Today's article is the fifteenth in a series about Change from Steve Roesler.
"Change is not merely necessary to life - it is life."--Alvin Toffler
When You Are the Change
You are part of the system. Whether it's work, family, or your volleyball league, your presence--or lack of it--impacts the performance and equilibrium of those around you.
We love to wax poetic about intellectual models of organizational change. But how about real life? What happens when your life situation changes to the extent that you need to ask the system to make some temporary changes as a result?
When Changes Change Your Change reflected a personal situation that asked others to alter agreements and expectations based upon "changes to a change". You can read the details here. What sparked the conversation was a question posed to a Senior VP of HR regarding how his company deals with serious, legitimate personal situations that require unusual amounts of time away from the normal work routine . He was understanding, yet the ultimate response was: "You have to remember, this is business."
OK, I get that. But that's more of a "code phrase" that says, "You know what's really important."
The issue for you and me at work is this: In the case of an exceptional personal change, how do employers respond to it? How does your employer--or you as a manager--deal with one-off situations that combine a legitimate pressing need with the needs of the organization?
What The Real-Life Experts Say
The question received such well thought-out responses, I thought you might like to learn from the breadth and depth of the thinking involved. I know I did. Each individual prompted a new angle on corporate policy, organizational character, individual character, litigation, and the over-arching importance of one's direct supervisor. These insights all come from someone who is a professional manager or entrepreneur.
(Bold type or italics are mine in order to highlight key phrases)
What about the litigious society we live in? A private consulting
company with six employees - easy to do the right thing. Once things
get big, what's fair falls to the law v. what's right - unfortunately
there is conflict and tension there.
e.g. Which is more important:
1. Bob taking time off to care for a sick animal
2. Sam taking time off to care for a sick relative
Would it matter that the animal is a service dog? Or a house cat?
Would it matter if the relative is a child, parent, cousin, or distant second aunt twice removed?
At some point, due to people's perception of fairness, companies
that are liable to lawsuits have to draw a line (read: policy). This is
the 'greater good' mentioned in your post.
Where the 'speed and need' works is when the entire corporate
culture is one 'with a servant's heart' - the bigger the organization,
typically, the rarer the possibility of this happening. One way
companies get around the fairness issue is to leave some discretion to
the local manager, and allow employees to donate vacation to
individuals as they see fit.
Question for the readers: What would you do if you were the manager
faced with this situation and worked in a bigger organization - one
where the entire culture wasn't necessarily on board with doing what's
right, but had policies?
Karin H. :
I find this a 'tough' one - tough to write down I mean. Tom's related post talks about networking versus 20th century rules and
regulations, strict policies if you like - and I agree with him.
My strongest feelings in regards of the 'problem' is: if the
foundation of a company/business is firm, known to and accepted by all,
employees would have an 'instinctive' understanding of what they can
ask and where to draw the line. When they always have been treated with
respect, in all regards, and have given the same respect back to the
company the 'problem' ceases to be a 'problem'.
Like I said, tough to put into words.
For me, the "problem" is linked to fairness. The question about
what's fair if asked from the heart, instead of the mind, may result in
a new/different perspective on what to do.
For those who view this issue from the perspective a small corner of
a larger painting, they may see the "problem" as one of dollars, cents,
legality, rules and "the past". Rumi said, "Out beyond right-doing and
wrong-doing, there is a field, I'll meet you there." Wonder what the
conversation would be from that place, if all agreed to suspend their
"past", their "logic" and their "why it can't work" frame and
approached the question from the place of the heart where fairness has
a different flavor. Just being curious without being judgmental as to
what the real, real, real "problem" is.
Rather than repeat the past, doing the same things in the same way,
reactive rather than responsive, what would happen if we looked at this
"problem" in a different perspective, a heart-felt perspective? Perhaps
then the future would not repeat the past. There's a "purpose" reality
and there's a "business reality". For me, why some believe these two
perspectives need to be at opposite ends of a continuum, never cto
meld, never to merge, is the deeper, self-reflective, non-logical
When business and economic growth is based on the theory of
individualism as opposed to a theory of "the collective", well, we see
the results and it's not a pretty picture. Stand back 15 miles outside
the planet and view the Earth. All good stuff? Hmmm.
Marketplace pressures frequently grind against spiritual values
(read: not religious, but on a higher/deeper level of consciousness.
Business people, if they choose, can consider tough questions that
reverberate beyond the bottom line: How to handle layoffs? How much to
pay people? How to reach out to others in a loving and compassionate
way? How to react to unethical conduct? How to make money, and equally
important, make meaning too?
We know that one of the greatest distances is that between the the
head and the heart and nowhere is this more true than in the world of
business. Like it or not we are all interconnected; resistance, denial,
doubt or fear cannot change that fact. So, in the world of business,
each one has the free will to make a change; each one also has "free
won't". Life is choices. The challenge is to be curious about what's
driving one's choices.
When change hits it can be slightly or terribly stressful... people
need to feel valued as they grasp the skill and energy to adapt, which
means encouragement through the process rather than a fast wink...
So what about "this is business?" It depends on where you hear it.
Sometimes it's the early warning sign of a coming shafting. This
seems especially true in nonprofits when they start talking about how
they need to be more businesslike.
Other times, it's a manager or HR person saying the equivalent of
"Look, I know that it's not your fault, it's just your turn. But please
understand that I have very little choice in what I'm about to do."
As in so many situations, it's often the manager that makes the
difference. Here's an example. A young couple I know suffered the
sudden loss of the woman's mother early this year.
Both worked for the same large company. Company policy allowed workers to share Personal Time Off (PTO) with others.
The woman knew that she would need more time than the bereavement
leave her company allowed. In her department, the manager led an effort
to take up a PTO collection for her. They gave her time to go deal with
her grief and a maze of legal issues, along with time for days after
her return to work when she just wouldn't be able to work effectively.
It was different for her husband. His boss told him that he could
have his earned vacation time, but that he would have a counseling
notice inserted in his file for not giving the required one month
notice of intent to take time off. His boss told him that bereavement
leave did not apply to him because his mother-in-law was not a direct
relation He could appeal to HR, "but nobody ever does that." I'm sure
if I'd talked to that boss he would have told me that he acted the way
he did because "this is a business."
A week after returning to work, the husband quit to look for a new
job. He's now employed by another large company. I contacted the
woman's supervisor, with her permission, because I'm always looking for
examples of great supervisors.
I praised him for supporting the woman who worked for him. I asked
him why he was willing to give a person who worked for him so much time
His answer was that "this is a business." He said that the company
had invested thousands of dollars in training for the woman. She was
important to the team, in his view, and the sooner she was restored to
full productivity, the better it would be for her and the company.
What strikes me most about this is that it was the same company. The
company policies were the same. The rhetoric about "our people are our
most important asset" was the same. The difference was in the actions
of the boss of each member of the couple.
When it comes to personal changes, what does "This Is A Business" Mean To You?
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