As explained in one particular interpretation of Open System Theory applied to organizational operation, there are three interrelated processes that are simultaneously running within every organization that directly determine the outcomes that they produce. Firstly, the Production Core Process, which has to do with all the activities that are directly related to producing the results. Secondly, the Individual Core Process, which involves that’s most important to the individuals relative to their own personal and professional objectives. And finally, the Social Core Process that involves the integration of the other two core processes in a way that creates the appropriate synergy as individuals work together to meet their individual and organizational objectives. None of these processes operates in isolation from one another, meaning that a failure in one will necessarily translate eventually to failure in the other two, and vice versa. High performance organizations devote the appropriate amount of time and attention to all three of these processes to ensure they work in concert to create common objectives between individuals, teams and the organization as a whole, while underperforming organizations overemphasize one process to the detriment of the others.
Unfortunately, far too many leaders spend a great deal of time on the production core process while ignoring or inadequately addressing the other two core processes. This is partly because a disproportionate number of leaders have gotten to where they are simply because of their functional expertise. They may not consider the investment of time in understanding what is going on with individuals and team dynamics to be essential to running the business, or even to be part of their job description. The other reason is that asking and answering questions about the production core process is much easier than delving into the often ambiguous and complicated details of the individual core process.
If a certain task is deployed to the team, it is much easier to discuss what equipment or software is required to make it happen, than it is to openly discuss the team dynamics—and individual personalities—that keep showing up over and over that, for instance, prevent different departments from collaborating successfully. Unfortunately, as the key considerations relative to individual concerns and team dynamics are overlooked, more and more of the key topics that must be discussed and resolved relative to the production core process become unapproachable because of the desire to avoid stepping on someone’s toes. The result is an organization that crawls into the safe space of polite public conversations, occasional unproductive outbursts, and incessant gossip by the water cooler. Meanwhile, results are stagnating or even backsliding because nothing is being done to address the processes which actually produce those results.
Reversing this trend and creating more transparency in the organization doesn’t necessarily require the involvement of a high priced consultant or a sophisticated process. It can start with a steadfast commitment to ask and answer the questions that are on people’s minds relative to the individual and social core processes. You can make and immediate and significant dent in the culture and results of your organization simply by making it a habit to pro-actively seek out those who count on you for leadership and making sure they are clear on the answers to their questions.
A great place to start is the list of questions below, which are often on people’s minds but often not voiced out of apprehension:
1. What is the organization’s vision and why is it important for us to get there? The answer to this question must go beyond the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) targets. It must establish an emotional and meaningful connection to what’s in it for the various stakeholders, including and especially the team members.
2. How do I fit into the organization of the future? This question is a significant one for leaders in the middle who keep hearing that they should be empowering the front line leaders but are unclear what their role will be once those on the front line are doing most of what these middle-managers do today. It is important to paint a picture of how the roles will evolve and how each person will add value in the future in a way that is even more valuable to the organization than in the present.
3. How can I strike a balance between collaborating with those in other departments AND meeting my own objectives? Silos often form and get reinforced because we don’t intentionally discuss the importance and benefits of optimizing the whole as opposed to the obvious benefits of the natural tendency to optimize one’s own individual function, something which ends up sub-optimizing the team’s overall results. Of course, as with many of the other questions, it is important to make sure that our behavior and actions are consistent with our answers.
4. Which of the ideas presented to me by my boss are inputs, recommendations, or direction? One of my former bosses clearly distinguished these three categories for us and every time he shared an idea, he was clear which category it fell in. This made it clear to me that “input” was simply for my consideration and I didn’t owe him an explanation if I chose not to do what he suggested. “Recommendation” was a strong suggestion and I needed to have an explanation if I chose not to implement it. And “Direction” was just that and I needed to do what was asked in my role as part of the organization as a whole. Distinguishing these categories sets people free to practice their full authority to think and plan and execute without having to guess whether the boss’s expectations might be different.
5. What type of work do I aspire to do and at what level of responsibility in the future? This is a question that individuals often don’t even bother thinking about. Most people, especially earlier in their careers, have aspirations of being at such and such level within X number of years. But it is important for each person to be guided through the process of developing a much more meaningful answer to this question for themselves and get aligned with their boss on how to go about achieving that goal.
6. What do I need to do to develop my skills and gain the right experience to maximize my contributions and achieve my personal goals? A development plan must be in place and driven by the individual. It does not need to be limited to classes and training sessions, but must include experiences and skills that the person needs to have in order to best serve the organization and their own personal objectives.
7. What are the highest priorities that should not be at the mercy of the long list of urgent work that comes my way? Most organizations don’t have the luxury of just having one or two priorities they can work on, but it is important to empower everyone to make decisions on the fly by clarifying which of the priorities are Breakthrough and which ones are Maintain or Improve. (This was the topic of my most recent newsletter article, part of which is excerpted here.)
8. What do my boss and peers think of my performance specifically? It is important to make sure that there are enough formal and informal mechanisms in place for everyone to be clear on where they stand relative to what they are doing well and what they need to do better. This should be done on a real time basis rather than relying on annual feedback to give them information that is simply too old and outdated to be useful. More on feedback can be found in my previous post on the subject (LinkedIn).
About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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