Coach’s Challenge for 7/6/09

Good day, team,

Today I read an interesting commentary in a publication called “Reflections, The SoL Journal, on Knowledge, Learning and Change.” It was written by Anne Murray Allen about her experience working for Hewlett Packard for 16 years. Here’s what she discovered at HP, which is the heart of this week’s challenge:

“When I first joined HP in 1989, I was delighted to become part of an informal, creative, relatively egalitarian social structure. Characteristics and things that human beings yearn for were very present in the work environment. Specifically these included a feeling of well-being, a sense of meaning, and moments of fulfillment at work. I would call it a very loving environment, where ‘love’ is defined as being ‘legitimate in the eyes of another.’ Working in collaborative social systems within a decentralized company, we had the luxury of autonomy and focus, and tremendous results were accomplished.

“And then the world changed. The most noticeable force was the establishment and broad adoption of the Internet. Change in technology and quick access to others around the globe meant new rules in an increasingly more complex and interconnected world. HP’s response to increased competition was similar to that of most multinational companies. The divisions were reigned in, and the company began the journey of learning to be one clear presence to global customers. The idea was to reduce complexity to our customers and stakeholders, but the cost was increased stress, complexity and fatigue for employees. It became impossible to see the larger social system, let alone know if each of us was having an impact.

“Governance of the business became more hierarchical, and work lost meaning for most employees. Many people felt, ‘My job isn’t hard, it is just hard to do my job.’ Paradoxically people became bored, underutilized, and their ideas less legitimate. Yet corporate success was increasingly and precariously measured on short-term profitability, and the connection between long-term financial, social, and environmental well-being was overlooked.

“Regardless of societal shifts over time, humans remain social beings. Simply working for a corporation that pays a good salary is not and will not be enough. The best and brightest want fulfillment, meaning, and an inspiring social structure.”

Anyone who has watched Hewlett Packard’s rise and fall over the past 20 years understands what Allen is saying. Originally, she worked for a company that encouraged her to take ownership and supported her creativity. She felt legitimized by her colleagues. But over time, the company, through increased global competition, created a more hierarchical environment that became overly complex and stressful, and she, like many of her colleagues, lost her desire to commit and engage.

Ask yourself if you see similarities in your work situation to what Allen has described. Are you working for a company that encourages your engagement in things that have an impact? Do you see the rewards of being committed to your job? Do you feel that you’re making a difference? Is it getting more and more difficult to do your job? How often are you encouraged to see things differently or to take a more creative approach? Has the process for getting things done become so complex that it creates undo stress for you and your colleagues?

If you’re in an executive position, are you sacrificing long-term profitability by focusing on short-term fixes and a focus that’s too narrow? Perhaps you’re making decisions about the company based on fear rather than your mission.  Are you encouraging your team members to take ownership and helping them see how they can make a difference?

Try to find new ways to engage your heart and mind. Encourage your team members to join you in this engagement. Maybe you redesign a process that no longer works, but that everyone still uses out of habit. Perhaps you suggest that your team members take more ownership for a project and set a goal to finish a week earlier than expected. Sometimes setting tougher goals can reactivate a team and increase engagement. Try helping others see the connections between their daily activities and the company’s overall results. You’ll find that by doing so, it’s easier to see how your own efforts also make a difference.

Allen reminds us that we will need full engagement if we are to create a future in which we can thrive rather than becoming increasingly more worn down and disenfranchised. The successful companies of the future will provide leadership that supports both our hearts and minds as well as demonstrating a moral backbone. They will encourage and enable people to share and have access to each others’ knowledge and expertise.

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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