FANNING THE FLAMES
WRITTEN BY: ADAM CHAN
Fanning the Flames
Small acts that create enduring effects
The Myth of Productivity
What we know of productivity is its direct relation to company performance. A highly productive workforce would almost guarantee good company performance although it may not be necessary true for all situations. However, the positive correlation between productivity and company performance has led us to believe and act on it. After all, which Boss doesn’t yearn for a highly productive workforce? The reality is all but ideal.
To attain high productivity is not about chances and luck. The desire must be strong enough to drive the needed actions to get there. It is easy to guess that the path towards high productivity will not be plain sailing. Inherently, there will be obstacles.
The next logical thing to do is to remove the obstacles. At least most people would agree to that, right? However, I would like to get you to think about the term used herein; obstacles. How do you recognize the obstacles? How do you know that these are the obstacles?
Peter Senge’s suggested in his book, the Fifth Discipline, there are eleven natural laws in this world he called system. The eightieth law states, “Small changes can produce big results, but the areas of highest leverages are often the least obvious.” Recognizing these small areas as leverages to create big results doesn’t come natural to us. What are leverages exactly? Leverage is a noun by English language. It can be tangible or intangible. It can be as tactual as the fulcrum of a see-saw you see in any playground. Or it can be as abstract as applying the right strategy in conducting marketing initiatives. In a nutshell, leverages are ideas, insights, decisions, comprehension, revelations, etc. we obtained through experiencing a given situation that require some actions to address it. These leverages are areas where the biggest impact can made when addressed.
What has obstacle got to do with leverage? In the pursuit for high productivity, it is usual for any company to have a plan or strategy to do so. The strategy would be translated into daily activities carried out by various functions in the company. Making conscious effort to align these activities to the strategy set forth is critical in ensuring success in executing the strategy. Suffice to say that the pursuit would not be without obstacles. Naturally people would remove the obstacle. Invariably, that is provided they can recognize the obstacles to start with. Wanting to remove the obstacles is undoubtedly a good intend but can we effectively identify which obstacles to get rid of? The search for the right one to remove is the search for leverage.
If a certain workgroup identifies the presence of some rifts in their working relationships, which one should be dealt with first? Interpersonal issues are filled with subtleties. These issues are usually implied and subterranean by nature. This makes recognizing them difficult. Much energy is required to detect them.
We are pretty confident to say that fractured working relationships make the workers unhappy. Disgruntled workers are no productive workers. Naturally the company performance will slide southwards. Can sound business strategy alone turn the south-bounding productivity around when the workforce is disgruntled?
If we can agree that sound business strategy is not effective against rifts in working relationships, we would have to identify the critical obstacle to focus on. However, it is not easy to determine the critical obstacle. This is similar to the concept of leverage. Hard to determine but it is the most effective mean to adopt. I hope at this point, the myth of productivity is adequately addressed.
In the following sections, I would like to discuss on those subtleties, often embedded within interpersonal relationships and in what way we might trigger a chain reaction without the consciousness of the subtle act. I will term such subtle acts fanning the flames.
As emphasized in the opening section, interpersonal issues are filled with subtleties. I will attempt to illuminate some areas of potential where such interpersonal issues often lurk in subtle layers that are beyond our consciousness. If you find these anecdotal illustrations uncannily familiar, likely you are involved or you have observations that offer support to its existence.
In any common dictionary, territory is defined as a region marked off for administrative or other purposes. As we rose through the corporate hierarchy, we gain in both knowledge and competence. Along with it comes the authority to make decisions and influences. Invariably, authority offers us options. So what do we do with the options at hand?
Being overwhelmed by the options generated with greater authority can lead us to take options that we perceived as essential. However that is far from the reality. In the aspect of interpersonal relationships, there can be situations where authority is exerted merely because of preferences. Such acts can undermine the receiving end’s effectiveness tremendously. Apparently the exerted authority seems legitimate but over time, the involved team members would detect discrepancies in the act as compared to the team’s implied operating principles or their values. The existence of such act of overstepping territory can be further supported by the diminished returns of business results.
In all business related matters, delegating responsibilities is done to achieve optimization in handling business operations and initiatives. When one delegates, it implies the intent to develop the delegate as well. The receiving end of the responsibilities should have the readiness to handle the challenges with adequate parameters being communicated. Empowerment is thus achieved.
Imagine if you’re given a task to take over as chairperson of the regional meeting when the only experience you ever had was to sit in a section meeting. Should this act of delegation be viewed as an opportunity for your personal development?
In the quarterly regional meeting of a local SME, the Human Resources (HR) department was tasked to organize the entire event. Needless to say that the human resources will have a segment in the meeting to provide updates to the regional business heads. At the eleventh hour, the Group Human Resources Manager called the HR department and informed the rest of the team that he was unable to turn up for the meeting. The buck was passed to an Asst. HR manager who only covers local operations. No opportunity was offered to this Asst. HR manager to study the presentation slides and the chairperson of the regional meeting wasn’t informed of his absence. Was that delegation?
An account manager is due to make a presentation to the clients but was not present at the venue of the presentation. Inevitably another account manager has to step in to fulfill the responsibilities with very little knowledge of the account. The outcome should be predictable, isn’t it?
Making promises and commitments to the clients and only to pass the buck to other colleagues who have little or no knowledge of the entire initiative and expect exceptional results is not only demeaning, such act also contains all required ingredients to derail the interpersonal relationships between team members.
How many times have you heard of the truth? I am not sure about you but these days, truth is a rare commodity or it may be extinct in the corporate setting. In the courtroom you can hear many versions of fabricated truth, don’t you? What about in the daily interactions among team members? You can assure of its existence and its enduring effects too.
By now, you should know that the term fabricated truth is an oxymoron. It has its roots stemmed from the sense of insecurity. To feel insecure, one must perceive that loosing one’s standing or assets is inescapable. This will set off the defensive mechanism in us. One of the ways to guard our perceived threatened well-being is to fabricate truths to misdirect the attention to others.
Our minds are responsible in informing us of what we perceived from the world. Even the perceptions may not be necessary what is reflected in the world; invariably we would be told by our minds that the perceptions are the reality. Unless we challenge the authenticity of our perceptions, we will find no anomaly in our perceptions.
For people who are influenced by sense of insecurity would naturally set up a defense mechanism to allay their fears. Chances are these people would not be conscious of the fabricated truths they have used for defense. This unconsciousness results in those small acts of flame fanning. It can take place anywhere, anytime via any communication means. Unless the perceived reality is debunked, such acts will persist and propagate. To others within the circle, they might be influenced by this small pervasive act. You can imagine the capability in spreading. Is it not a chain reaction? By informing the insecure individuals the potential rifts that are brought about by such fabricated truths may help to keep it at bay.
Putting Out The Flames?
If you witness a flame burning within your workplace, the immediate action is to put out the flame, right? The aftermath created by flames is wide-spread damages. By putting it out doesn’t prevent damages. It only reduces the amount. Putting out flames is a reactive approach. Unless we tolerate damages, we should avoid taking the reactive approach.
No wind no fire. If we raise our awareness in detecting these subtle interpersonal issues, there might be no flames to put out at all. To prevent is always better than cure. Beyond prevention, teams should strive enhance the interpersonal relationships. A healthy heart never fails.
As a personal effort to enhance interpersonal relationships, we should never fan the flames by committing those tiny acts mentioned in the previous section. No doubt they are subtle in nature, we should not allow them to creep in and exercise their effects on the workforce to undermine the overall productivity. Nobody wants to be in a non-performing team. However, not everyone is conscious about the acts which are contributing to the non-performing status of the team. Hence, we can be puzzled by the anomaly of achieving diminished business results even the business strategy was sound.
Don’t fan the flame ….