PeopleSkills' blog examines human behaviour in the workplace and beyond.
Posts include topics such as individual and team performance, leadership, emotional intelligence, change management, interpersonal relationships, trust, managing conflict, the science of human thinking and behaviour, and other topics relevant to those who strive to improve performance and well-being in the workplace.
Every business owner or senior executive that I have ever met wants to grow their business. The problem is that they get bogged down in the everyday tactical issues, and never get to the all-important strategic issues about where their business is going and how they are going to get there.
Tactical thinking is short term, usually a day, a week or - at most - a few months out. Strategic thinking is long term, usually one to five years in the future.
Tactical thinking is narrow in focus, while strategic thinking looks at the big picture.
Tactical thinking is all about who, what, where, when, and how. Strategic thinking asks questions about assumptions, looks for evidence, seeks out new perspectives and points of view, and is concerned with implications and consequences of both action and inaction.
Tactical thinking is often black and white. Humans like that - it calms the Reptilian Brain. Strategic thinking is complex, and needs a tolerance for uncertainty. We don't like that.
Why not try to make strategic thinking a part of just 10 minutes of each day? That's the time it takes to walk to the lunch room and get a coffee. It might just make a difference. And you'll probably get good at it.
Today's inclement weather has reminded me: I had coffee last week with a couple of friends who’ve recently returned from living in Korea for some time. While we were chatting, they told me a very interesting story that served to underscore the differences between Western and Korean culture...
Lauren received a coupon from Starbucks (yes, Virginia, Korea has Starbucks too...) in the mail, offering a two-for-one coffee deal “for a rainy day”. Although her fiancé doesn’t drink much coffee, they eventually decided to take advantage of the coupon and headed off to their local establishment. After ordering their drinks, they handed the coupon to the barista who checked it carefully, looked out the window, then back at the coupon before declaring that they couldn’t use it: “Not raining today!”
Despite their attempts to convince the barista that “a rainy day” is in fact a phrase commonly used in the Western world from whence the coupon’s slogan originated, they were unable to get their free coffee. (They waited until the next rainy day when they used it at a different Starbucks – making sure to point out their wet umbrellas as proof of the inclement weather.)
This is an excellent example of just how easy it is to misunderstand another person, based on where you were born or raised. We each have (sometimes wildly) different ideas about the world we live in, depending on the culture we experienced growing up, what religion we are (or aren’t) a part of, our family and societal values, and many more factors.
For anyone who needs to work with someone in another city, state, province, country, or continent – and don’t we all? – it is important to keep these differences in mind. Things that you take for granted, assume or believe may not be “true” for your colleagues, staff or clients. If you are interested in learning more about how to work most efficaciously despite differences, check out Managing Across Cultures by Solomon and Schell, an excellent book that clearly relates cultural differences to daily business practice by using many and varied examples.
This past week has seen two items in the news that speak to the issue of whattraits we want in our leaders.
George Stalk of the Boston Consulting Group (Globe and Mail) says that the winners in business have always "played hardball" in that "they use every legitimate resource and strategy available to gain advantage over competitors." What Mr. Stalk is illustrating in his article is the importance of being "tough-minded". Leaders, whether in business or in politics need to be "tough-minded" in that they set direction, goals and objectives; then develop strategies, policies and procedures in order to achieve those goals and objectives; and finally hold themselves, staff, partners and suppliers accountable for keeping the comittments that they have made.
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, made the news (www.youtube) when he performed at the National Arts Centre gala in Ottawa on October 3rd. With his wistful smile, sweet voice and piano playing, he showed a vulnerable side to himself that we seldom see on the national stage. In essence, (helped by the choice of song - the Beatles "With a Little Help From My Friends") he revealed a more "open-hearted" persona that we could identify with and that perhaps we long for in a leader. Without a sense of compassion and empathy from the person who holds power over us, it is difficult for most employees (or voters) to throw their complete support behind that leader.
The most effective leaders, in industry or politics, carry the ability to be "tough-minded" and "open-hearted" at the same time. They drive the success of their organization and at the same time, they inspire the loyalty of those around them.
Every business owner, manager, union leader and front-line employee knows the value of information. "Knowledge is power" is a truth that allows companies to gain competitive advantage, consultants to earn a living, and employees to bargain for increased wages or benefits.
Keeping knowledge or information to yourself gives you the exclusive power to ask intelligent questions, make decisions and take action: options not available to those not "in the know".
The primitive brain doesn't tolerate confusion, and is programmed for survival. This means that in the absence of sufficient information, it will make things up... and in so doing, will default to "negative judgments". From the point of view of a caveman, a negative judgment is safer than a positive one: "I don't know what that noise is, so I'll assume it means danger". This means that in times of uncertainty, employees will imagine the worst, and so will business partners, suppliers and customers.
Therin lies the paradox: keeping information to myself gives me an advantage (over others), and at the same time takes that advantage away - those people who are important to my success will imagine the worst.
So, what should we do?
When developing a new product or service, or launching into a new market, it makes sense to keep secrets. On the other hand, when planning an action that affects our business partners, employees, suppliers and customers, it makes the most sense to give them all the information that they need to feel included and safe. If we don't do this, they will just start making things up, and they won't make up good things!