Becoming more Power-Full by Choosing to be Power-Less

old conversations cement old habits

What better model for changes in your power structure than the engagement survey of one of the nation’s largest power producers. Though the BPA chose not to share the results of their survey research shared in an article by the Oregonian rated the BPA “worse than 78 percent of the organizations” who had conducted the Gallup 12 question Employee Engagement Survey in 2014. You may be doing all you can to “Go Green” in your environmental efforts but how about your in-vironmental initiatives. Are your organizational designs creating more friction than function? You may not be a big enough target to hit the headlines but the company cooler may be creating a buzz that stings where it hurts the most.

I have a great many friends in and associated with the Bonneville Power Administration. The Northwest Public Power Association and the Bureau of Reclamation were some of my first clients when I started my consulting and speaking career almost twenty years ago. I feel for both the leaders and employees.

I know many will take very personally criticisms that are primarily procedural. These are neither uncaring nor ill-equipped people as might be assumed from the survey results.

The problem is not people but process.

BPA is imperfect as are all organizations. None of us are without flaw and the greatest imperfection of all may be our inability to separate people from process.

Angry DirverWe all do it every day. We are cut off on the freeway and immediately make assumptions about the offending drivers parents or confer a complete set of personal propensities based entirely on someone’s attire. We excuse these “exercises in imagination” as harmless but are they? The habit of unthinkingly assigning unflattering attributes to someone based on a moment in time is entirely illogical yet socially encouraged. It is this same assumption of understanding that allows us to maintain many well-intentioned processes long after they have outlived their utility.

Once these standard-practices become institutionalized-systems they are assumed to be effective even though the opposite impact is often unconsidered. As part of the organizational culture it is easiest for members of the community to adapt and people soon become indistinguishable from the systems that shape them. It is this personalization of processes that discourages both employees and managers alike.

Employees seeing themselves as helpless find comfort and companionship in complaining (only to their agreeable associates) thereby adding an outlet for their objection without risking retribution or rejection.

Managers fare no better having grown accustomed to what’s deemed acceptable they find the benefits of adherence preferable to the accountability of action.

Scary things under the bedWhen I ask either employees or managers why they don’t question these systemic disconnects their response is always the same. “The cost/benefit ratio is too high.” I would suggest that the problem is neither cost or benefit but our inability to accurately assess either. We don’t clearly understand simply because we don’t have a system that requires us to ask hard questions. We are like children too afraid to look under the bed.

Do you make it easy to disagree?The problems are not irreversible and with few exceptions are seldom personal. They are simply systems that need the bright light of collaborative insight. The changes need not be in people but process.

Increased understanding and awareness will improve the process but as soon as reinforcement is removed; the habits of old will reassert their hold. What’s needed is not better educated or motivated managers but a more inclusive process.


Curtail the complexity
Any organization can be divided into functionally accountable groups responsible for their own budgets, expenses, hiring, firing, purchasing and production. W. L. Gore & Associates has been doing this for 50 years and coincidentally has been profitable in every one of those years.

Morning Star won’t tell you how much they make because they don’t have to they’ve never needed “public” money because everything is paid for out of their operating budgets. The other thing they don’t need, despite the intricacies of orchestrating 400 employees to turn 1000 tons of raw input PER HOUR into $700 million in annual revenues they don’t have a single manager.

Earn Trust through Transparency
Morning Star shares complete financials with every employee twice per month. Anser Charter School doesn’t just include employees but parents, teachers, board members all know exactly who is accomplishing what with how much. Teachers choose what to spend, how to spend it and what to expect in return. Salesforce took their most vulnerable weakness “downtime” and posted it for EVERYONE to see.

These examples are just the beginning. There are so many super successful organizations blazing trails away from bureaucracy there is no longer any excuse to hide behind hierarchy.

The truth will be told. Whether you are a heroic harbinger of enlightened engagement or positionally powered antiquity of authoritarianism is entirely up to you. It does not matter where are or where you have been. The only choice is where you want to go.

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