The Power of AND
Last year, I had many fascinating conversations with my long-time friend and collaborator, Tamara Sicard. Tammy focuses her consulting on helping clients create a culture of accountability and developing people as leaders regardless of their role. Our ideas about developing people were clearly synergistic given the similarities in our work and values. Our natural curiosity to explore our respected fields of work didn’t hurt either! We have known each other for over 30 years and next month, we will begin an exciting, new pilot program: a unique peer learning experience for our next generation of leaders.
Here is a brief discussion we had on the possibilities of human capability.
Sherry: What is it about the intersection of getting results and deepening relationships that captures your interest?
Tamara: I love that question because if you think about results and relationships as an intersection, the question then is what happens at that intersection. I believe that the answer is engagement.
So many executives are, understandably, concerned about engagement these days. And I don’t think you can understand issues of engagement without thinking about this particular intersection.
Here’s an example:
I was invited to study innovation at a medical device company. The CEO wanted to expand the way the organization thought about innovation in a new way. They had always been focused on product innovation. So who were the innovators? The scientists and the software engineers, and so forth. But this CEO saw the possibilities of extending that mindset to everyone in the business. He wanted everyone to see themselves as an innovator so that the results would be in business, product, and process innovations.
What we learned very quickly was that this change was not just defined in terms of results; it was also defined in terms of the relationships that mattered to those results. Once people could see how they were connected, and how their work was related, they were more inclined to collaborate. They began to see the connections in operations and then create solutions to unpredictable problems.
SB: Does this change the capability we need to grow in our business?
TS: If you really consider the intersection of results and relationships it isn’t in adding relationships to our thinking about results that I find interesting. The real game changer, and what interests me, is the word and.
That little word captures the essence of today’s leadership challenges. We can’t solve the challenges of silos, conflict, global supply chains, or even a multigenerational workforce, without that one word in our hearts and minds. It is the only word that has the power to transform how we think about our work, and one another.
We have inherited an either/or way of thinking about the world. It is often more comfortable. And while there is a place for that, it is less and less useful in dealing with the very real issues and challenges most leaders and their teams face today.
SB: Can you give me an example of that?
TS: Have you ever watched in frustration as one of your talent-filled, cross-functional teams devolved into conflict over who was right and who was wrong on a cross-functional issue?
Everyone is deeply engaged in their own expertise and concerns, but no one is focused on the relationships between their work, or the impact they are having on one another.
SB: Tell me more about this disconnect?
TS: I watched a newly launched product development team get confused on what they were solving for. The Sales Manager on the team was frustrated because it was unclear on what customer need the new product was going to solve, and she knew that was going to be critical to selling it. She wanted a clear customer-driven strategy.
Then the Plant Manager on the team chimed in with his frustration about the last market window they missed by two days. His point of view, of course, was that the company didn’t need sales people if it didn’t have a strong product-driven strategy that is profitable. And I don’t really think anyone was hearing the project leader as she tried to talk about how the product was positioned within the portfolio. So the meeting ended in this senseless debate, each seeing the other as wrong. But the other thing that ended was the potential for a completely different conversation about how both points of view must be incorporated into plans for an optimal product launch.
This sort of misplaced competition between silos happens every day because we don't teach people how to recognize these either/or, right and wrong, us and them conversations as opportunities for innovation and change.
People are engaged, they are just poorly engaged because they are focused on their results --- their part, their point of view, their priorities -- but not on the relationships between them. My mentor once said to me “Organizations are relationships in action.” I think that observation has always stuck with me, and influenced what I notice.
SB: What happens inside a company where “us and them” exchanges exist?
TS: Let’s stay with this example, where “us” is Sales and “them” is manufacturing. These functions represent important differences in expertise. But when “us AND them” becomes “us VERSUS them” we see competition instead of collaboration. The focus on results becomes siloed, and the focus on relationships is us versus them. What happens is more of the same: more fragmentation and more competitive differences that divide people and work.
SB: I can understand why people hang on to something they know. How do the best leaders deal with entrenched point of views?
TS: The classical pianist Arthur Schnabel was once asked how he managed to play the notes so well, to which he replied, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.”
I think one of the most important acts of leadership today, and it can come from anyone really, is to create such a pause in the midst of oppositional thinking. Then, we can take that dissonance and noise and transform it into a creative and collaborative performance.
It is human nature to identify with those who are “like” us, and of course we want people to have a sense of unity within their teams. But we also need those same teams to remain open to outside ideas and curious about the concerns and challenges in other parts of the organization. Very few of the issues and challenges we face today can be understood or addressed from an isolated point of view. That little word “and” can be used to create a pause and allow things to be as complex as they are.
SB: Developing talent is a call to action for companies committed to growth – what advice do you have for the CEO who is challenged with keeping and developing the next generation of leader?
TS: I get the sense that our younger generation is asking our organizations to raise the bar on our humanity – things like purpose and meaning are missing for many younger folks. They are pressing for a different way of being in their places of work.
And our organizations can sometimes feel like places where those are “nice to haves” not need to haves. Places where the “need to haves” are action, efficiency and “doing more with less.” So it becomes a debate over which is more important – being or doing.
This is a false choice.
We began our conversation talking about results and relationships, and that the most powerful word there is and. I think one of the most interesting conversations we are not having is in the space between generations. Rather than teaching leaders what to do to engage different generations (which will do very little to change how generations relate across differences), what if we stood squarely in that space between generations – between the importance of doing and the importance of being, and engaged as if neither one is better or worse, more or less important to our shared performance.
“And” changes the conversation from being a false choice between oppositional points of view to a creative collaboration between them. This is the quality of engagement that can transform results and the relationships that matter to them.
Having purpose and profitability be front and center is a huge issue, not only for retaining talent, but for creating sustainable organizations. We don't have to look too far in today’s news to see examples of this: Boeing's 737 Max, Facebook's stance on altered videos, banking leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. They exemplify how organizations set goals that their younger workforce do not believe in and, in some cases, may unleash unexpected outcomes.
It's time to talk about the complex challenges we face.
• Either/Or Thinking ("Our differences may define us, but they need not divide us." Sicard, 2016)
• Us and Them Relating ("Those young folks just want what they want, and I don't have time to deal with this." CEO)
• Doing at the expense of Being ("Doing more with less has become a bit of a benchmark for a productive leader." Sicard, 2016)
These patterns undermine people and performance. It's time to engage with one another, between generations, in order to create organizations where both people and performance thrive.
Tammy and I are kicking off our first peer learning group focused on “Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.” We see the opportunity to prepare leaders to change the conversation and value being and doing equally.