Guest post today by Dr Stewart Hase
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.
Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com