ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1999


Not So Common Sense

A Fresh Squeeze On Labor Relations

Toughening Up Today's Change Efforts

People Before Strategy: Four Types of Employees that Help or Hinder a Changing Corporate Culture

The Missing Link
Failed Mergers Linked to Poor Management of Workforce Issues

A Few Kind Words: The Importance of Positive Reinforcement

Tool Time
Assessing Management Tools


Turnabout Is Fair Play
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Turnabout Is Fair Play

I don't quite know what is happening to me, but I am beginning to feel some empathy for managers. In our efforts to create accountable, high performing and satisfying workplaces, we most often think that if the management would change, the institution would change. So we train them, write books for them, consult to them.

I have felt for some time that the problem with our leaders is not so much their behavior but the depth and intensity of our expectations of them. We persistently want our boss to be our mentor, we want them to take responsibility for our development. We get upset when they do not act with integrity, or work well together, articulate a clear vision, or be a powerful advocate for our unit with those even higher in the institution.

It is disturbing that we expect so much of our managers. For a shift in a culture, something more is required of the employees. Perhaps workers are the cause and management is the effect. Our frequent feelings of futility and frustration may be from putting our eyes on the wrong prize. Here are some wishes of myself and other employees that would balance the equation and support the transformation many of us seek.

Employee Manifesto
1. Care for the success and well being of the whole institution regardless of how it is managed. Stop thinking the organizations has to earn our loyalty. Commit to its purpose and its customers even if management no longer is so committed to us.

2. Mentor ourselves. Find our own teachers and support, don't expect it from the boss or from Human Resources. Be willing to pay for my own learning, recruit my own coaches, plan my own continuing education.
Stop thinking the organization is responsible for my development.

3. View our boss as a struggling human being, no more able to walk their talk than we are able to walk ours. Have some empathy for anyone who would have to endure the reality of having us as their subordinates. Besides, most bosses are more worried about their bosses than they are about us. Why would they be any different than us?

4. Learn how to run this business. Become economically literate. Know the budget-cost-revenue connection of everything we touch. Learn as many jobs as possible, figure out on our own what clients and customers want and how to give it to them. And do it even if the pay system is irrational and indifferent to anything that matters.

5. Be accountable for the success of our peers. Decide to support their learning and focus on their strengths, rather than be disappointed in their shortcomings. Be their mentor, see their weaknesses as an opportunity for us to learn forgiveness and tolerance. And if we get in battle with them over territory or budget, give it away.

6. Accept the unpredictability of the situation we are in. The future of the organization is a mystery and who knows how long these conditions will exist. Outsource our fortune teller, and stop asking where we are headed. Today is where we are headed and that is enough.

7. Forget our ambition to get "ahead." Ahead of whom? Why not stop competing with those around us. Maybe we are not going to get promoted and our salary grade is essentially peaking right now. The only hope we have for more prosperity is if the institution really grows and even then we will never get our fair share of the rewards. Besides, if we do get promoted, who is to say we will be any happier. My observation is that the higher you go in the organization, the more depressed people become.

8. View meetings and conversations as an investment in relationship. Value a human relationship over an electronic one. Assume we come together to make contact with each other and any decisions we make are simply a bonus. Agree to end one meeting this week without a list or action plan. Besides most of our best plans get changed five minutes after we leave the room and the lists are mostly a reminder of those things we do not really want to do.

9. Deliver on our promises and stop focusing on the actions of others. The clarity and integrity of my actions will change the world. Stop thinking and talking about the behavior of others. Let go of disappointment in them and how they were too little and too late. Maybe they had something more important to do than meet our requirements. Similarly, no one else is going to change. They are good the way they are.

If change is going to happen, it will be us. Ghandi said that if blood be shed, let it be ours. We need to blink first. Shift our own thinking and do it for our own sake, not as a hidden bargain designed to control the actions of others.

11. Accept that most important human problems have no permanent solution. No new policy, structure, legislation or management declaration is gong to fix much. The struggle is the solution. Justice and progress will always happen locally, on our watch, in our unit, only as a result of our actions with those in the immediate vicinity.

12. Stop asking "how?" We now have all the skills, the methods, the tools, the capacity and the freedom to do whatever is required. All that is needed is the will and courage to choose and to move on. And to endure the uncontrollability of events.

13. Finally, stop seeking hope in the eyes and words of people in power. Hope is for us to offer, not request. Whatever we seek from our leaders can ultimately only be found in the mirror. And that is not so bad.

The point is to confront the passivity, isolation and complaints that flood our workplaces. Employees are powerful players in creating culture and we ignore this when we act as if managers are the primary agents of change. Not to let managers or leaders off the hook, for how they use their power makes a difference. It is just that the hook has room for many players, us included.

These guidelines could easily be translated into ways to handle the difficulties of marriage or ways for citizens to rebuild the qualities of their community. They may seem to carry a strain of cynicism, but they are more a witness of faith. I have long felt that what we seek looking up in our organizations are expectations and dependency that is better directed at God rather than at a second level supervisor.

Also, I write these with full knowledge that they are rules I fall short of fulfilling. Perhaps if I could act on what I know to be true, I could stop writing, you could stop reading, and we could both seek in real literature, music and art what we now seek on bookshelves filled with answer manuals. We could stop going to consultants and therapists and force them into real work. We could turn in our degrees in engineering, technology, finance and administration for ones in philosophy and religion. And this would be the most practical thing we could do.

October '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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