Tag Archives: culture

How To Deal With Envy In The Workplace

Do you envy your colleagues’ success?

Back in my younger days I attended a private boarding school for two years while I did my ‘A’ Levels. For an averagely talented young guy from a comprehensive school in Dudley, it was something of a culture shock.

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In the good old comprehensive, I was top of the class in a number of subjects. Each high grade and complimentary comment from the relevant teacher boosted my self esteem – gave me a feeling of being “better” than the other students. I wasn’t a popular kid, in fact I was probably on par with impetigo for social acceptance, and was more often than not the target for bullies who seemed to have collectively confused my head with a football. So I wasn’t walking around with a swollen head from excessive self-esteem, let’s just say that. But nonetheless, my apparent academic success allowed me to feel superior in at least one area. In these limited sets of circumstances, I was “OK” where most of my contemporaries were apparently “not OK”. In short, I was the academic achiever.

So when I moved to the poshest private boarding school since St. Posh’s Posh Academy opened in the Borough of Posh, I thought everything would be fantastic. After all, I came top in a number of subjects such as English, Music and Business Studies at my previous school – I was bound to fit in, right?

Eh, no. What I discovered upon joining was that the academic bar was considerably higher at the private school than it was at the comprehensive. In fact, it was like comparing the height of the Empire State Building to a small 10 storey tower block in Slough. Rather more steps.

Where I had previously been a high achiever, I was now distinctly average against my new peers. On the plus side, I fitted in socially and rather than being used as an item of gym equipment by the bullies, I was now popular. But academically, I was mediocre at best. What’s more, I only had two years in which to advance my skills just to match the base standard of the school at the time I joined.

This was a task equivalent to making a comb-over fashionable. It couldn’t really be done.

The result of this new set of circumstances was that I no longer felt “OK” about my academic ability. Everyone else was “OK” but I was “not OK”. Because I now felt “not OK” about my academic ability, I became envious of my contemporaries who appeared to be blessed with an innate ability to deliver high performance with little effort in areas where I seemed to require enormous effort for little performance. Bastards.

The more envious I became the more I saw myself as a victim of bad circumstances.

Now, my experiences are by no means unique and I expect my story is bringing back your own memories of similar situations from your school days. Like many of us, you’ve probably experienced situations such as mine where you find yourself coming up short in comparison with others – where you feel you’re not as good as you thought you were.

Situations where you feel “not OK” about yourself.

But just pause for a moment. I want you to consider how these situations affect your working life. Because it turns out that these situations are not unique to our academic careers – they are equally prevalent in the workplace.

The Comparison Problem

As human beings, we have all become conditioned to compare ourselves to other human beings. Throughout the course of a typical day we are continuously making micro-comparisons, be they physical, intellectual or situational. “Am I fatter than them?”, “Do they drive a better car than me?”, “Does my boss prefer Dave to me?”, “Is my report as good as Sharon’s?”, “Was that joke I just cracked as funny as the one Will told this morning?” etc, etc.

These are the things we human beings spend a lot of time thinking about. We are collectively obsessed with how we stack up against our contemporaries.

It turns out that this is an automatic internal mechanism, built into our brains and reinforced by social conditioning and experience. And it’s incredibly self-centred. In fact, it’s all about good old self-esteem.

We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to prop up our self-esteem, trying to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. This is because our self-esteem is often built on very poor foundations. Imagine going to the English Channel, building a pier out of flimsy materials in the middle of a storm and then running around trying to make adjustments in the structure to stop it falling down. Not terribly productive and likely to end in a bloody great mess. This is what we are doing all the time.

How do you feel when one of your colleagues closes a big deal? Or when a fellow co-worker is selected to undertake a prestigious secondment? Or when all the managers one level above you are given the opportunity to attend a training programme but you’re not?

Or when Debbie walks into the kitchen with a humungous coffee cup that’s twice the size of yours?

We should be pleased for our colleagues, right? But I’m willing to bet that many of us would want to throw Debbie’s stupid oversized poser mug out the nearest window.

These are the kind of situations that cause many of us to believe we are “not OK”. And going back to the pier metaphor – believing we’re “not OK” means that every one of these situations is an assault to our rickety self esteem in the same way as each wave breaks off another piece of the British Leyland pier. It’s a constant fight to stay standing.

Breaking The Cycle Of Envy

This cycle of self-esteem maintenance, which encourages comparison and then results in envy where the comparison is not favourable, makes working life far more difficult that it should be. This nonsense is simmering away under the surface in your office and your performance and quality of life is being affected by it. Do you want this to continue?

I suspect not. I mean, telling your manager that your poor performance in a task was the result of a drop in self-esteem caused by Debbie’s Bentley of coffee cups showing up in the kitchen is not going to cut it.

You can’t necessarily change this in others. But you can do something about it yourself. You can change the way you think.

Here’s how.

1. Look into others

We tend to look up to those we perceive as being more successful or more “OK” than ourselves. This is an inherently inferior position – similar to a child’s view of a parent. “I’m not OK, because he’s OK”.

Instead of seeing others as superior, luckier or more “OK” than you, think logically about what it is about them that you value. Ask questions such as:

  • What is it that I admire about them?
  • What have they done that I haven’t? How might I do that?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What barriers might they have in their work life?

When we use our mind in this way we turn off our emotional mode and engage our thinking mode. Rather than seeing someone as more successful than ourselves and reacting emotionally to that (i.e. I’m “not OK”), we begin to logically assess what lessons can be learned and how we might apply it to our own situations. We see into other people.

This brings me neatly on to the next tip.

2. Celebrate their success

We often see other people’s success as a kind of barrier to our own achievements, as though their being successful has closed off the route to our own success. This is particularly true in workplace environments.

However, you have a choice here. The reality is that other people’s success is a signpost demonstrating what is possible. Someone doing well within the workplace is immensely positive for you, because it shows what you might be able to achieve yourself.

Celebrate the success of others. After all, like you, they were probably “not OK” with themselves before they were successful. They’re just human beings, the same as you. So be pleased that they’re doing well and use that fact as motivation for your own success.

Which leads us to:

3. Give yourself a break

Like I said, we’re all human beings. Everyone has the same basic struggles as you. Just because someone else seems to be doing better, don’t assume that they didn’t have to overcome similar barriers to those you face. Don’t assume that because someone else looks “OK” that they don’t feel “not OK” in certain aspects of their lives.

It’s perfectly normal to be “not OK” about yourself. Which means that in actual fact, you are “OK”.

So give yourself a break.

4. Build your self-esteem on solid foundations

Remind yourself of your achievements, your good qualities, your skills. Take pride in who you are and what you already bring to the table, remembering that you can add to all of these things with hard work and endeavour.

There are things you can do which your colleagues cannot. There are things you have that they don’t. All too often, we forget our positives and focus on our deficiencies when comparing ourselves to others.

Build your self-esteem on what you have already accomplished and what you can already do and your metaphorical pier will stand up in any weather.

If only I had known this when I was at school. I would have realised that despite being academically behind my new colleagues at the oh-so-posh private school, I actually had talents in some areas that they didn’t. If I had looked into my fellow pupils and sought to understand how they had become so academically gifted, I would have had a strong chance of drastically improving my own academic skills.

Certainly would have been more productive than burning the school down. (Just kidding!)

I want to leave you with a great quote which sadly, I am unable to attribute as I can’t recall where I found it. If anyone does know who originated this, please let me know and I will add the appropriate credit.

Anyway, this is a quote that you should always remember:

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Worth remembering, I think.

So next time Debbie uses the entire contents of the kettle to fill her cavernous caffeine container, give her a break, huh?

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

If you’re interested in training that will help you to manage your self-esteem and get more from others, why not drop me a line at info@franklin-hackett.co.uk

4 Lessons From Captain Spock That We Can Apply To Our Working Lives

Like many people, especially fellow Star Trek fans, I was very sad to hear of the death of Leonard 00441047Nimoy last week. A talented
actor, director and writer, Nimoy will forever be remembered for his portrayal of Captain Spock in the classic sci-fi TV and film series, Star Trek. For many of us, he was an inspirational figure.

I came across this Twitter quote from the sci-fi author John Scalzi which says it all:

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However, while Nimoy has sadly boldly gone where many have gone before, the character he brought to life remains immortal. A towering figure in pop culture, Captain Spock epitomised the struggle between human emotion and the power of logical reasoning – something we can all relate to on a daily basis.

There are many fascinating elements to Spock’s character but I wanted to share with you four things that he demonstrated which I think are relevant to all of our working lives. Four things you should consider that will help you to establish yourself as a top performer within your organisation.

1. CONSIDER THE WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR ACTIONS

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So often, our main focus at work is on our immediate concerns or needs. It is very easy to think only of what affects or benefits ourselves. However, we are part of a wider system – a cog in a machine, if you like. Our actions on a daily basis affect our colleagues and most importantly, our customers. How often do you consider the implications of your actions on a wider level? Do you assess how your contribution is benefitting your organisation?

What Spock demonstrated was the importance of considering the wider implications of one’s actions, ahead of personal impulses. His willingness to do what was necessary for the benefit of the many won him respect and admiration from his colleagues, making him an authority figure within the Enterprise crew. Follow his example and you will quickly establish yourself as a respected and admired colleague within your organisation.

2. SEPARATE EMOTIONS FROM WORK

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Do you have a colleague who reacts dramatically to every little development in the office? If so, you have probably seen how destructive these emotional outbursts are to the rest of the team.

We all fall into the trap of allowing our emotions to get in the way of work. Certain things happen that irritate or worry us and we vent that through small emotional explosions. The problem with this is that our thinking capacity is dramatically reduced as our brain is overloaded with emotion. In this state we produce lower quality work and damage our own emotional health, as well as that of others.

What Spock demonstrated was the benefit of keeping one’s emotions in check in order to be able to make clear, logical decisions about the job at hand. You can accomplish this too by becoming aware of your emotional triggers and managing your response to them. Don’t let your emotions about your work impair the quality of your work. Follow his example and you will establish yourself as a natural leader – the one person who can remain in control while others fall apart.

3. ALWAYS CONSIDER ALL OF THE RELEVANT FACTS

FACTS

Have you ever noticed that many decisions at work are made on the basis of very few facts? Often, decisions are based on the impulses or desires of the people involved, not the objective facts of the situation. The result of this is arbitrary decisions that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

This is a trap we all fall into from time to time and it seriously harms our performance at work.

What Spock demonstrated was the benefit of performing a thorough analysis of ALL the relevant facts before making a decision. The solid logical arguments we admire in Spock can be replicated by any of us so long as we ensure we thoroughly understand the relevant facts before making a decision. Follow his example and you will be able to construct and articulate robust business cases that will establish you as one of the most influential players within your organisation.

4. USE COMPUTERS TO SERVE YOUR PURPOSE, NOT DEFINE IT

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Computers now dominate the workplace. Most of us are used to wrestling with various software packages (including the dreaded Microsoft Windows) on a daily basis in order to accomplish our tasks. The problem is that many people rely on computers to get the job done, in some cases to the point that they cannot function without them. Also, organisations are designing processes that cannot operate at all without technology.

What Spock illustrated was the danger of allowing computers to define one’s purpose, rather than serve it. We have become too reliant on IT within our workplaces. Think about your working day and consider how much you are relying on your computer for tasks such as communication. Ask yourself if software is telling you what to do in your job. Follow his example – challenge the stranglehold of computers and take back control of your job.

And finally, I leave you with Leonard Nimoy’s last tweet:

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Rest in peace, Leonard. I have been, and always shall be, your fan.

You Are All Diseased – Coping With Organisational Politics

We’re a sick bunch, you know.

Did you realise that every second of every day, your body’s immune system is fighting off a multitude of infections? To function properly, your immune system must detect a wide variety of agents, known as pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from the body’s own healthy tissue. Having done so, it can fight them off and prevent the body from being overcome by disease. Kind of useful, really.

medical reportMost of the time, you are completely unaware of this process taking place. Your immune system deals with the incoming assault and you are able to function normally. But every so often, you will succumb to some malady or another. This will go on for a short period of time, during which you will be aware that you are unwell, until your immune system gets on top of the problem and fights it off. It’s really rather amazing.

What’s more interesting is that even during these periods of ill health, you are able to continue to function relatively normally, even though you have disruptive symptoms that impair your functioning to varying degrees. But when the immune system breaks down or is unable to handle a particular disease, the body begins to malfunction and ultimately, without treatment, shuts down completely.

Organisational Immune System

It’s exactly the same in organisations. Every organisation is diseased to one degree or another, with an internal immune system fighting off the disease to a sufficient extent that the organisation continues to function, despite being sick. This is why you can experience life in an organisation as being dysfunctional and unpleasant for years and years, yet the organisation continues to operate, albeit poorly. The diseases in question arise in the form of behaviours – the little things people do every day that all add up. It turns out that there are a number of particularly persistent and destructive behaviours that afflict most organisations, impairing their functioning and hindering their ability to make progress.

The Four Behavioural Diseases

What I want to show you now is the 4 main diseases that affect organisations – the 4 main behaviours that rot its culture from the inside out, so you can identify their symptoms and take action to drive them out of your organisation.

And be warned, you may well be contributing to their spread yourself.

So here we go – welcome to my organisational autopsy report…

1. Blaming and Persecution

i.) Symptoms

A person makes a mistake at work and feels emotions of guilt, fear, anxiety and self-loathing. Their self-esteem drops as they wake up to the fact that they are responsible for this almighty cock-up. They become nervous as they wait to be found out and publicly humiliated by their colleagues and managers as a result of their mistake.

ii.) Cause

In most organisations, when a mistake is perceived to have been made, the default behaviour is not to identify the cause of the mistake in order to prevent repetition, but to find and humiliate the person responsible.

Blame is the aim and persecution is the tool used to deliver the message.

This rather dramatic ritual of hunting down and publicly vilifying the appropriate individual is incredibly common. The level of drama associated with it varies according the the culture of the organisation involved and the personal style of the person delivering the persecution. But the mindset behind the behaviour is the same – mistakes are the result of people, therefore blaming and persecuting the perpetrator is the best way to deal with them.

It also works in reverse. Individuals will often use blame and persecution to deflect attention away from themselves – covering up their own mistakes by attributing blame to someone else.

This continuous cycle of blaming other individuals and then persecuting them for their perceived faults creates a culture of fear, reducing every business situation to a personal mini-drama where preservation of self-esteem is the order of the day. Hardly a recipe for making progress in the development of a business or organisation, surely?

iii.) Treatment

The antidote to this particular disease is to normalise mistakes. Accepting that mistakes are inevitable and understanding their usefulness in gaining knowledge for the future renders it OK for people to make them. We all make mistakes, we know this to be one of the qualities of being human, so why not treat them as normal?

Focus not on the person who made the mistake, but on the circumstances that led to the mistake in the first place. What can be learned from what happened? What suggestions does the person involved have about what might work better next time? How can we move forward?

The key is not to beat up the person responsible, but to understand the facts of the situation and learn. This removes the personal element from the situation and allows an objective view of the facts to be achieved, making it easier for the organisation to move forward in a better position. Mistakes can be positive – allow people to make mistakes and you get innovation. Blame and persecute people for their mistakes and you get stagnation.

2. Victim Identity

i.) Symptoms

Members of the team justify their performance at work by identifying all the external factors that they believe to be outside their control and demonstrating how they have prevented them from making progress. Phrases such as “it’s not my fault”, “I would have done it but x happened”, “this decision is so unfair!” and “why is it always people at our level that get treated badly?” are heard on a regular basis.

ii.) Cause

Welcome to the world of Victim Identity. When you’re in this world, you believe that everything in your work life is controlled by others. – you are not responsible for your own circumstances. Victim Identity is an extremely common and pervasive mindset and it infests most organisations to one degree or another. It can be seen across all areas of an internal hierarchy, from the contact centre agent through to the senior director, and it rears its ugly head continuously, infecting conversations, decisions and behaviours.

Organisations are riddled with victims. The problem is, victims don’t believe they are responsible for taking action or making a change. They constantly complain about their job, but perversely won’t look for a new one. They think their boss is a cretin, but won’t have the relevant conversations to improve the relationship. They lament the external factors that prevent them from achieving their tasks, but do nothing to address them.

It’s important to understand that one of the reasons people adopt a Victim Identity is to protect their ego. By absolving themselves of all responsibility for their actions, they are able to direct blame for their circumstances on others. For this reason, frequently, victims will turn into persecutors.

I need to make an important distinction.  Many of us experience victimisation at some point in our life but what is at issue here is the playing out of the victim role.  Everybody experiences challenges and barriers on a regular basis but it is how we choose to address those circumstances that determines what role we will play. People choose to be a victim – and an organisation full of voluntary victims is not a productive one.

iii.) Treatment

Since a Victim Identity is primarily a learned behaviour and not inborn, it is possible to change it. The key is to manage your response to the victim behaviour you are being presented with. These steps usually help in guiding a conversation with a person who has a Victim Identity:

  1. Establish clarity about the situation and show empathy for the person’s feelings. Phrases such as “I can see how you might feel that this project’s objectives make unfair demands on you, and at the same time it’s true to say that this is unlikely to change” can help to build rapport with the person while establishing that their responsibilities are their own. While you should empathise and validate their view remember not to sympathise – this just reaffirms the person’s view that they are a victim.
  2. Engage the person’s thoughts in solving the problem. Phrases such as “I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on how these objectives can be achieved in the time you have available” help to move the person towards considering their situation in a logical and rational manner, diffusing their emotional state. It’s important to be consistent in the message that the situation is not going to change – the person needs to use their mind to sort it out.
  3. Reinforce the person’s positive qualities. Reward their initiative and validate their positive behaviour.

3. Past Focus

i.) Symptoms

People make continuous references to events that occurred in the past or dispatch long tirades about the circumstances that led to the current situation. Phrases such as “Well what you have to remember is this situation came about because of x” and “We tried this 10 years ago and it didn’t work then” continually appear in meetings and conversations.

ii.) Cause

Oh, we love to bring up the past in our organisations, don’t we? Sit in any meeting in any organisation and you are sure to hear sentences similar to these pouring out like a leak from a sewage pipe. They direct thought towards what happened in the past, usually in a negative context and prevent intelligent discussion of what needs to happen for the organisation to move forward.

The reason behind this is the common mindset of Past Focus. The past focussed person brings up old issues from the past during a meeting or conversation, which diverts the discussion into old unresolved hurts and pain while avoiding the current issue. Doing this spreads the argument so thin with so many accusations and wastes so much time that the main problem does not get resolved.

Organisations have to move forward in order to survive in a changing world but Past Focus roots them to old situations that may not ever be repeated, helping to ensure that they are unable to deal with whatever the future might present.

iii.) Treatment

The obvious solution to this problem is to steer conversations to focus on the future. Usually, it’s helpful to ask the past-focussed person some intelligent questions designed to move their thinking to a future-based approach.

Questions such as “How is this relevant to the situation we’re in today?”, “What can we learn from the situation you’ve just described?”, “What do you think we should do now?”, “How will we manage this going forward?” will divert attention away from lamenting the past and towards understanding the future, while allowing room for lessons to be learned from previous experiences.

4. Consensus Paralysis

i.) Symptoms

Every decision involves continuous checking up and down the internal hierarchy. The main area of concern is ensuring that everyone is “happy” or “OK” with the decision or plan. Progress is slowed down further if any of the individuals involved express concern or dissatisfaction about the decision. The “what” of decision making is given more consideration and rated as more important than the “how”.

ii.) Cause

Organisations are obsessed with achieving consensus. Whether it’s through a fear of hurting people’s feelings, or a need to demonstrate “buy-in” to decisions, many organisations are now driven by a consensus culture. No decision can be made unless everyone agrees or has at least voiced their opinion. This leads to the insidious disease of Consensus Paralysis.

The result of this continuous checking for consensus up and down the hierarchy is a decision making process so slow that nothing really ever gets done. The obvious impact is that change and innovation within the organisation is stifled.

What’s more, Consensus Paralysis leads to apathy, cynicism and detachment within an organisation as people begin to realise that nothing ever changes.

But at least everyone is happy, right?

iii.) Treatment

Consensus Paralysis can be unlocked by realigning the focus of decision-making. The key is to move conversation away from the personal subjective into the rational objective. Often, when the facts of a situation are made clear, the logical solution is revealed. In many cases, personal preferences and emotional standpoints dissolve in the light of factual data.

This can be achieved by using a simple set of questions that focus people’s minds on the problem to be solved, as opposed to their personal position. These questions include:

    1. What are the facts of the situation?
    2. What options are open to us?
    3. What are the outcomes of these options?
    4. How will we manage the implications?
    5. What is the best option based on our understanding of the facts of the situation we face?

By focussing on what the best option is from a business perspective, based on objective facts, we can eliminate the need to achieve consensus from the individuals involved in the decision-making process. A clear business decision will automatically engender consensus.

Springer’s Hackett’s Final Thought

So I will leave you to mull over that fact that your organisation is diseased. The infection is spreading. It’s life may even be in danger. If this was a close friend or family member, would you stand back idly and watch them succumb to a treatable disease?

What are you going to do to help your organisation on the road to recovery?

It starts with you.

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.