Do you ever get the feeling that you parachuted into a strange and alien terrain? It's a VUCA world - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous - which provides extraordinary opportunities. But first you must take command of you. And do so in the face of frenzied confusion around you. As is the case in Rob's story which we discuss today, too much is at stake. The risks are high. You may lose what matters most to you. Let's get to the KEY.
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The Corporate Epidemic-Stop the Hysteria Already!
Rob is a hard working manager. He is driven and has given his best to his company. He has been promoted because of the unique skillset he brings: technical engineering knowledge; passion for the customer; and effective people and presentation skills. By working hard in the trenches, Rob had climbed the ladder and taken on P&L responsibilities. Soon after taking a general manager role for his group, Rob produced significant growth and was recognized for his success. While his track record speaks for itself, I am on red alert three minutes into our call. Something doesn't feel right. It's not what Rob is saying that puts me on red alert. It is his voice and what I hear in it.
A big part of consulting and coaching is done on the telephone. Good consultants and coaches develop sharp sensitivity. They readily pick up the mental, emotional and energetic state of the person on the other side of the conversation. You are listening to hear not just the words but the melody between the words is critical. Some have a listening gift. Others work to develop it. But in all cases it begins by being deeply interested.
The Microwave Syndrome
Rob's voice is tensed. He is excited to speak with me and is positive and enthusiastic. But what I hear underneath the details is a huge amount of stress. Since the reorganization happened, he no longer has P&L responsibility, but this is not the source of his stress. It's as though something inside him is tightly wound; the gears are turning but not catching and it's not obvious to him that his energy and passion are hitting a wall. So he tries even harder to be positive in what he says. Rob is experiencing the "double microwave oven" syndrome. He is cooking inside the toxic hysteria his group produces, in large part due to their new boss. And inside Rob is his own microwave oven of brain reactivity, anxiety, resentment and fear.
Rob is not alone. In fact, Rob's condition is a symptom of a growing epidemic in the workplace. It's an epidemic that has multiple faces: inability to adapt, punitive stress, and breakdown of leadership presence and organizational culture. Too many knowledge workers are reduced to twenty or thirty percent capacity because of the "workplace hysteria," wherein reactivity is the mode of operation.
The Trading Floor
Short-termism and the tyranny of quarterly earnings have gone amok. An invisible consequence that no one recognizes or speaks of is that in many places the work environment increasingly resembles a chaotic trading floor. A group of people "screaming" in all directions with no one listening or coherently perceiving, where 90 percent lose and 10 percent make a killing. Paradoxically, in this vicious spiral, everyone is vying to be in the 10 percent as they dig their own graves. Sound extreme? Perhaps, but that's the feeling I get in Rob's voice. He is ready to snap at any minute.
Debilitating conditions and compromised well-being on the verge of snapping are just some of the symptoms of the frenzied corporate microwave oven. We see other consequences of this all around us in multiple dangerous ways:
|Personal consequences||Company consequences|
|Stress and anxiety||Ineffective communication|
|Burn out||Misunderstandings & conflicts|
|Health problems||Loss of productivity|
|Loss of motivation||Deteriorating service|
|Loss of commitment & loyalty||System failures|
|Undirected and unused energy||Absenteeism|
|Low satisfaction||High turnover|
The Resilience Project
Over the last two years I've worked with a group of professionals on what we call the Resilience Project. We've identified 25 elements of resilience that constitute five pillars of resilience. We've mapped 50 strategies and practices to help repair and replenish personal and organizational resilience. And we've experimented with tools and coaching modalities. A few simple facts have become obvious:
- The cost of the corporate hysteria is probably in the tens of billions of dollars and in its broadest impact is almost incalculable because it invades nearly everything. Company's board panicked reaction and frequent CEO firings example this point.
- The personalized nature of the breakdown and how the "snap syndrome" gets expressed by individuals is unpredictable. People can snap or end up in a paralyzing depression. In both cases the symptoms are viral and dangerously contagious.
- Leadership is everything. As a leader you can cause or add to the corporate hysteria or you can be an island of sanity that people look up to. You may not have the answer to all challenges but you bring a center of gravity that backs off the hysteria and enables people to adapt, to engage and to create their best work.
What becomes clear is the resilience imperative. Business continuity plans are critical but not sufficient. Your personal and organizational resilience now has to be a core element of your strategy and daily focus and practice. We have reframed resilience. Resilience is not bouncing back. Resilience is bouncing forward into a new equilibrium.
Four months after my initial call with Rob he left his 23 year corporate career to explore a new path and bring his skills to a smaller organization. "It's not ideal," he said to me, "but I feel that I have reclaimed my dignity and I am making a true difference."
Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. Defy the corporate hysteria. Get focused on what matters. Work on resilience. Bring forward leadership presence. Become an island of clarity. Create a resilient future for you and for your people.
© Aviv Shahar