly important to just be consistent. Your organization, and specifically people, will become better accustomed to where you will be really really good and where you may be slightly off <and they will naturally accommodate both>.

 

In other words … your consistency actually offers your employees some direction for what they should do. Your best people will assess situations and know where you are consistently most likely right on, know the things you consistently overlook and know where you consistently leave some spaces for them to ‘do their thing.’

 

  • Keep some strong threads of consistency.

 

Threads of consistency permit an organization to not have to think about some things.

There were some really simple tactical things that I could control.

 

  • What do you mean <clarity in articulation>
  • Where are we going <set a visible North Star>
  • What do you want me to do <pragmatic expectations>

 

organize fish

If you could keep these three things solid and not have people milling about talking amongst themselves on these three questions you were staying ahead of the game.

 

It permits your organization to progress and not be stagnant. It permits your organization  to not invest unnecessary energy against those things and apply energy against doing shit.

 

 

Of course, a leader doesn’t have to do these things.

 

Of course, a leader doesn’t do these things at their own peril.

The peril? Exhaustion. frustration. Waste energy.

 

Not doing these things has an expense to an organization and mostly that is defined by two things – time & energy. I would point out that both of those things are not infinite resources to an organization. I point t out because if they are finite than you better have them available to you when you actually need them.

And that is why I chose to not use an organization as a race metaphor at the beginning but rather an organization as a body metaphor.

 

Look.

 

As a leader of larger organization you can hide your misjudgments or poor decisions in a variety of creative ways … mostly by shifting resources from one group to another or have another department assume some different responsibilities or by shifting some people into the work gaps or to buttress the best people who are flagging with some support.

 

But that is also not sustainable.

 

organizational exhaustion battery

The organization gets exhausted doing all that maneuvering … in addition … they get exhausted by you doing that.

 

I will admit that I got better at this as I moved up in responsibility. And, I will admit, I partially got better at it simply because I had more moving parts, departments and groups to manage. That is because I loved working 24/7 and I thrived with the energy of solving problems and … well … just energy. In a larger organization there is always something going on, some project or problem or initiative somewhere within an organization that needs attention or needs a little ‘push.’ This naturally permitted me to let one part of the organization ‘rest’ while another part of the organization ‘ran.’

 

Oh.

Think about that a second or two if you will.

 

What I just suggested is that an organization as a well-rounded circle or the classical myth of a ‘well rounded person’ is … well … simply a myth. In fact … the idea of it creates a false narrative in our heads.  As an organization learns and thinks and gains experience it does not expand smoothly but, rather, raggedly. Day after day, despite the fact it may feel like business is a grind or it may even feel too fast <or too slow>  an organization is constantly running toward some thought and experience … or … leaping from danger or something  disagreeable or some problem or some success and … well … suffice it to say it is anything but balanced.

And it is certainly not creating any smooth well rounded growth.

 

My main point?

 

exhausted all possibilities tried everythingThere is no such thing as a well-rounded person and there is no such thing as a well rounded organization. A leader may certainly aspire to create a well-rounded organization but, even at your best, the organization at any given point in time is some shape other than a circle.

The good news is that this means organizations also naturally get excited to explore the edged forays into interesting things and, in parallel, get snagged on the ragged edges of unexplored thoughts or even second guesses with regard to the lack of smoothness in what is happening in departments, groups and efforts … as well as thoughts and growth.

 

Yes.

I will point out that this is why an organization can feel slightly uncomfortable on occasion as employees, departments and groups wrestle with this discomfort, as well as dealing with the ragged edges constantly poking at everyone, but I will also point out that is why the things I mentioned earlier become even more important –the consistency, the clarity and the lack of chaos.

I will also point out that his kind of ‘uncomfortable’ is okay. Ito a leader it is actually a sign that things are going okay and the organization is not stagnant <and good leaders know how to point out good non-stagnancy to calm uncomfortable>.

 

All that said.

 

I can unequivocally state that no organization is successful when needlessly exhausted. They can be tired at the end of the day but exhaustion is a symptom not of ‘a good day’s work’ but rather unnecessary mental stress trying to get things going, understand what to do and what to say and kibitzing over why it is so hard to get what seems like normal shit done.

 

When an organization is running well … whether the 350 million, 350 or the 35 organizational exhaustion balancing workrecognize it … there are many days when the 1, the leader, leaves the office exhausted.

And the one is exhausted despite the fact that 349,999,900 people, 341 people or 34 people went to sleep that day feeling pretty good about their day and their needs & wants & hopes took one step forward that day … and they are a good tired … not needlessly exhausted.

 

Oh.

Despite the fact the one went to bed exhausted that one will arise the next day fresh because the organization is ready to go again the next day … and not organizationally exhausted.

 

I will end by pointing out that an exhausted group, an exhausted department or an exhausted organization is the sign of poor leadership. And, most importantly, it is a precursor to signs of inefficiencies and declines in measured productivity.

 

and from time to time they permit themselves to be told

April 4th, 2017

letters to myself never read

 

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“The world is full of stories, and from time to time they permit themselves to be told …”

 

—–

An aboriginal saying

 

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I believe that the magic and power of a story can encourage and fascinate you.

In prehistory, outside the cave it was dark, but inside they had a fire and somebody was good at telling stories.

Every time I write, I think of the cave.

We are one group, outside it’s dark and wolves are howling, but I have a story to tell.

 

—–

Haruki Murakami

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Ok.

 

stories on wallsIt’s difficult to discuss stories too often.

The fact is that being able to tell a story … okay … tell the story you want … well … is possibly one of the most important skills anyone can have – in life or in business.

 

But let me stay on the business side of stories.

 

Throughout my career I have had the fortune to work with the most unglamorous products & companies you could ever think of <industrial products, commodity like machinery, etc.> and some fairly glamourous products & companies.

 

What they all have in common is that they have a story to tell … and when told well it makes them successful — in sales, in market place positioning, in competitive scenarios, in public discussions, etc.

 

I used to think storytelling was so natural to everyone I assumed everyone would want to tell their story … or maybe better said … talk about their business, their company, their product … as a story.

 

I no longer think that.

 

I haven’t figured out if it is that not everyone can actually tell a good story or that business has beaten the shit out of people so badly that the default articulation is a list of functional features and pragmatic benefits. What I do know is that business storytelling, in general, sucks.

It is absolutely horrible.

 

Meaningless metaphors and less-than-relevant analogies and misused quotes are scattered among the useful functional and pragmatic in the attempt to elevate that which is usefully boring to interestingly useful.

And because that is the case … well … most people either think storytelling is really really hard or that storytelling really has no place in what they are doing.vivid story demonstration metaghor

 

That is nuts.

 

The truth is you can take the most boring of boring, the most functional of functional & most ‘seemingly same of seemingly same’ and wrap it within a story and it … well … becomes compelling, interesting and distinct.

 

The truth is any business contains the essential parts to create a story … heroes, villains, vivid demonstrations or metaphors, life & death and even mysteries and solutions.

 

The truth is anyone can tell a story <it is possible that not everyone can write a story though>.

 

In fact … I feel relatively confident is stating that a good story to tell makes everyone better & more interesting.

 

I do not care what industry you work within or what type of product or service you sell or represent your word is full of stories … and, most likely, a fabulous story just asking for permission to be told.

 

All that said.

 

Someone is most likely sitting somewhere scratching their head thinking … “WTF, that sounds good but I have no clue what to do.”

 

Aw.

 

You do.

You do know what to do.

 

Stop thinking about selling your idea or selling your product/service or even selling your company … think about telling a story.

 

Shit.

 

nuts and bolts commodityI could work for a nuts & bolts manufacturer and be able to put a picture of two nuts & bolts side by side <one mine and one someone else’s>  which look 99.9% exactly the same … and be able to say … “Let me tell you a story about this nut & bolt … because its story is different than this nut & bolt. They look the same but their story is different.

 

Oh.

 

And my story wouldn’t be solely some manufacturing mumbo jumbo but rather a story about who counted on it and how my nut & bolt was the best friend to someone and … well … you get the point.

 

Unfortunately we don’t seem to be in the storytelling business in business these days.

 

Instead we bore down on manufacturing specifications, stress quotients, side by side rankings and a whole bunch of technically important functional aspects.

 

And you know what?

That shit is important.

 

Really important.

 

nuts an bolts story city growTo be sure … if it is my nut & bolt holding a wing on some plane carrying 300 passengers you can bet your last dollar the technical aspects of my nuts & bolts matter. I don’t argue that.

What I argue is HOW the technical aspects are articulated and delivered. What I argue is that if I can make my nuts & bolts look like a city of ideas through some story … I win.

 

Stories make presentations more interesting.

Stories make bland functional aspects take on some color <which equals value>.

Stories persuade people think <and thinking equals engagement>.

Stories to motivate us to see beyond the simple nut & bolt.

 

Suffice it to say … what you say is lost if you do not master how you say it.

 

Storytelling has been a mainstay of the marketing world since … well … forever.

And while it tries to sneak into the non-marketing aspects of the business world it often gets stiff armed by functional communicators – “get to the point” people.

 

This ‘get to the point’ point is nonsense.

 

Storytelling doesn’t sacrifice the functional and pragmatic and practical … it actually elevates it to ts highest value.

 

I could argue that stories are the essential driver of value, change & persuasion … throughout the history of business.whispers stories

 

Look.

 

I would never tell a business to not show the numbers, graphs and facts. It is important.

But strategic use of a good story can make those same bland things surprise people, make them become compelling characters in a story and instead of being cold hard facts laying on a page they can become things that make us think & feel.

 

Story telling is important in that it engages people, communicates relevant meaningful information, builds value on some things that can often be difficult to build value on and, ultimately, it makes you, your product or service & your company distinct.

Why? Because it has a story to tell.

 

The business world is full of stories, and from time to time they permit themselves to be told …

 

 

Enlightened Conflict