If you feel good, you work good Leadership in an uncertain and complex world

Introduction:

The focus we adopt becomes our reality.

The common instinct during uncertainty is to adopt a perspective that is based on our previous experience of how we have handled similar situations. This gives us a map to what we believe is the solution to problems, leading to a sense of certainty. However, this map is outdated and it doesn’t align with the territory anymore. The sense of stability and certaintyin our solutions has no basis since the world is just the opposite –  (VUCA) volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous!

We need new maps to understand this world and develop innovative solutions. This paper is offering a new map with a caveat. The caveat is that the map doesn’t attempt to simplify a complex world or build certainty in an ambiguous world. The map helps leaders to embrace the complexity and work with it as an ally.

The word  VUCA was coined by Warren Bennis in 1987. According to Bennis, the VUCA world meant new ways of seeing and responding to changes. The old dogmas, strategies and management tools will not work anymore. Organisations have to learn new orientations of management and leadership.

I believe that, in these times of the pandemic, we are in a “double” VUCA world requiring not just new orientations and approaches, but a transformational focus to our purpose and meaning as organizations.

In my book “ If you feel good, you work good” Relationships lead to results, I have outlined some of the transformational insights from the story of Citicorp Overseas software Limited (COSL), an organisation that was an outlier of its times. This story, I believe is highly relevant to organisations and leadership to deal with the uncertain and complex world. This article summarises some of the insights and uses that to construct a map to comprehend and act in this world.

Organisational Paradigms and Pillars:

Organisations are created for a purpose. The purpose could be business as well as social. The purpose of the organisation generates a meaning in the minds of people who are associated with it. COSL began with the purpose of outsourcing information technology requirements of Citibank to India. However, COSL also acquired a purpose of contributing to building the IT outsourcing industry in India. This was the combination of the business and social purpose.

Purpose and meaning are strengthened and cascaded into the organisational strategies, policies and processes based on paradigms and pillars. When we observe organisations, what we see are actions taken by leaders to deal with problems and opportunities presented to them. Underlying the various actions are paradigms and pillars. Paradigms are belief systems or worldviews and they articulate the purpose, meaning and culture of an organisation.Pillars are based on paradigms and evolve into strategies that drive actions in an organisation. How organisational leadership respond to situations will depend on paradigms and pillars that have been internalised

In my book I articulate three paradigms and two pillars that helped COSL live its purpose and meaning. This allowed COSL to thrive even when there were threats to its survival and be successful much beyond the expectations of its owners. It also helped to build an organisation that was ahead of its times. I believe these are highly relevant in this uncertain and complex world.

Three paradigms:

Paradigm Meaning Implications
Machine Organisations are made of parts andare predictable. When things fail, parts need to be replaced People are treated as another resource like machines, materials and money.
Process Organisations are process flows. Bottlenecks need to be removed to generate outputs. People play roles and are required as long as process demands. If not, they become redundant.
Organism Organisms are complex and people are the organisation. Relationships define an organisation’s results

 

As Margaret Wheatley said in A Simpler Way, “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions”

COSL believed that relationships at work was its core. Relationships helped the organisation transform an adversity into an opportunity.  When the world becomes double VUCA, COSL leveraged the strength of relationships not only to get results and overcome the situation, but also to transform itself with the world. When we see organisations as living organisms, then our response will be to strengthen our core.

COSL’s essence was relationships and its culture was stated in this one short sentence :

“If you feel good, you work good”.

People feel good when they have

  • interesting and challenging work,
  • when they have great relationships with colleagues
  • when they experience their organisation as their home.

Impact of paradigms:

 Leaders in organisations operate from one of these paradigms and drive the purpose, meaning and culture of the organisation based on that. Let us examine the impact of paradigms on relationships and values in an organisation:

Paradigm Relationships Values
Machine Utilitarian. There are apparent relationships as long as people are needed. Survival is the primary value. Values maybe listed, but what is followed is based on expediency.
Process Relationships are required to perform a role Continuity is the primary value. In case of value conflicts, values that stop continuity are discarded.
Organism People work together because they have a relationship. Essence or core is the primary value. This means alignment to values at all times and none is discarded.

The three paradigms mentioned above define the culture of an organisation and drive its purpose. This is especially so when the world becomes more uncertain and complex. Based on the purpose and culture defined by the paradigms, the strategic action pillars emerge.

Two Pillars

The pillars are based on the paradigm of organisations as a living organism where relationships form the basis for working together and values drive  actions. Two pillars are articulated below and each of them drive four strategic actions. These pillars might be articulated in machine and process paradigms as well. However, they are discarded the moment uncertainty and complexity sets in.

The first pillar is calledCORE.  This acronym stands forChoice, Openness, Respect and Experience. When the CORE is present in any organisation, people feel good. The second pillar is called COSL. The acronym stands for Colleagueship, Outstanding quality at work, Solution focus and Learning orientation. When people feel good, they work good.  Working good is not just doing one’s job and meeting targets. Working good is to live the dimensions of the COSL pillar.

The table below gives details of the two pillars:

Pillar Strategies Actions
CORE Choice – a culture of freedom where individuality is respected.

Openness – an environment of psychological safety to express oneself without fear.

Respect –where people are treated like one wishes to be treated.

Experience – a culture that generates experiences of wellbeing.

1.      No one right way. Decision making is empowered to the lowest level in the system.

2.      Dissent is a fundamental right and encouraged.

3.      Listening respectfully to every view, especially ones that are diverse

4.      Experiences of engagement and wellbeing generate moments of truth

COSL Colleagueship – drives teamwork and collaboration

Outstanding quality at work – leads to outstanding quality of products and services

Solution focus – a commitment to deliver and delight customers

Learning Orientation – Willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes

1.      My Manager is my friend at work

2.      My work shows my quality as a person

3.      Focus both on issues and also possible solutions

4.      A non-punishment culture where learning is seen as an investment for the future

 

 Reflections:

Having read this article, I invite you as to reflect on the three paradigms and two pillars of your own organisation based on the lessons from COSL. Here are some questions that might help:

  1. What is the image of the organisation that I carry in my mind?
  2. How are my beliefs around relationships and results at work?
  3. What are my values that form the core of my organisational leadership?
  4. How much of the CORE (Choice, Openness, Respect and Experience) I bring in my contract with my employees?
  5. Lastly, how do I bring COSL ( Colleagueship, Outstanding quality at work, Solution focus and Learning orientation) to my leadership?

These reflections help to discover the essence of one’s leadership and help organisations thrive in these double VUCA times and beyond. It maybe this pandemic and tomorrow it maybe something else. We can’t control what the world throws at us. However, we can respond to that with the essence of who we are as leaders and organisations.

Paradigms are deep rooted and it might take time and effort to transform them. It may look easier to start with the pillars since they are strategies and actions. However, pillars and paradigms are inter-related and it will be important to work with both of them together.

 

If you like my article and want to implement these paradigms and pillars in your organisation,you will find all that and more in my book “If you feel good, you work good – Relationships lead to Results”. Kindle and print versionsavailable here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0936SJK6X or https://www.amazon.in/dp/B0936SJK6X

 

SankarasubramanyanRamamoorthy is a Mumbai, India based Organisational Development Consultant, Trainer, Coach, Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, Personal Growth Facilitator and Writer. He is the founder director of Changeworks Consulting Services Private Limited. (www.changeworksindia.com) and is on the board of NTL Institute, USA (www.ntl.org).

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