Caution: Invisible Assumptions

When 300 engineers at a major East Coast utility were told to re-apply for jobs in their department as part of a major reorganization, they were livid.


"I've been here 18 years."  (Longevity means immunity to change)

"I hired the idiot who's running this thing." (If I gave someone their job, they won't mess with mine)

"They already know what I can do." (I only have to prove myself once)

"No other utility has ever had to go through this." (This place isn't being run according to the norm)

"No one told me this could happen when I was hired." (This wasn't part of the deal)

"My wife and I have planned our retirement for 23 years." ('They' are responsible for my cradle-to-grave existence) 

Iceberg
The Danger of The "Invisible Assumed"

When you signed on with your current employer you probably discussed:

Salary, benefits, corporate vision, the marketplace, performance expectations.

Chances are you won't become really upset as a result of any of those items changing a bit. It's the ones you assumed to be true that will come back to haunt you.

You'll become disenchanted as a result of someone breaking the implicit contract.

The contract that you created in your own mind. Visible only to you.

In the real-life example above, the implicit contract had to do with the unspoken nature of Utilities:

Stable, Secure, Lifetime Employment, Methodical Career Progression...

No one ever said those things out loud. They were just "known."

Q: Do you and your spouse get upset about what you talked about before you got married or what you assumed would be true?

Tips for Employees and Employers

Employees:

1. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out your assumptions.

2. Make a written list.

3. Check out their validity with your prospective company or boss.

Employers:

1. Before introducing a change, take a look at the culture.

2. What is it that drew people to your company in the first place?

    Security? Action? International travel? Work close to home?

3. If one or more of those traditional characteristics (the unspoken attraction) will change, then help neutralize the impact by discussing it openly.

Tell what is going to happen and why. Explain the reality of implicit agreements and that you realize this might be one such example. You'll give people a mental model to understand what they are experiencing.

Finally: What happened to our 300 engineers?

a. They had been told before the process started that no one would lose a job with the company. They would hopefully be better matched as a result of the process. And, everyone did remain employed.

b. The department as a whole was more effective.

c.  About 10% chose to retire rather than  make the change.

What is your implicit contract? 

If you have to act on it, will it match the explicit reality?

 

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Five Hints You Should Make A Change

If you've ever wondered what executive coaches really do that adds great value, it's this: We create a relationship that enables our client to clearly see reality

Life isn't a part of business; business is a part of life. So, everything of consequence leads to confronting and resolving some kind of issue that leads to a choice about personal change. All of the choices aren't always huge, but they are necessary in order to develop more healthy and effective patterns of work and leadership.

What To Look For

I started thinking about the kinds of signs that flash to indicate the person across the table really does need to make a change. Maybe one or more apply to you as well. Here are five that stand out for me:

1. People whom you trust strongly believe you should make a change.

 Let's be honest: sometimes other people see us more clearly than we see ourselves. Sure, it's important not to base your life on what others think. But if six people who have your best interests at heart all tell you the same thing, it's a good idea to pay attention.

Note: Last year an executive client who received almost unanimous feedback on certain behaviors chose to explain away every last one, attributing the information to the fact that "no one really understands me". Actually, they did. He is no longer working for that company.

Changes

2. You're holding on to something and just can’t let go.

It's happened to all of us: we have an incident or a nagging situation, and are unable to forget about it. That's a signal that you just might want to make a change. If you  can’t accept the fact that your manager doesn't acknowledge your contributions, maybe it’s time to update your resume and put it into circulation. There are times when letting go requires real action, not just a mental exercise.

3. You feel envious of what other people have achieved.

This involves action, too. Jealousy devours us from the inside out. At the same time, it can be a signal that we have some meaningful goals on which we've taken zero action. If you find yourself resentful of a colleague who recently earned a professional certification, maybe you should ask yourself what kinds of professional accreditations you've been putting off. That could be the springboard to an advanced degree or special studies in your particular discipline.

4. You deny any problem--and are angry in the process.

I do a lot of confidential, "remedial" coaching for people who have been accused of acting in a harrassing or hostile manner. Anger is a common symptom of denial. (Assuming that the evidence is valid; otherwise, there's darned good reason to be angry).

One way to get through the whole denial thing is to look for--or help someone else see--an abundance of objective evidence. That's why, in business, 360 feedback is usually pretty effective. The truth will, indeed, set you free. It does, however, seem scary in the moment.

5. If you do absolutely nothing, the problem will continue.

Interpersonal "stuff" is common in the land of cube-dwellers.

Let's say your next-door cubie listens to news radio all day, and you are really tired of hearing  Traffic on the Twos. Perhaps if you just let her know it was getting in the way of your work, she'd get a set of earbuds. Or, maybe not. But nothing will happen unless you broach the issue in a calm, direct way. And you'll know that you took action, which will give you an internal sense of honesty and integrity. That almost always leads to a better sense of self.

What else have you found that might be good indicators for managers, coaches, and anyone looking for signs to change?

 

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What Is In Your Unspoken Contract?

When 300 technical professionals at a major utility were told to re-apply for jobs in their department as part of a major reorganization, they were livid.

"I've been here 18 years."  (Longevity means immunity to change)

"I hired the idiot who's running this thing." (If I gave someone their job, they won't mess with mine)

"They already know what I can do." (I only have to prove myself once)

"No other utility has ever had to go through this." (This place isn't being run according to the norm)

"No one told me this could happen when I was hired." (This wasn't part of the deal)

"My wife and I have planned our retirement for 23 years." ('They' are responsible for my cradle-to-grave existence)

Danger: The "Invisible Assumed"

When you signed on with your current employer you probably discussed:

Icebergforpost Salary, benefits, corporate vision, the marketplace, performance expectations.

Chances are you won't  become really upset as a result of any of those items changing a bit. It's the ones you assumed to be true that will come back to haunt you.

You'll become disenchanted as a result of someone breaking the implicit contract .

The contract that you created in your own mind. Visible only to you.

In the real-life example above, the implicit contract had to do with the unspoken nature of Utility companies: Stable, Secure, Lifetime Employment, Methodical Career Progression...

No one ever said those things out loud. They were just "known."

Q: Do you and your spouse get upset about what you talked about before you got married or what you assumed would be true?

Tips for Employees and Employers

Employees:

1. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out your assumptions.

2. Make a written list.

3. Check out their validity with your prospective company or boss.

Employers:

1. Before introducing a change, take a look at the culture.

2. What is it that drew people to your company in the first place?

    Security? Action? International travel? Work close to home?

3. If one or more of those traditional characteristics (the unspoken attraction) will change, then help neutralize the impact by discussing it openly.

Tell what is going to happen and why. Explain the reality of implicit agreements and that you realize this might be one such example. You'll give people a mental model to understand what they are experiencing.

Finally: What happened to our 300 techies?

a. They had been told before the process started that no one would lose a job with the company. They would hopefully be better matched as a result of the process. And, everyone did remain employed.

b. The department as a whole was more effective.

c.  About 10% chose to retire rather than  make the change.

What is your unspoken, implicit contract? How did your employer's reputation and industry culture contribute to that?

 

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Changing Something? Start It Right

If you're about to change something, remember that it's your change.

You've thought about what you want to do--most likely for a long time. You've weighed the risks and benefits. You've visualized what things would look like if your new idea/project/improvement is implemented. You've even thought about at least some of the details. But most of all. . .

You are convinced of it's worth and you feel good about it.

Hey, I'm pumped up! Why isn't everybody else feeling good? 

When you introduce your new thing, you are at the end of your process. Everyone else is at the beginning. They can't get to where you are without you laying out your full process--including your own apprehensions.

50-reasons-not-to-change

What have you needed in the past to commit to someone else's new idea? Think about it and see if these match pretty closely

To maximize your chances of gaining commitment, be real and. . .

1. Tell people what you want to accomplish.
2. Tell them what led you to believe it's important to them and to you.
3. Tell them your own struggles along the way.
4. Tell them how long you've been thinking about it.
5. Tell them you are committed to it.
6. Tell them your plan for helping them be able to do "it."

Then give people a reasonable amount of time to think about it, question it, be uncomfortable with the newness of it, begin to accept it, and then be involved with how it will be  implemented.

How long will it take?

Depending upon the size of the change, the time line for building critical mass of acceptance and action will vary. Your relational behavior--physical presence, clarity, direction, ability to listen, and encouragement--will help determine  your success.

Remember that it's your idea. Do what it takes to help make it their idea. Well, that sounds manipulative. I hate manipulative.  Let's look at it this way: It's your idea. But ownership by others comes through being allowed to use one's own ideas for the implementation. After all, the people involved know best how their operations work.  So let other people develop and mold the "how to." Then provide a reasonable amount of time along with your support.

The outcome: you stand a great chance of other people making your idea even better in the process. Everybody gets a chance at creating something new.  Satisfaction and success follow.

Big win for all concerned.

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Neutralize Fear, Bring Out the Sunshine

What do you do when faced with fear? Forget about saying you will overcome it, ignore it, or deal with it later. You have to make it real so you can see it and deal with it for what it is and isn't.

Give It a Name and Acknowledge It

In organizations we know "it" as "The elephant in the room." The unspoken "stuff" that is getting in the way of a meeting. People are afraid that if they name it, conflict and disaster will ensue.

Yet the opposite is true. Heck, I've earned significant income intervening with groups to neutralize an issue by identifying the Elephant out loud and then leading the ensuing discussion. It has never--ever--been the disaster that was expected. On the contrary, it usually leads to clarity of issues, acknowledgment and laughter about unspoken misunderstandings, and what could be described as a "breakthrough."

SunriseFear can be equally irrational individually. Fear is like "change." What the heck does someone mean when they say "We're going to change!"? No one knows what to do or how to do it. But if they say, "We're going to respond to customer inquiries within 8 hours instead of 24", everyone has an idea about how to deal with it.

Successful Twelve-Step programs are good examples of the importance of acknowledging or naming a situation in order to deal with it. They all start with an individual, verbal acknowledgment of a struggle, usually an addiction:

1. The problem is acknowledged by name

2. The verbal part acknowledges individual responsibility

3. There is accountability with one or more people to follow through

Name Your Fear Out Loud

1. Once you hear your voice speaking it, you own it. (If you keep it in your head it's like mentally practicing a presentation: it's never the real thing once you start the presentation!)

2. Tell someone you trust about the fear. Ask them what they know about it. Ask who else you can talk with about it.

3. Arrive at a point where you have a genuine, realistic grasp of the likelihood of the fear coming to fruition. Then, find out how serious it would be if it did happen.

4.  Determine whether or not it's something that's worthwhile avoiding or something that you want to act on.

Why be stupid or crazy? Some things are worth fearing and avoiding. But you won't know until you've done 1-3. To the extent we can, it's wise to base decisions on evidence and avoid negative fantasies.

Here Is Some Extreme Evidence For Naming It

Peter Koestenbaum is the author of Is There an Answer to Death. (OK, be honest. How many of you just bailed out?).

His intent is to show that there are times when dealing with existential questions can bring a greater meaning to life. He argues that the anticipation of the reality of death reveals who one really is. That act connects people with their deepest feelings, needs, and opportunities.

Koestenbaum says that anticipation of death can have ten consequences. Here is a suggestion:

Substitute the name of your fear for "death". Then, substitute "I" for "the individual."

  • By accepting the fact of being condemned to death, the individual can start living and thereby then neutralize fear.
  • By recognizing death, the individual is on the way to becoming decisive.
  • By remembering death, the individual concentrates on essentials.
  • By being aware of death, the individual achieves integrity.
  • Through knowing about death, the individual finds meaning in life.
  • By recognizing death, the individual will become honest.
  • Through the realization of death, the individual will gain strength.
  • By accepting death, the individual is motivated to take charge of his or her own life.
  • Through the thought of death, the individual is willing to assume a total plan for life.
  • By being aware of death, the individual escapes the stranglehold of failure.

What Does This Have to Do With the Workplace?

All growth is personal growth. If we're going to spend (way more than) 40 hours a week at our careers, then we're going to discover fearful situations. After 30 years of consulting I can tell you that no one ever really calls for organizational help. That's the presenting problem. The real issue is always, "I have a situation. Can you help?"

The next time someone faces a fearful situation, you can be the one to step up and help.

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Wholeness, Meaning, and Change

“Meaning is a peculiarly individual and subjective thing. I wonder, if every worker pursued their own notion of meaning, how would that affect the corporate world?"

That question was posed a few years ago by my online friend and EQ expert extraordinnaire, the late Galba Bright. 

It's a question that is related to the success–-or failure–-of every change initiative. Whether it’s about a new benefits package, introducing new technology, or figuring out where the entire family will go on vacation, meaning is the core issue.

Why?

WholenessBecause when we retain what is meaningful, we have a sense of wholeness. When we have a sense of wholeness, we can–-by definition–-bring our whole self to the game. Conversely, if meaning is subverted in some way, so are we. Our enthusiasm and commitment diminish; only part of us is left, and it’s not the part that is ready to add value to the situation.

A Helpful Way to Think About Meaning, Worklife, and Change

Corporations are in business to earn a profit. Without that, there wouldn’t be jobs or money for employees. Heck, there wouldn’t be employees, products, or services. Without high-performing employees, there wouldn’t be highly profitable corporations.

Which means that both are giving and getting something out of the relationship. And that’s where I believe the frustration begins. The same people who would spend days, weeks, and months wining and dining a new love–-gazing longingly into the other’s eyes–-too often spend about 5 minutes sending out an email announcing a change that will impact work schedules, careers, income, and the well-being of families.

I’ve been involved in corporate life for more than 30 years. Most executives I know do acknowledge the personal difficulties inherent with change. But here’s where it gets icky: somehow, along the way, a particular defense mechanism has been allowed to serve as an acceptable “reason” for all kinds of behavior. And that is the phrase, “This is a business.”

When that is uttered, somehow everyone within earshot is supposed to nod knowingly, acknowledging that the business gods–wherever they are–deserve whatever sacrificial offering is required to keep them looking favorably upon that company’s shareholder value.

“This is a business.”

Knock it off, we all know that. In fact, that’s why we’re all here!

We’re all here for another reason

"Business" allows us to fulfill some deeper sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. For some, it’s the work itself. For others, it may offer the means to buy a first home and start a much longed-for family. For still others, the location of the workplace may have meaning if one needs to care for elderly or suffering family members. And, yes, there are many who are working simply to have enough money to retire. They’ve decided that they’ll delay certain kinds of satisfaction so that they don’t need to worry during their later years.

Many of us will be sitting around the Christmas dinner table with family and friends or celebrating holidays in other ways, but still having conversations about the year past and the year ahead. As you listen--or add your own hopes and dreams--be aware of the differences in purpose and meaning. 

They are all personal and all valid. 

What gives meaning to your work? If the conversation slows down, that may be a useful question to ask. You'll learn quite a bit about each other.

 

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Life Choices: Bitter or Better?

How do you feel about your life: Bitter or Better?

Your answer will color everything about your existence. At home, at work, with friends.

GalaxyA while back Stephen Shapiro, author of  Goal Free Living, described a common life situation in a post called The One-Third Life Crisis. It's about a successful (by any achievement-oriented social standards) guy who is a 33 year-old Harvard grad, pilot, board member, etc. But at 33 he described his life this way to Stephen:

Do well at Step A and you can proceed to Step B. Do well at B, and proceed to C. As I look back at my life so far, I realize that I was playing by a very narrow set of rules. And if I played by those rules, worked hard, and caught a lucky break or two, I’d be rewarded with plenty of wealth and prestige.

And that worked okay…for a while…until I began to have nagging doubts. “The Path” began to feel just a bit too narrow. I felt that I was always trying to do well in life in order to move to the next step. As a result, I had completely lost the ability to live in the moment or to appreciate success for success’ sake. And failure? Well, that wasn’t even an option. Most insidiously, I began looking at the people in my life only as potential allies (or, gasp, even pawns) in my quest to keep plugging along down The Path.

And here’s the worst part. I had completely lost my sense of risk, creativity, and wonder. So I felt that even if I wanted to get off The Path, I was woefully and utterly ill-equipped to navigate on my own. That’s the essence of the one-third life crisis.

What Are You Experiencing at 30? Or 40 or 50 or 60?

This isn't at all unusual. In fact, I became so fascinated by it that about 10 years ago I started looking into research that might produce a plausible, helpful explanation. This was prompted by what I noticed were increasing requests from successful 30-somethings within my client organizations who were expressing dissatisfaction with their circumstances. The stories were similar:

1. I'm not happy

2. I should be happy because I have a good job, make good money, home life is good; I've done everything I was supposed to do.

3. So why I am I feeling unhappy and stressed out?

Until About 30, You Don't Have to be You

Why?

Because you've got enough energy to do just about anything. And people let you.

Physiologically, you're on a roll. Psychologically, you're starting a career and a life. And guess what? Everyone around you will let you do your thing. Your family understands this. They allow you to "get your career started." Your boss loves this. And you are able to put in 60 or 80 hours a week at being really good at what you do. And you are probably doing pretty well. Heck, why not? Your sheer energy and time is compensating for a lack of genuine passion or talent. So if "it" isn't what you were meant to do--or consistent with who you are--you can't fake it forever (you don't know you're faking it. You are doing what you think people are supposed to do). At +/- 30 your energy begins to drop a bit. And you start asking questions about it. And you should.

Because growing up means being--and accepting--who you are. It's the only way you'll stay in the game and be happy about it. I've found that the most difficult--but most rewarding--thing that I've done personally is to answer this question:

"What are all of the things I think I am--but am not?" These resulted in a looonnngggg list of answers that combined bloated self-perception with lots of expectations from other people. Do it. It's a huge relief to get rid of the baggage.

Then change the question from "What could I do as a career?" to these three:

1. "What do I really value and see as priorities in my life?"

2. "What are my natural talents and how can I use them to support #1?

3. "What specific skills do I have--or need to get--that help support #2?"

If you get honest about 1, acknowledge 2 as not being boastful--but a gift--and use 3 in the service of the first two, you'll be back in the game.

And just in case math is your strong suit: draw a Venn diagram of Values, Talents, and Skills. The place where the three intersect is the actual "you." (You're welcome).

55: Bitter or Better?

A final observation.

Somewhere around the age of 55 people--and I see it mostly in men--decide to be either "Bitter" or "Better" about life. It's a choice. But it appears to be a choice based upon evaluating one's circumstances against one's expectations of how life should be (or should have been).

The distinction usually lies in a choice that was made to:

Live as one's self, and therefore feel better. There is only one standard and it will always be met.

Live according to others' expectations and one's definition of how things "should" be. This leads to a bitteroutcome.

So what about our searching friend in the beginning of the post? It sounds as if he is choosing to ask the right questions at the right time. And he even has a group of trusted advisors to guide him and keep him accountable.

I'm guessing "better."





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Career: Self-Leadership & 3 Key Variables

You, Your Boss, Your Organization

Shortly after my 27th birthday I landed the ideal job following graduate school: Director of PR for a college in New Jersey. I reported directly to the President, participated in the Board of Trustees meetings, and had lots of visibility in the media.

I felt dead inside at the end of the first year. But why? I had "made" it.

What Was I Trying To Change?

I wanted my boss--a good guy and a good President--to manage me a little differently. He didn't.

I wanted my initiatives to move through the organization faster. They didn't.

At the end of the second year I resigned on good terms and took an overseas assignment doing management training while living and working in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Jetting from country to country, running workshops, developing managers, designing programs--almost every day was a peak experience.

Change Graphic_Good One
When I returned to the US two years later I was recruited by a Fortune 50 company. More responsibility. Broader organizational development assignments. Good salary.

But I wanted my boss to manage me a little differently. He didn't.

And I wanted my initiatives to move through the organization faster. They didn't.

So I left on good terms and started by own consulting, training, and speaking practice. I'm still at it.

What really changed?

Me. It's the only thing I had the power to change. I was forced to evaluate what I wanted, why I wanted it, who I was and, more importantly, who I wasn't. . .and then take a leap of faith that it would work. It did.  And  my  last employer became a client for nearly 20 years.

What are you trying to change?

If it's your boss or your organization--and you like both--it's worth investing in a conversation to see if you can change your circumstances.

But the one place where you are assured the most impact--and influence--is you.

Are you willing to do that today? It could transform the rest of your life.

____________________________________________________________________

Quote of the day, courtesy of the meteorologist at WNEP TV in Scranton, PA:

"Rain will begin at onset of precipitation." 

Duh.

 Thanks to our marketing Diva, Darlene Hill at GraphX Evolution for passing that along during our morning Skype conference.


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Success, Failure, and Fear

Lets be honest:  All of us have doubts that block us from doing things. It's even socially acceptable to talk about "fear of failure."

But "fear of success?"

It's just as real. Being afraid to achieve the very things that we want.

How does it happen?

The Future/Change Factor: Personal

No fearThe good news is that when we experience this fear, it's because we're imagining a "better" future. We're actually thinking about change.

But we don't know what else that's going to bring. Since it's all about the future, we can imagine anything and everything about what might be. In the absence of factual information we fantasize, often negatively.

  • "I don't deserve it."
  • "If I achieve what I set out to do, everyone will know that I don't really deserve it."
  • "If I get it I won't be able to sustain it. Why try?"
  • "If I am successful, someone will come along who is better than me. Then, what will happen to me?"
  • "If I am successful, the nature and equilibrium of my relationships will change and I'll have to make new friends. My current friends would never accept a more successful (bigger, deeper, better, healthier) me."

(Feel free to list your own and others you've heard in the comments section).

What happens as a result of this kind of thinking?

  • Self-defeating thinking leads to self-defeating actions. Here are just a few:
  • Doing the wrong thing even when you know the right thing to do. That way, one can avoid having to deal with success.
  • Minimizing your accomplishments so they are ultimately negated. Then, you don't have to live up to being all that you really are.
  • Feeling guilty when you have a success. This creates a slowdown in momentum, hesitancy to act, and a self-fulfilling inability to move on to another success.

What you can do differently

Here are some suggestions that aren't complicated but do place the responsibility clearly on our personal shoulders:

1. Act in a way that will genuinely help build a sense of self: Find ways to encourage and acknowledge accomplishments of those around you.

2. Get an accountability partner--or maybe a couple. These people have your explicit permission to give you feedback--positive and negative --about how they are experiencing your progress. This is a reality check. Honest, factual, periodic conversations will help you replace the unknown negative fantasies with reality-based information.

3. When someone compliments you, respond with a firm "Thank you!" No false modesty or additional talk. Simply hear the compliments and let them begin to influence how you see yourself.

Here is a valuable thought from Marianne Williamson. I hope you'll take it to heart and make it part of your thinking when you start to experience some kind of fear setting in:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

 

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Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
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Mobile: 856.275.4002

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