The organization as we know it is changing rapidly. Right now, traditional hierarchical organizations are becoming more social, open, transparent, inclusive, diverse... the list can go on! With this hitherto unheard of change tsunami people can often get lost and disillusioned. As organizations grow more complex, different parts of the whole no longer see the whole picture. There is a case for a deeper understanding of how the organization is feeling – The PULSE. Equally, there is a compelling case for spending some time in reflection – The PAUSE.
Digital Freedom in Organizations is all about the Freedom of Information – The PULSE & the Freedom to reflect and express how one is feeling – The PAUSE.
There are two BIG problems in organizations today that this hack looks to address.
1. The lack of any shared understanding of the whole organization, what we can call the 'PULSE' of the organization. By creating a moment-in-time view into that layer of organizational life that is so rarely available (and hardly ever as a WHOLE): the landscape of individual feelings, intention, interpretation can be better comprehended and addressed.
Much of the conflict in organizations today is because of the gap between people's intentions and the actual impact they have. More often that not, the impact is personalized and from there on, our brains go into overdrive and make up stories -
'My boss will NEVER appreciate what I do because X is his favorite',
'I'm never going to get that promotion because I don't flatter senior managers who make these decision'
'What were the guys at the top thinking when they made this new policy?'
'There's no fairness in the allocation of resources across departments, its rigged'
These are just a few of the many stories that people tell each other at the water cooler every minute at different corporations around the world. They tell them with passion and conviction, almost as if it is the undeniable truth. The problem is that it isnt.
Hierarchies in the past sent information down in what was the most efficient way - telegrams, memos, emails, postings on the bulletin boards. There was little time to poll people for their feedback, their reactions, their feelings.
Recipients of this information didn't have the whole picture, and used the little pieces they gathered to construct stories. The narrative of these stories personalized a lot of this information and more often than not, the narrator ended up being the VICTIM in the story! Now we all know about the issues that come with having a corporation full of victims! Pity parties with the problems always lying somewhere else.
This is extremely important to address because much of what people construe as personal isn't really personal. By allowing people to access and express their feelings, we can break free from this cycle of predictable gloom and engage employees and build trust.
If everyone has access to the WHOLE, where WHOLE = multiple views from different perspectives, their experiences of corporate life and their narratives will be very different.
2. The lack of 'REFLECTION' or what Kevin Cashman calls 'PAUSE' in organizations that rise and fall basis a 'did-you-beat-analyst-estimates-this-quarter' barometer.
Organizations can make the TOOT a pragmatic practice of deep, reflective inquiry for focused problem-solving and for engendering creative insights. The TOOT offers an antidote to our addiction to speed and transaction, replacing it with a conscious, intentional process of stepping back to reflect and deliberate, and then lead forward with greater clarity and impact. Rather than merely doing more, we must learn to reflect and to do things differently in order to grow, achieve and innovate.
In his book 'The Pause Principle', Kevin Cashman writes, “In our fast-paced, achieve-more-now culture, the loss of pause potential is epidemic. If leaders today do not step back, to stop momentum, to gain perspective, to transcend the immediacies of life, and to accelerate their leadership, we will continue to crash economically, personally and collectively.”
The TOOT then compels leaders at every level in the organization to pause and reflect - on their condition and the condition of the organization they work so hard for. By doing so leaders will gain their innate power to go to higher levels because ultimately it is reflection that powers purposeful performance.
In summary, the 2 problems that the Digital TOOT addresses are:
1. The lack of an Organizational PULSE
2. The lack of an Organizational PAUSE
The Digital TOOT - PULSE + PAUSE
The PULSE of the Organization.
The pulse check is a low tech/high yield and antiquated examination still useful in an emergency room in an age of advanced diagnostic machinery. While it is easily determined when a sick patient walks into an emergency room, ascertaining the pulse of an organization is substantially more challenging.
The TOOT is a simple interface that allows for all the different parts of the organization to report in on how they are experiencing the whole organization.
At the time an employee logs on to their computers / mobile devices they answer a simple question on the first 5 working days in a month with a single word. A sampling of the questions would include:
1. What is your world like?
2. How are you feeling this morning?
3. One word to describe - (Different Work Levels / Different Functions / Customers / Brands etc.)
As this information gets captured and aggregated a theme will start to emerge in most organizations. A pattern will emerge. The organization's PULSE will become clear.
Senior Managers might report being overworked, burdened and burnt out. Middle Managers will report being crushed between the different levels in the hierarchy, almost feeling shredded or torn between the demands of the people they lead and the people they report into. Different functions will have feelings about their counterparts and about their own worlds.
When all this is aggregated and presented as a simple window pane or dash board, and shared with everyone in the corporation, it will make for a compelling pulse check. Vital information on how people are experiencing the emergent system that is comprosed of all their individual actions will allow for better insight and empathetic leadership.
Preparing a comprehensive WHOLE picture like this would have take a lot of money and effort in the past, but the freedom that the digital world accords us allows us to achieve this inexpensively with hardly any investment in time. If everyone spends 5 seconds typing in a word on the first 5 working days of every month, there's virtually no loss of 'working time'.
The compelling nature of the output and the anonymity of the interface and polling system means that everyone can share their feelings honestly without fear of sanction. Given that all responses are anonymous the respondent benefits from the "disinhibition" effect; that is to say, feels freer to disclose memories, thoughts and feelings that they might withhold in a face-to-face situation.
Sample images of how a pilot TOOT might look are attached below:
The table below captures how one function is experiencing the others in the organization and can provide rich data for reflection. In the example below, Sales and Marketing are at loggerheads and this is something that needs to be addressed.
This image from across the organization can be enhanced with infographics and will then present a world view to every employee in addition to their personal view. This will allow them to see themselves in a different light and be more responsible about easing their condition in the system. In doing so they will emerge from a cycle of being victims and blaming the organization. They might chose to be responsible for their own reality and take steps to reform the organization.
A hack of this hack might be a simple classification of all the adjectives into 'positive', 'neutral' & 'negative'. When seen over time, the health of the organization, or how the organization is 'FEELING' might give leaders insights into what is working and what isn't. A representation of this hack is highlighted below. The organization below has progressively become more healthy with an increase in reported positive feelings, while instances of negative feelings have reduced.
PAUSE in the Organization:
'Slow down to go faster' seems counter intuitive at first glance. How could anyone 'slow down' in this big bad world where leaders need to 'walk and chew gum and beat Wall Street expectations'. But there's a powerful secret hidden in that little sentence.
Its worth revisiting the questions we ask in this TOOT:
1. What is your world like?
2. How are you feeling this morning?
3. One word to describe - (Different Work Levels / Different Functions / Customers / Brands etc.)
By requiring people to think about these questions and write down their responses we are making them more aware of how they are feeling. The benefits of this kind of reflection and journal writing are best chronicled in the writing of James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor who became deeply interested in the physical and mental benefits of self disclosure.
While basic writing paradigm, as introduced by Pennebaker and now widely employed in expressive writing experiments, involves participants writing about their experiences for 3–5 sessions, often over consecutive days, for 15–20 minutes per session, the TOOT requires that they spend a few minutes for the first 5 days of every month responding to these questions.
One individual benefit is that the act of writing puts a powerful brake on the torment of endlessly repeating troubled thoughts to which everyone in the organization is prone. Moreover, as Kathleen Adams notes, through the act of journal writing, the writer is also able to "literally [read] his or her own mind" and thus "to perceive experiences more clearly and thus feels a relief of tension".
"Quite what happens when near-obsessive ruminations, which frequently take place in the small hours of the night, are committed to paper is difficult to describe. It does feel as if the trap door of a mental treadmill has been opened to allow persecutory thoughts to escape. Though the accompanying feelings may persist for a time, the thoughts begin to integrate or dissipate or reach some constructive resolution." - Anon
A further hack of this hack might be to allow employees to contribute questions that they think are important to get an organization view on. By involving every employee in the reflection process and allowing them to ask powerful questions, the organization is likely to become more inclusive than ever before.
Allowing everyone in the organization a 'PAUSE' to acknowledge how they are feeling, an interface for them to record these feeling begins a process of constructive resolution by itself.
1. Enhanced Visibility of how all the stakeholders in the corporation are experiencing the whole corporation is something that is not ordinarily available to anyone in the normal course of events. The digital freedom that allows every single employee to contribute and create this window pane allows for greater empathy across the organization.
2. Greater Organizational Empathy will flow from understanding how stress might be distributed across the organization in very different ways. After a transport disruption, the supply chain team might be under a lore more pressure than the rest of the organization. The TOOT would pick this up and enable the rest of the organization to see this and help them out.
3. A True Engagement Index will allow everyone in the organization access to the PULSE. Traditional engagement surveys are collected, discussed at the very top, filtered, the data massaged and then presented to the rank and file of the organization. Very often, the people receving the results are left wondering where there voices got lost. In visualizations like a Wordle, every word that anyone in the organization contributes, is captured and can be seen.
4. Greater Right Brained approach to problem solving when the way people 'feel' becomes a part of the decision making process. A lot of recent businesses have run awry because of an excessive reliance of algorithms, data and computing processes. By connecting people to the way they feel about the organization, its customers, and their co-workers, the TOOT enable more authentic expression of oneself at the workplace.
1. Less Reaction, More Reflection: When everyone is intimiately acquainted with the pulse of all the stakeholders in the organization, everyone is in a better position to experience the corporation as a whole. With that comes the power to step back and make a more empowered response, to break free from a cycle of predictable conditions that precipitate predictable victim responses.
2. Less Victims, More Responsible People: An employee in the frontline might be able to appreciate the significant stress and anxiety that comes from being a CEO. A CEO might become aware that his middle managers are getting chewed by their direct report because of his dragging his feet on a few decisions. With this hack, there might be the possibility that people in the organization start to find the most generous explanation for other's behavior. Even better, they might start to truly believe it!
3. Less Selfishness, More Generosity: Reflecting on the entire system makes one feel less lonely. Knowing that other parts of the system are experiencing similar of even harder times can help people cope with their personal realities much better. This is likely to increase the chance of people reaching out rather then going in to a shell and being self-centric.
4. Less Incrementalism, Greater Innovation: The dangers of excessive action orientation are well documented. You don't see the danger till it is too late. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambigous world, there is a need for regular pause if one is to truly innovate, to be a game changer. Building a moment of reflection in every manager's day builds that discipline across the organization.
5. Growing Personal Leadership: By connecting people with their feelings and having them replay their experiences we are deepening the lessons they are learning from them. This can be a powerful leadership development hack by itself.
Getting an entire organization's PULSE and building the discipline of PAUSE isn't an easy change project. There are some challenges that need to be overcome to realize the many benefits of this hack. Some of the challenges are listed below:
1. There is significant survey fatigue in organizations these days. People might be resistant to sharing even a single word!
2. There could be some fear that honest reporting of feelings can be traced back to them and hence people might not report what they are truly feeling.
3. Reporting fatigue might set in after a while if done excessively.
4. Traditional leaders might frown on the notion of sharing the 'truth' with everyone. Also the notion that every single person's word carries an equal weight might be discomforting for people clinging on to ancient power structures.
A suggested route to overcome these challenges are described below:
1. When an employee logs on to either a mobile device / laptop / desktop anywhere in the organization on the first 5 consecutive working days of the month he/she gets a simple prompt / or has to send an SMS to a certain number. Questions should ideally have single word answers so that it is easy for respondents. The idea is to have them PAUSE, THINK and REPLY.
2. The employee then fills up the response field and hits the send button. As a reward for having responded to the survey, they get immediate access to the emerging organization picture. The information sharing is immediate and unfiltered. It is the unvarnished TRUTH.
3. As more people fill in their responses, the picture get more detailed. This is available only to people who participate in the exercise. It is a kind of exercise where you need to put something in to take something out!
4. More detailed analysis of the different questions can be made available from time to time. A sentiment chart might let people know whether the organization's health is improving or in decline.
This can be implemented very quickly in a small sub-unit. In a factory, in a business unit, in a regional office. It can be done in an part of the organization as a pilot run. You could even use it in a small team provided there is a way to ensure anonymity of the responses.
It isn't very expensive to set up and can be turned around very quickly. There are both individual and organizational benefits and the process is self-fuelling once set in motion. Through the practice of being in touch with the PULSE of the organization, and PAUSE, to articulate and express how one is feeling, employees are more likely to be engaged and involved in their daily work. After all, no one wants to work in a 'sick' organization!
Its wow factor is the emergent picture that allows people to see the different parts of the corporation and their experiences that people in those parts are having. The empathy that results helps nurture partnerships and break silos.
Step 1: Questions - This section deals with the kind of questions that people will get asked on SMS / App / Laptop / Desktop on the first 5 consecutive working days every month.
Step 2: Instant Reward - This section deals with the instant reward that people who respond to the questions will get – access to an organizational picture with clear visibility of how other people are feeling, and how the organization as a whole is feeling.
Step 3: Data Mining: This section deals with the use of the data captured in this exercise to begin diagnosing interfaces in the organization that might need special attention if the organization’s PULSE is to improve.
Attached in the documents section is a step by step guide to get through this process.
Barry Oshry - Seeing Systems
Kevin Cashman - The Pause Principle
Paradoxes of Group Life: Understanding Conflict, Paralysis, and Movement in Group Dynamics by Kenwyn K. Smith and David N. Berg