Tag Archives: Management

The hospital and the radio station: when management fails who pays the price?

13 Dec

Though there are many unknowns surrounding the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, what is starkly evident is that there are no winners in the aftermath of the prank. Images of her stricken family reveal just how badly things went wrong.

It appears that Saldanha played a very small role, merely answering the call from the two Australian DJs and putting it through to the appropriate staff member. It was not Saldanha who revealed royal medical details.

Having listened to the recordings, I understand why no one was more surprised than 2Day FM DJs Christian and Greig when their silly accents fooled staff, and they found themselves discussing the Duchess’s condition with her nurse. However, in the context, why should nursing staff be knowledgeable about silly Australian accents, and why should they be expected to be on the alert for pranksters?

Clearly hospital protocol regarding access to information about royalty and celebrity needs a review, not to protect those luminous beings, but to protect hospital staff who look after them. Surely it wouldn’t be difficult as a matter of course, to direct all inquiries to a PR professional and leave the medical staff to do their jobs untroubled by  pranksters.

It’s the nature of the prank that it takes its subject unawares, and plunges her or him into immediate confusion and self-doubt. The nurses involved may well have felt there was something amiss, and found themselves in the unenviable position of having to make a spilt-second decision that either way would backfire. What if they’d hung up on the Queen? What if they’d wrongly questioned her authenticity? The victim of a prank can never win.

I am interested to know how hospital management treated Saldanha. While a spokesman has been at pains to reassure her family and the media that she was not formally reprimanded, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t shamed in other ways within the hospital system, by administration and other staff. Was Saldanha held solely responsible because she answered the phone and put through the call? What about the nurse who gave out medical information?

DJs Greig and Christian have been widely blamed for instigating the prank that apparently led to Saldanha’s presumed suicide. However, it seems to me that like Saldanha, they are in some sense scapegoats for managerial hierarchies that have in both cases failed to adequately protect their coal face workers. Greig and Christian performed the prank, a prank that was approved by the station’s lawyers, and that was situated in a station culture of pranks. Apparently, the DJs can only air what is approved by management.

Saldanha, Christian and Greig have in common a position of being small but very visible cogs in powerful managerial wheels that are largely hidden and protected from public scrutiny.

No matter what one thinks of them, the careers of Greig and Christian may well be over. They are bearing the brunt of global fury at the dreadful outcome of the prank. At any time several layers of  2Day FM management could have pulled the plug. Nobody did. Will any management heads roll at the station?

Jacintha Saldanha is dead. Will any action be taken against the hospital management that failed to implement protocols to protect staff and patients from violation of privacy?

What is needed is an ongoing exposure of the normalised managerial culture that allows those with minor decision-making privileges to become scapegoats for the  less visible but extremely powerful individuals who are running the show. Ultimately these individuals are responsible when things go wrong, and they are responsible for the culture of the institutions they control.

In Search of the Bricoleur

23 Apr

Guest post today by Stewart Hase

Bob le Bricoleur

In Search of the Bricoleur

Key Points

1. Another personality difference that creates conflict.
2. Bricoleurs see the word differently to non-bricoleurs
3. Bricoleurs are often side-lined.
4. Bricoleurs need to be invited into decision making situations not excluded.

I recently discovered that I am a bricoleur and it is a blessed relief to have outed at last. What this insight has done has explained how it is that I have managed to upset so many people in organisations, and perhaps other situations, over the years. It is a personality thing and, as I’ve mentioned before, it is personality differences where most conflicts begin, if not end.

Bricolage is a French word, as you’d probably guess, and originally referred to a worker who would make the best with what they had to complete a task. Thus they were people who tinkered with things, even playfully in an effort to solve a problem and used whatever resources they might have at hand. The term then became associated with art and craft. Later the usage has been broadened to include people who use their experience, their instinct, trial and error, and again, tinkering, to solve any sort of problem.

Thus, a manager or a researcher, for example, would bring whatever models are appropriate to a problem and would not be tied to a particular way of doing or thinking. They’d try something, perhaps even an amalgam of competing techniques or ideas, and see what worked rather than using a recipe driven approach. For the bricoleur, dogma and gurus who think they know the best way to approach a problem or issue are viewed with suspicion.

It is easy to see that to some people the bricoleur is nothing but a terrorist. They don’t work by the book, fiddle with process, flaunt policies and procedures, play with ideas, tinker and dislike high levels of control. This is the stuff of a nervous breakdown for the manager who is high on order, with crockery ducks flying along the wall in precise formation. The ISTJ will probably end up on high levels of psychotropic medication if a bricoleur is a member of their team. The archetypal Humphrey Applebee would be looking at Guantanamo Bay as a solution to the situation.

The truth is, of course, that we need both types in any organisation but it is easy to see where the conflict occurs. The bricoleur and the non-bricoleur are seeing the world through quite different lenses and will find it hard to understand each other’s language. Bricoleurs, in the original definition, were seen as being well-meaning amateurs by more traditional craft-persons or tradespersons who did things the ‘correct’ way. A bricoleur would see herself or himself as bringing expertise from many disciplines and experiences that enable them to see a task or problem in a different light. They’d see the other as narrow minded, limited in imagination and simply in the way.

My guess, and I don’t have any hard data to support this, is that bricoleurs would tend not to rise to the top of the corporate tree and f they did it would be an accident of sorts. Whether or not that is a good thing is open to debate and it may not matter because nature has probably spoken on the topic by making them unacceptable as leaders/managers and excluding them already.

I think organisations need bricoleurs, particularly in their decision-making and strategic processes. And it may be the case that they tend to be side-lined and ignored, infrequently being asked into the board room or places where the important decisions are made. We need people who are prepared to see things differently, ask difficult questions, be a bit different and tinker with ideas. They need to be heard and not just seen. My experience is that they tend to be seen as a bit too different, not a team player and just a bit too out there-a well meaning amateur perhaps.

Some years ago I was doing a consulting job with a great friend, Alan Davies. We were arranging a search conference to undertake a strategic planning exercise. The CEO was objecting to Alan wanting to invite union leaders and some other rebels who did not tend to toe the organisational party line. This list included customers who had not had a good experience with the organisation. Alan insisted they attend because you need to have your ‘enemies’ (not that they were really enemies but were perceived as such) in the room and not banging on the portcullis creating a stir. Best piece of management learning I every received and so too for the many CEOs who did eventually engage with the ‘enemy’, who is anyone unlike themselves.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com


Changing Behaviour is Trickier Than it Looks

15 Mar

Guest post today on change, by Stewart Hase

Key points

1. Leaders often underestimate the difficulty of changing behaviour.
2. People are naturally resistant to change for sound biological reasons.
3. Teachers, trainers, coaches and managers are mistaken in thinking that well presented logic will win hearts and minds.
4. Most change efforts fail miserably.
5. Leadership behaviour can make the difference by changing habits over time.
6. Changing behaviour takes careful planning and good techniques.Recently, I have been surprised (again) that leaders don’t understand the complexity of behaviour change. As a consequence they become frustrated when people don’t do what they have told or do what is expected.While it is true that humans have a history of adaptation to their environment, the process is relatively slow: generational rather than situational. We are hard wired to resist rapid change.

The reason for this is simple and based on biological imperatives that are several thousand years old and belong to a world where primitive drives such as hunting, gathering, procreation and survival involved high risk activities. These activities require a lot of energy and, hence, we find ways to be energy conserving. In addition, we have a finite capacity in short and working memory that limits our attention and a significant task like change is not likely to be a natural priority.

It may be unpalatable to many but the same primitive and self-interested drives still preoccupy our species: it’s just that the behaviours associated with meeting these drives are more complex compared to pre-agrarian times. Despite having modified our environment and our control over our circumstances, we have yet to throw off this tendency to preserve energy.

Energy preserving behaviour is easily seen through the phenomenon of habits. These automatic behavioural scripts mean that we do not have expend effort to rewrite behavioural scripts for similar, and even not so similar, circumstances. Humans mostly like routine. We also tend to have quite durable values, attitudes and beliefs. I am sure you can think of many ways you demonstrate this capacity daily.

Nothing wrong with doing this, we are all just practicing an ingrained drive to survive. Recognising that this is the normal human condition is important and helps explain why we are so resistant to change. Recent research shows that changing a habit takes about three months before the new habit becomes, well…..a habit!

Changing attitudes, values and beliefs (collectively known as schema) is even more tricky and beyond the scope of this blog. In short, though, the best and quickest way to change schema is to change the person’s behaviour. The easiest way to increase resistance is to challenge someone’s schema because they will automatically find arguments to support these holy cows. We often talk about winning hearts and minds. We should, in my view, think about winning hearts by changing behaviour. But more about this in another article, even though the answer is still found in effective leadership.

I have been involved in clinical psychology work for around 30 years in one way or another. Countless people I have met have been in dreadful pain with depression, anxiety, addictions and other good reasons to change their behaviour to improve their lot. Nonetheless many have resisted change and, for various and often complex reasons, decided that they would rather stay in pain rather than ‘risk’ doing things differently. As might be expected others are very motivated to try something new even though it is hard work. Pretty well everyone needed intensive help to do this.

Sometimes people do change spontaneously but often in response to a traumatic or extremely enlightening experience that accelerates learning. Mostly motivation to change is enhanced and the required skills are obtained through the resulting expenditure of effort.

So, in the face of a natural human propensity to resist change why would anyone be motivated to change when: they are relatively healthy; their habits seem to be quite functional in the absence of any personally relevant evidence to the contrary; they are not experiencing any incongruence between their attitudes and their behaviour-in other words their behaviour makes sense to them and they feel comfortable about it; and they are being sufficiently rewarded in a variety of ways to keep on doing what they do?

I think most change agents, teachers, trainers, coaches, and managers overvalue the impact of what they do and attempt largely ineffective approaches in their attempts to change other people’s behaviour. Mostly we think that logical argument, well presented reasons attached to emotional messages, policies, procedures and simply telling people will win people over. We are often surprised and then frustrated to find that what we are doing does not work.

So, changing behaviour, whether it is our own or someone else’s, needs to be planned carefully. It requires good techniques and, we need to be motivated which is often emotionally mediated. If it is another person we need to get their attention.

Leaders can get attention by: having a good relationship with the person in the first place; being prepared to have difficult conversations; providing clear description of the desired behaviour; coaching where necessary; establishing an action plan with timelines; providing support; intervening when there are difficulties; providing resources; ensuring the desired behaviour becomes part of the KPIs (or whatever performance system is used) for that person or persons); and follow-up.

Remember too that people will find change easy and others will have reasons to be resistant. Whatever the case, we need to have a clear process that creates a reason for the person to spend energy on change.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

When Management Decisions Get in the Way of Productive Workplaces

16 Jun

Guest post today by Dr Stewart Hase 

It constantly amazes me, despite all we know about human behaviour, that managers can still get the implementation of change completely wrong. Psychology may not be a completely exact science and there is much we don’t know yet but it is better than whim. Moreover, there are some things for which we have ample evidence. For the purposes of this article, these are that employees more fully engaged in their work and more productive if: their job satisfaction is high; the culture is essentially democratic; they are valued; intrinsic reward is the norm; they feel they have autonomy in their work; relationships are fulfilling; the work has meaning and purpose; and there is optimum variety in the work.

It has also been shown that as little as a fifth of all employees in developing countries are fully engaged at work and, hence, fully productive. More importantly, workplaces are potentially psychologically unhealthy, if not managed well, and this has considerable impact on those who work there. There are dire consequences indeed of managers not being aware of what is required to develop and maintain a positive workplace culture. And it is the management of an organisation that is fully responsible for the culture.An experience I once had with an organisation has reminded me of the fact that managers make decisions based more on the quirks of their personality than they do on evidence from the scientific literature. For example, a high controlling, autocratic, punitive, aggressive, micro-management style will result in very specific decisions when it comes to day-to-day management and, in this case, the implementation of change.I was asked to assist a group of people cope with change in their organisation. The program was, inappropriately, called Change Management. The brief for the job was that a change initiative had come a little unstuck and that a group needed help with dealing with the outcomes of the process. Immediately my antennae started quivering. When things go wrong in an organisation it is often decided to conduct a training program rather than look at the reasons for the problem. It is easier, or more comfortable, to implement a training solution than the higher complexity of a systems solution.Closer inspection and on commencement of the ‘training’, the situation became clear. Had senior management carefully designed a change process designed to create enmity, negativity, angst, and dysfunction, they could not have done better than what occurred through incompetence.

The organisation had implemented a quality system and a new quality team to review the work of some 300 others. The change process, if you could call it that,: was completely ‘top down’; had no stakeholder consultation or involvement; devised a system of performance management for non-compliance; produced a complex and ambiguous manual that was intended to be a living document (like the law) on which to base decisions of compliance; created a lengthy adversarial system to manage the inevitable disputes over the decisions on non-compliance; was implemented in a culture that used email to deliver quality reviews due to the distributed nature of the organisation; and there was no attempt to make informed decisions after a lengthy trial when things clearly were not working, other than to conduct a change management program for the quality team (not the whole organisation).

In short, all the tenets of implementing successful change were ignored. This resulted, predictably, in: a classic in-group – out-group situation with all the enmity that this causes, especially against the quality team; high levels of stress for everyone; a high level of angry rather than co-operative disputation; team leaders protecting their ‘turf’ by defending non-conformance formally and informally; avoidance of personal contact between the quality team and the other employees; an adversarial culture; job insecurity; reduced job satisfaction; poor relationships; and alienation.

This could have been completely avoided had senior management bothered to read the change management literature or obtain advice from someone who did. Sadly, this was probably not likely to occur given the personality of the senior manager implementing the change.

The ‘change management’ program very quickly became a strategic planning exercise, based on the needs of the quality team, and was extremely successful. Unfortunately, we needed to have the whole organisation in the room and conduct a search conference, or similar process. Perhaps then we might have made a difference. As it stands this organisation will fail to function at an optimum level for a very long time. Worse it will remain an unhealthy workplace with all the sequelae that it entails. And all due to management by personality.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

When a Failure of Leadership Morphs into a Training Solution

13 May

Guest post today by Dr Stewart Hase

You have almost certainly heard the joke about the drunk Irishman scrambling about on his all fours in the middle of the night under a streetlight. A policeman happens by and asks what the drunk is doing and receives the reply that he is looking for his car keys. The policeman helps for a while but the keys are nowhere to be found. The policeman asks the drunk where he may have seen them last and the drunk points vaguely into the pitch black darkness of the park over the road and says, ‘Somewhere over there.’ In exasperation the poor member of the constabulary asks why on earth they are wasting their time looking in this spot. The drunk replies, ‘ Don’t be stupid officer, this is where the light is.’So, it is with organisations that frequently seek solutions to problems in completely the wrong places. The most common of these is when the CEO or senior manager decides that a problem requires a training solution when in fact the place to look is with leadership. Training can be in the form of providing skills, team building, and even running leadership trainingfor the middle managers, who are seen as the potential weak link in the chain. This training can be elaborate and quite expensive.However, it is invariably ineffective. The keys will not be found because they are in a different place altogether. Nonetheless, senior management is able to tick the box and do a Pontius Pilate when things do not work out as expected and the problem persists. Employees can be such ungrateful wretches when they don’t embrace the valuable opportunities that have been provided!

There are many examples of this but I’ll choose something reasonably benign to illustrate. Take the case of Stress Management programs. Clearly staff are stressed to the maximum and cracks are starting to show in the organisation that can no longer be avoided. So, it is decided to hire a trainer and run some single or perhaps two-day programs on how to manage stress (or whatever organisational ailment has been identified).

As every consultant and trainer knows, the training is next to worthless and will not produce any long-lasting behaviour change at all. There will be a halo effect of a couple of weeks similar to that obtained from listening to Tony Robbins or Billy Graham but any change wears off and things go back to normal. This is particularly true if the situation to which the person goes back to does not change. Conversions do happen to a small number but they are often highly contextual and rely in other substantial changes occurring at the same time: this would involve becoming a disciple perhaps. Training does not often create these sorts of transformations.

The results, however, are satisfactory to the main players. The consultant becomes rich and the manager can tick the box, wash the hands and move on with a satisfied smirk.

The real solution for this problem, and many others for that matter, is a need for good leadership. Problems are often systems based rather than a lack of skill on the part of employees. The stress problem is often about the workplace and a need to redesign work: to do things in a different way. But CEOs are reluctant to go down this path and display some real leadership by tackling the hard stuff.: the more complex. Instead they go for the simple, but ineffective, solution. Naturally enough I guess given human nature but a failure of leadership nonetheless.

There are many other examples and some have to do with a rather less obvious leadership failure. Often I have been asked to mediate with either individuals or even whole teams who are in conflict or ‘being difficult’. In many cases the situation has come about because of a lack of action on the part of managers: mostly action was required early, when the problem is developing., but does not occur for a host or reasons.

Good leadership requires time, commitment to people and work. It means being involved with employees and relationship building. Then, when things start to go wrong there is early identification and subsequent action to set things right. This demands participation by staff and a certain democratic state of mind on the part of the manager, which is also not easy to procure. All of this needs skill and a willingness that goes beyond a focus on technical issues in the manufacture of whatever widgets the organisation produces.

I was recently involved with an organisation in which the pas de deux between consultant and manager was different. The initial problem was painted as a team that were ‘playing up’ and acting unsafely in what was an inherently dangerous workplace. When the issue was analysed in consultation with management, and in more detail, it was obvious that the ‘training solution’ of safety training that had been the initial brief was barking up the wrong tree. The training program we had designed was quickly dispatched to the scrap heap. Instead we undertook a modified search conference, which is a democratic and highly participative process that tackles workplace problems front on-with the troops. The result was that we unearthed a whole bunch of systemic problems that were creating the problem, at least in part, and which management committed to address. And the team committed to changing their behaviour and sticking to safety processes and procedures. At the same time, managers also committed to taking a more proactive role in pursuing safety goals. In effect, they were prepared to show leadership. A day of normal training would have been a dance of death.

So, the more enlightened consultant and manager can go beyond the ritualistic dance of the ‘training solution’. Instead they recognise that there may be a need to provide training but it needs to be accompanied by work redesign perhaps or system changes. Maybe it requires leading from the front and making sure that desired changes do in fact occur. This means the leader learning some psychological techniques for facilitating behavioural change in others. The manager may recognise that individual coaching involving self and employees will be more likely to address problems than running a workshop in a fancy location with a nice lunch. Sadly, the latter ticks the box in so many ways for the main players.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

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