A friend of mine asked me what is going on with all this touchy-feely people and personal growth stuff – “What’s it got to do with Agile?” My answer: everything! So this post ties together: Agile, High-Performance Culture with People skills and Temenos Workshop among others.
Here is my current roadmap of focus areas related to rebooting organizational culture:
The arrows indicate support. For example, People Skills such as communication models lead to Relational Flow where people trust one another and are emotional supportive. This in turn leads to or supports High Performance Culture.
High Performance Culture is the Goal, but Need to Focus Elsewhere
My goal is to help organizations develop high performance culture through the creation of environments where people can bring their best every day. We can see there are a variety of things to focus on that will lead to support this goal.
Let’s take meditation as an example. There is no direct connection to high performance culture – it’s indirect. But in my experience it is 100% relevant and salient for bringing about a sequence of changes that support the goal. So, we need to focus on the things that will lead to a great culture and the ensuing results. Of course, there are many routes and practices – so nothing is mandatory: meditation works for me, but you may have an alternate route to personal growth.
This is not an exhaustive map of all the elements that lead to High Performance Culture – for sure there are lot’s of things we could add. My purpose in creating and sharing this is to create a call to action to focus on these or related elements so that we can really help organizations succeed.
Examples of Posts on these Topics
My hope is that you are curious about some of these content areas, so I will share some of my blog posts for further reading.
What is High-Performance Culture?
- Workshop on Characteristics of High-Performance Organizations
- Diverse Paths to High-Performance Organizational Culture
- Lululemon – A Stellar Example of Break-Through Organizational Culture
- The Power of Vulnerability
- Understand Shame to get to Root-Cause in Your Life
- Deep Insights around Fear, Risk, Safety and Vulnerability
- Change your Culture or Die
- Tactics, Strategy, & Culture – A Model for Thinking about Organizational Change
- KrisMap: An Organisation’s Persona
- Ways to Make Progress with Culture Gaps
- An Influencer’s Playbook
- Hierarchy = The Matrix
- How to Build a Culture Bubble
- How Change Initiatives Damage Organizations and Fail
- Organizational Transformation Checklist
- Visual Summary of Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide
- Agile Failure and Culture – Agile 2012 Workshop Results
- Transformation? Leaders Go First!
- Personal Transformation is the Heart of Organizational Transformation
- How to Incubate Transformational Leadership
The Anatomy of Peace is a deeply insightful book about how our default thinking processes lead us to conflict with others and reveals a path towards peace.
Our relationships with others form the foundation of our reality. Sadly, we are habituated on twisting and distorting our “reality” of these relationships to protect our ego. The net result is that we are the authors of much of the conflict in out lives.
Consider the visual summary below that illustrates a model for understanding communication and understanding reality.
When we have a heart of peace, we see the other person or group as a unique and valuable human being. We see them as a person – we recognize their humanity. We acknowledge that they have their own consciousness and life.
When we have a heart of war, we see others as objects, as things. We no longer value or treat them as human. Of course, we don’t intentionally choose to do this. This happens inadvertently when our mind protects our feelings. Psychologically, we create a self-deception that comforts us in the face of emotional challenge.
Most of the problems in the world are related with our way of being with others (peace or war).
Four Forms of Self-Deception
The book describes four forms of self-deception. With each one we create a mental box that we trap ourselves in. Each box colours what we see and experience. The box provides psychological safety, so it takes courage to examine it and rebuild relationships in our lives.
When people are in a better-than mental box, they see themselves as superior to others. They think they are more important and that their cause or arguement is the most virtuous one. They look down on others as inferior and flawed. This has been my main “go-to” box for most of my life.
People in a worse-than box, see themselves as flawed and inferior to others. They see themselves as deficient and fated to have negative outcomes. They see the world as a hard and difficult place with others being the lucky ones.
This box is about feeling that one is hard done by life. People feel like they are a victim and that no on recognizes they value and contribution. I think of Rodey Dangerfield’s comic tag line “I don’t get no respect.”
Must Be Seen As
People in this box crave attention and feel like they are being watched and judged. They need to be thought well of and will work hard to fit in. Extreme clinical expression of this is Histrionic personality disorder. This is my second go-to box for twisting reality to feel good about myself.
The self-deceptions we chose depend on the person we are with and the context. Over the course of a week, we may at some point fall into each of these mental boxes. From a learning and growth perspective it is valuable to note what boxes we commonly go to across people and contexts.
An interesting question is how this work relates to Brene Brown’s research on shame. Since a key element of shame is that people feel like they are unworthy of love and belonging, this would fall right in the worse-than box. That’s just the start, in my own experience, shame also activates other boxes to mitigate the pain.
We need to be in a Heart of Peace to express empathy or compassion for another person. To the extent that we are trapped in a box we will not be available to express empathy to another person.
How We Collude with Others
It turns out that “normal” human behaviour can trigger a downward spiral of negativity where two people collude to stay in their boxes. It starts when one person, A, sees B do something and interprets it from their box. A passes judgement on B and then acts in kind. B sees A’s action and interprets it from their box. They think of A as an object and act in a way that treats A as an object. And the cycle continues and feeds on itself. At any time A or B can break the cycle by going to a heart of peace and seeing the other as a valuable human being. A good way to break the cycle is by noticing what box you are in and then using your imagination and desire for a positive outcome to make a different choice of action.
What to do when you get stuck
- Notice when you fall into one of these mental boxes (or traps!)
- Be kind to yourself. All of us have these problems and you are working on it. Good job.
- Go to a mental place where you are more resourceful. This could be a walk outside, stretching, meditating, listening to music, etc.
- See how your thoughts and behaviours contributed to the situation.
- Seek to see the humanity in the other person – imagine why a responsible, resourceful human being would behave that way.
- Start the conversation again, but this time from your heart – think about what you really want in the relationship. See: Crucial Conversations.
I would like to than Jukka Lindström for introducing me to the book – he said it was one of the most influential books he has read in the last few years. I have to agree. I would also like to thank and acknowledge the Arbinger Institute for collaboratively creating such a wonderful book.
In a recent post I talked about the nature of transformation as personal activity and the need for leaders to go first. But, how do we as change artists and leaders go first?
Traditionally we think about learning skills and capabilities to effect change. We learn models and frameworks. We learn facilitation techniques. We learn new tools and ways of thinking. All of this is good, but this is not personal transformation. This is illustrated in the diagram below as the parts outside the heart.
In the classic personal growth book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that private victory precedes public victory. We need to look after ourselves before we can effectively help others. We hear the same message when we are on airplanes: “In the event of a drop in cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”
Personal transformation is about the shifting the structure and character of ourselves – learning to alter our own identity, values, and beliefs to become better human beings. How do we do this? We improve our empathy skills or better yet develop our compassion. We use mindfulness of meditation to become more focused and present with others. We acknowledge our flaws and love ourselves as human beings not despite them but because of them. We trust others. It’s all about forming a better relationship with ourselves so that we can form richer more valuable relationships with others.
My own personal journey has centered around letting go of ego, insecurity and perfectionism to develop self-kindness, caring and being present. Although the road is hard and painful, it is also joyful and liberating. I can see a manyfold increase in my effectiveness in my personal and professional life. Now I know I am in a place where I can participate in leading a transformation – I wasn’t before and didn’t recognize it.
We can only transform to the extent that we have a capacity in something. To build environments of high trust we need to be trusting. We need to value other human beings for them to feel valued. We need to embrace and love our shortcomings so that others can feel safe making mistakes and learn from them rather than feeling inadequate.
Of course in a transformation, leaders will need to attend to external matters such as vision, purpose and culture, but these will not fully succeed without their personal transformation.
I have recently been writing and will continue to write on topics around personal growth as I see this as central to organizational transformation.
Lululemon – An example of Break-though Culture
My last post was on the amazing culture at Lululemon. Christine Day, the CEO, is a living example of what Good to Great calls – Level 5 leadership – she is humble and nurtures those around her grow and learn.
Everyone at Lululemon gets free Yoga classes. Can you imagine the power of a workforce that is more balanced, at peace, and present with others? Wow. That’s the kind of shift I want to see cultivated everywhere.
Brene Brown’s work on understanding shame and empathy kick started this journey. Siraj Sirajuddin’s Temenos retreats had a profound impact. Most recently, I have found Oneness meditation to help me connect with my humanity and love myself more deeply.
Christine Day, the CEO of Lululemon, gave a compelling account at the Toronto Board of Trade of how Lululemon uses culture as a core competitive advantage. It is woven into the fabric of every interaction and decision, not a bunch of meaningless posters on the wall. Sadly, there is no book yet. But when there is, I believe it will have greater impact than Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness – a landmark book on organizational culture.
Below are my notes from the session.
Lululemon shares some characteristics with other break-through organizational cultures:
- Focus on the long term success
- Compelling shared vision – “elevate the world from mediocrity”
- Little or no organizational hierarchy. e.g. Stores drive activity, not head office.
- Focus on people and their development
- Having a compelling Why? See their manifesto
- Coherent and compelling company culture. See some slides to get some more flavour of this.
There are two elements that I notice are unique and striking about Lululemon culture.
Values Value Chain
The first is the focus on the “values value chain”. They seek to create an ecosystem of success: win/win for everyone they deal with from suppliers to staff to local yoga studios. Like Amazon they believe their long term success will not always lie with short-term decisions. And they always make decisions in favour of the long term. A key difference with Lululemon is that it’s not just about the customer, it’s about everyone involved in the value chain.
Creating a Generation of Leaders
The second and more important element is the relentless focus on leadership and personal development of staff. They encourage staff to dream big and to develop both personally and professionally. These are visibly posted in stores and online. The #1 reason for leaving Lululemon is to pursue their personal vision.
After the talk, I sat with some “Educators” – associates who do sales and other activities – and I could see first hand that Lululemon is changing the world by creating a generation of leaders. It is for this second element, almost a side-effect, that I believe that Lululemon will help change the landscape of business to one more habitable by humans.
Brene Brown had an amazing discovery: The people who have love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging. These people, dubbed the “wholehearted” were able to overcome the shame issues that limit people’s lives. This post is based on Brown’s video The Power of Vulnerability and in her book The Gifts of Imperfection.
The wholehearted have a set of common traits shown in the infographic below.
The definition of the word vulnerable is “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”. How can this be a good thing?
At her TED Talk Listening to Shame, Brown surveys the audience to show that people see vulnerability as pure courage – as long as it’s someone else!
Browns research shows that practicing vulnerability is essential for building the social connections required for living a life of joy and belonging. We have to risk being hurt in order to build strong connections with people. Yes, you do have to talk about that difficult issue if you want a strong relationship. Yes, you do have to ask that person out and risk rejection to make progress.
Many organizations are concerned about how to bring creativity and innovation to the workplace. Brown argues that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change. How people inter-relate and function as a social network is at the core of this.
The following three elements are all necessary aspects of vulnerability: Courage, Compassion, Authenticity.
Courage is not about heroics and it’s not about a character trait. It is about regular practice in daily life. Each day we have many opportunities to practice our courage: to do the right thing, to be vulnerable, to be authentic. It can be as simple as telling someone that you don’t want a meeting that you don’t think is valuable – even though you know it may lead to conflict. It may be in some areas of your life you are very courageous while others could use work.
We are imperfect. We all want to be seen as good, fair, reasonable. And yet the reality is that we are human, not perfect, and we make mistakes. We forget. We ignore our inside voices telling us what is right. The wholehearted not only recognize their imperfections, but see them as part of who they are and embrace them lovingly.
Compassion is a deep form of empathy where we co-suffer with the other person. Pema Chödrön writes “When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently towards what scares us.” Wholehearted living requires that we be compassionate to ourselves as well as others.
I have noticed over the last few days as I have written about empathy and shame, I have room for improvement in practicing compassion towards myself. After a troubling event, I immediately went into the trap of “looking on the bright side”. When I noticed this, I slowed down and gave myself the grace to experience a flood of emotions around the issue. To allow myself to be heard and acknowledged. It was difficult in the moment but allowed me to discharge the feelings so they did not impact the rest of my day.
A critical piece of this is kindness to ourselves. Brown states: “We can only be kind to others to the extent that we can be kind to ourselves.” I have kids and this struck me through my soul like a sharp burning knife. At the time I was aware I had low levels of self-kindness, so the implication that I could not be fully kind to my children really hurt. This truth, has led to a year+ long quest for self-kindness. (But that’s another post).
Authenticity is about being true to who we really are 24 hours a day. It means that we know who we are (imperfections and all) and let ourselves be seen that way. It means that we say and do what our true identity requires. And yes, this means taking on risk. But that is what we need to do to fully reclaim our lives.
I would like to add Brown’s Caution: “If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment and inexplicable grief.”
The good news is that there is a path forward for fully living our lives. The bad news is that there is a world of difference between knowing what you need to do and knowing how to do it. There are some guideposts (starting places) for learning how to make changes in your life in The Gifts of Imperfection. If you are interested in making changes in your life, it is best to start with Brown’s first book I Thought it was Just me since this is much more helpful in understanding what challenges you are up against.
I would like to close with the following quote from Brene Brown: “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging”. (p.1)
I thank Brene Brown for her excellent job modeling the power of vulnerability and for helping me in my life. I would also like thank everyone who participated in the “Gifts of Imperfection” meetup group for a safe space to practice vulnerability.