In the flow

Your organization wants to become more responsive. To this end, the vision & mission have been thoroughly revised, a strategic plan has been developed. In short: the “why”, “how” and “what” have been established. Everything has been shared with the employees, their feedback has been processed and there is wide support. How do you know whether your organization is able to make the plans come true? Where do you start then?

The basis
An organization or team can only perform well if a number of conditions are met. The basis is that every individual can come into his or her own. Compare it to a football team: one or two players who do not play in the right position or have an off-day, can destroy the performance of the entire team.

How can you create the conditions that allow employees to come into their own?

Flow
If you achieve your full potential, often you are in a state of “flow”. You become so absorbed in your activities that you forget the time. In such a state you feel great and perform best. We have all experienced that at one time or another. The concept of “flow” was invented by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

Characteristics
He described the characteristics of flow in his book: “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”. We will not consider all of these characteristics here, because several are the result of a state of flow. For example, the lack of a sense of time or a strong sense of well-being. We focus on the four characteristics that can be influenced: willingness, ability, focus and feedback:

  1. Are people doing what you want to do? This is about people’s motivation. If the organization’s vision, mission and objectives are aligned with this, people have found a place where they can spend their ambitions and energy well.
  2. Are people doing what you can do? Does the job fit well with the talents and skills? If people are not challenged enough, they will get bored. When too much is asked of them, they get stressed.
  3. Can people focus well on their tasks and responsibilities? For some organizations, “death by meeting” or “death by email” applies. Or there is so much uncertainty about the demarcation of responsibilities that people are too busy with each other’s tasks. Constant distraction does not improve the quality of the work or the well-being of employees.
  4. Continuous feedback is important to keep people engaged and motivated. They need to know how they are doing and how they can improve. This is not about the (semi)annual appraisal: if feedback is continuous and properly applied, it is also a mechanism that improves the quality and spirit in the team.

Get it going
The aforementioned factors help people to get into their flow. The starting point is mapping the position of each employee on them. So there is a clear picture for each team which employees are in the right place or not. The following diagram is a summary example of what such a mapping might look like. Other HR factors could also be included, like in this example the fit with the team or the professional maturity of team members:

Example of mapping of individuals in a certain team

A number of things become clear immediately. For the entire team, the feedback must be improved: there is too much orange or red here. The employees do not know enough about how they are doing. On an individual level, a number of other things become clear: Melissa does what she wants to do, but still has a lot to learn (“Can” and “Professional Maturity” are both not good yet). For Brian and Julie the question is whether they fit into the team. Brian has the capabilities (“Can” is green), but does he really want this role? And for Julie, she is doing what she wants, but, at least for now, is lacking skills or capabilities.

From this overview, the team can develop and grow. For example, based on the personal development plans of each employee and a plan for the team, possibly supplemented with a change in team composition. Now, each individual can come into his or her own and alignment is obtained with the whole of the organization.

The next step is to make sure every team is functioning properly. In other words: flow at team level. That’s what next week’s blog will be about.

Slow is fast

The holy grail of (tech) trends
Big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been the big promises in the business world for some time, with tech giants such as Google and Amazon as great examples. Yet recent research among 85 “Fortune 1000” companies shows that, despite significant investments, the use of Big Data and AI is not yet leading to the expected improvements (Harvard Business Review, February 5, 2021, Why is it so hard to become a data-driven company?, Randy Bean): only 24% of the companies surveyed indicated that they were “data-driven”. In the same study a year earlier this was 38%. The importance of “big data” and AI in decision making is not yet as great as expected.

What is striking is that – for the fifth year in a row! – “Cultural barriers” was cited by 92% of the companies surveyed as the most important obstacle in the development towards a “data-driven” organization.

The promise of innovation …
The realization of promising trends or new management methods is usually more difficult than expected. Well-known examples are the rise of office automation in the eighties, the internet, and “agile” working. There is a systematic underestimation of the time and effort required to implement new ways of working and then use it effectively. In the examples mentioned, the promise was largely correct: office automation has resulted in an enormous efficiency improvement. Thanks to the internet, many business processes can continue as usual in Corona time. And agile working is commonplace within many ICT companies. But for all these developments, the realization of the promise usually took longer than initially expected. And the organizational culture was often cited as an important bottleneck. Apparently people become so enthusiastic about the promise of innovation that the same mistake is made over and over again: an implicit assumption arises that the benefits are so great that success will almost come naturally…

… and the prospect of great results
I have experienced this firsthand. During a “global meeting” of division managers of a multinational I presented a strategic change plan. The presentation had been preceded by months of preparation and coordination. Much time had gone into the way the message was conveyed. And apparently it had worked: the reactions were enthusiastic without exception. “This is a homerun,” I thought. The support for the plan was so great, it only seemed a matter of rolling it out.

This assumption turned out to be completely false. We, too, were blinded by the promise of the plan, inspired by the beautiful prospect of the results we would achieve. Consequently, there was no insight into what was really needed to achieve success while using the existing culture. I later learned that there was insufficient understanding in the organization for the initiative: it had to be explained better. It was only after I had visited branches all over the world to engage people that support grew for the plans and the roll-out gained traction.

Culture is a breeding ground…
Every organizational culture has a unique potential. And that is the breeding ground for success. The question is therefore not how you bring about change despite the culture. The trick is to use the culture – the people with their beliefs, ambitions and behavior – for the intended change. Therefore it is important to understand the causes of resistance and friction.

…not a barrier
“Action is reaction” is what I learned during the Physics lessons in high-school: the force you exert on something leads to the same, opposite force. This law of nature also applies to organizational cultures: the harder you blame them, the greater the resistance, because somehow people feel not understood, and affected in their authenticity and free will.

In this light, the conclusion of the aforementioned study should read: “Apparently, companies have insufficiently organized for success while they were planning the transformation to a data- or AI-driven organization.” So that support and energy could be generated to use data and AI for what they are intended: improving business operations. and realizing competitive advantages.

If there is a ‘Holy Grail’ it ought to be culture
It is not the promise of new technology or new management methods that is the holy grail. If there is one, it ought to be culture: the unique potential of people: they determine the degree of success of any initiative.

The promise of big data and AI is true, at least to a large extent. Moving As One also makes good use of it, to help clients with their change projects. But that promise can only be fulfilled by the organization.

“Slow is fast”
Entrepreneurs and managers who see this make good use of it. And yes, it takes time and a lot of patience to understand how you can take everyone along and set the flywheel of change in motion. But once it is moving well, improvements can emerge suddenly and rather quickly. Or, as the world-famous coach Stephen Covey once put it: “With things, fast is fast. But with people, slow is fast.”