Most organizational practices are outdated the moment they are created… Most people are built to fail professionally because their change skills are attuned to impressing [others]… The more time you spend engaging your whole self, the better off you’ll be.
I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Chris Worley as a graduate student at Pepperdine University. He is a brilliant thinker and leader. His teachings impacted me as much or more than any other teacher or instructor in my life.
During my time with him at Pepperdine he and a colleague published a book called Built To Change, an obvious play on the famous title Built To Last. In it Worley and his co-author argue that most organizations struggle and even fail in this environment because they are inherently designed to do so. Of course no one is intentionally planning on painful struggle and worse; yet these same leaders and organizers are definitely, with the best of intentions, setting their organizations up to face sometimes insurmountable challenges. The reason is that traditional organizations are set up to maintain the status quo and resist change. They are static in nature.
Consider the following standard organizational practices: strategic planning, annual reviews, and job descriptions. They expect – and certainly reinforce – a stable, clear approach to organizational resources.
The problem, I’m sure you’re imagining, is that most organizational practices are outdated the moment they are created or happen so absurdly after the fact that they are useless.
Being successful in today’s world requires that organizations be built to change, with flexible systems and process and structures that embrace new things rather than attack them. Effort alone won’t win. The design has to be right.
The reality, in my experience, is that the same challenging dilemma exists on a personal, internal level. Most people are built to fail.
Most people I work with want to do a good job. They want someone to look at their work product and give it a good grade, as though this somehow memorializes their worth.
Most people I work with want to get promoted. They hope that all their hard work and contribution will get someone’s attention, and when the right options opens a new position gets offered.
Most people I work with want to appear confident. They believe that if they have a complete command of everything, know all the answers, and can appear in control, this will project strong leadership and impress others.
Sadly, the above three approaches all lead to failure. They’re the wrong way of looking at our business world. They represent an old mental model.
Doing a good job. This desire, by itself, is part of the problem. I want to do a good job. I want validation. I want praise. In most organizations today strong work product comes from complex, interdependent efforts that create, at best, temporary wins. While most everyone wants to make an important contribution, wanting to be the one with good marks and some sort of status based on a positive experience doesn’t work these days. The questions I find more helpful are: What does the project need right now to get better? What new way of looking at this situation can I provide? What resource can I offer to the group?
Getting promoted. Whose job is it to drive a promotion? The answer to this question drives the succeed or fail pathway. The answer in the traditional model is the organization. The employee does good work, keeps an eye open for new opportunities, and appears interested. The new reality is that most employees looking for a promotion need to drive a new opportunity into their world, and not because organizational leaders need to move this off their plate. It’s more because organizational leaders need solutions to challenges they don’t even see yet. The people closest to the work understand the workflow best; they regularly have the best new solutions, which often include new positions.
Appearing confident. The traditional model creates an absurd reality that organizational leaders by way of superior training, intellect, or education know things that others don’t, or have some crystal ball into the future. People looking to move up, therefore, need to pretend to be an executive leader in waiting. The current reality is that everyone’s making a best guess. The people who do better and inspire confidence are the ones who rapidly embrace reality and respond quickly. The confidence comes from others’ belief that an individual is clear about what they know, what they don’t, and what to do next. The ability to integrate new information and make a sharp decision.
The greatest challenge I’ve seen in this area is that most people aren’t experienced in the skills that make success in this environment. These are mainly soft skills, most of which show up in family or community settings. Most people are built to fail professionally because their change skills are attuned to impressing or mollifying some external source.
My father always used to say, “People get hired for what they know and fired for who they are.” How true. How true.
Think about how you’re designed. Are your mental models designed to survive or thrive in this environment? The more time you spend doing what you think someone likes and then hoping for a pat on the back, the more you’re on a sinking ship. The more time you spend engaging your whole self—including your creativity, insight, and problem solving—the better off you’ll be.
If anything, my experience in the last few years in hyper-growth companies shows that people with the wrong mental models can’t outwork their competitors. It’s not an effort challenge.
Think about how you’re thinking. It could make all the difference.
Photo by Flickr/Alberto