Over the last few years, I have been involved in several projects which have required us to improve visibility and transparency of status. This typically leads to some improved systems and tools, maybe physical boards, maybe digital tools. It always triggers healthy discussions about the importance of behaviours including act on data, go look see, challenge the target condition, do what you say, how critical it is to be agile and collaborative. These are great prompts however I think we need to reflect a bit more on our thinking and our personal motivation when we consider our actions as leaders and how we exemplify these behaviours. As the fog lifts and we move from the blissful ignorance of unconscious incompetence of poor visualisation to being initially consciously incompetent, I firmly believe that how we choose to react as leaders can have a profound impact on the value gained from taking this uncomfortable but necessary step if we want to improve our businesses. I have found myself reflecting on the underlying purpose of visualising performance, surfacing problems and having true transparency of status. In doing so I have come to appreciate its real power, which I explore further in this article.
Before lockdown, my husband and I went to see an exhibition of Don McCullin’s photography. Don is known for his war photography, which isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but my husband was keen to go so off we went. Don McCullin also has a reputation for his often-harrowing images, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect but I went with an open mind, curious about what we were going to see. When we arrived at the exhibition there was all the normal chaos you might see outside a gallery, lots of people queuing to get in, getting anxious about others pushing in, tutting if others were too slow and the military operation of checking tickets and searching bags. To make things worse there was an evacuation as a fire alarm had gone off before we got into the building. All pretty chaotic however we persisted, and we finally made it into the exhibition. What was immediately noticeable on entering was the silence… you could hear a pin drop. There was a quiet and orderly procession around the walls of the exhibition halls as we meandered through in a snake like fashion. There was no pushing, no tutting about people holding up the queue just the occasional whisper into a partner or friend’s ear, presumably talking about what they had just seen. Everyone seemed so drawn to the pictures. Pictures were accompanied by simple statements of fact, no flouncy wording. Yes, there were some gruesome pictures: a grieving mother holding her dead child in a war zone; emaciated children so thin it was painful to see; scenes of deprivation that you cannot imagine how anyone could live like that; graphic war images. I found myself reading every word, searching for facts, trying to understand but not entirely sure why I was so captivated. Then I came across a paragraph on the wall written by Don McCullin that made perfect sense…
“Often they are atrocity pictures… But I want to create a voice for the people in those pictures, I want the voice to seduce people into actually hanging on a bit longer when they look at them, so they go away not with an intimidating memory but with a conscious obligation.” Don McCullin.
This phrase of conscious obligation has stuck with me; how critical and how powerful to create that connection and that compulsion to want to know more and importantly to feel the need to act. I am curious how many of us went away feeling compelled to find out more. I know I did!
Self-Worth and Personal Growth
Winding forward to today, a frequent topic of discussion with peers and mentees, particularly at the moment as the world wrestles with the impacts of Covid-19, seems to be a search for purpose and meaning in the work that we are doing, wanting to feel valued. I have always felt like I needed to know that the work I am doing is valued and is adding value to the achievement of an aligned set of goals that I buy into. When this doesn’t exist, I feel a little lost and it can be hard to stay motivated. This was part of my motivation to make a significant career change about a year ago. I have read various textbooks and articles talking about motivation, I’ve been on training courses as a leader that tell me the importance of showing my appreciation to others. There are apps you can use to send people messages telling them they have done a great job. I have seen countless emails from leaders praising the work of others and posts on LinkedIn giving Kudos for being brilliant. I am fortunate enough to have received these kinds of commendations in the past and, don’t get me wrong, I love receiving them and it can be immensely valuable to reflect on some of these, particularly when we are going through a challenging period but crucially, without me feeling I have earned the recognition it can feel a little empty. Aubrey C. Daniels in his book Bringing out the Best in People says:
“Earned recognition and rewards increase performers’ feelings of confidence and competence. These performers have visible evidence that they add value to the organisation. Confidence leads to an increase in initiative and a willingness to try new ideas.” Aubrey C. Daniels
To me this means that it isn’t just a case of a manager telling their team what a great job they are doing, although of course they should do this when it is deserved! What is equally important is the more frequent positive re-enforcement that an individual can get from knowing what they need to achieve and knowing they have achieved it.
We have this mantra we often cite “how do I know I have a good day, good week, good month?”. Seems trite but it is so true. I want to know that I have had a good day either as an individual or part of a team and tools and techniques that help me visualise this are a real asset. Then the external validation is the cherry on the top!
Bringing it all together
As digital technology continues to evolve, we have the increasing ability to improve transparency and visualise performance real time across organisations, which is fantastic. Sometimes there will be uncomfortable insights generated but we have a choice as to how we interact with this newfound clarity and as leaders we should consider our motivation when we choose to react in a certain way. Do we jump in and immediately chastise a team or an individual if they are not achieving a target condition or do we seek to understand what is underlying the red condition and ask the team if they need our help to support? I am not saying that we shouldn’t hold people to account, this is crucial but my hypothesis is that if we can shadow the steps below and encourage our teams to do the same this will drive a more sustainable improvement in performance and improve engagement in teams.
Each of us to take personal accountability for understanding how our work connects to an achievement of a broader set of goals and purpose that we believe in: Create Connection.
Embrace visualisation and transparency, keep messages simple and factual, be curious about what you see. Seed that Conscious Obligation.
Create the conditions that allow individuals at the right place in the organisation to take accountability for their own performance: Build Self-Worth.