Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Courage a Habit?

(Originally posted as a LinkedIn Change Management answer. The question involved seeing courage as a habit, and reinforcing it in our daily work.)
I'm not sure I would characterize courage as a habit, but we could probably launch a whole new discussion group just to deal with the question of what courage is and how it's defined.
In the military, I knew any number of people endowed with great physical courage: they would--without hesitation--charge into a burning compartment to save a shipmate, jump on a grenade to save the rest of the people in their platoon, or do any number of other things that might result in death or medals for valor or both.
Many of these same people, however, would not stick their necks out an inch when it came to their performance evaluations or anything else that might jeapordize their careers. Performance evaluations were pretty much the arbiters of career advancement in the military, and this gave the person that signed your evaluation--and the committee that force-ranked you against your peers--unbelievable power over your ability to excel.
As a result, leaders who valued innovation might welcome an innovator, and welcome someone who stood up to buck conventional wisdom. Since many military leaders are conventionalists and authoritarians, however, the rule at all too many commands is that "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down."
This is one of the reasons Deming was so adamant about his eighth point: "Drive out Fear." It's one of the reasons he hated performance evaluation. Besides the fact that it's unconnected to reality, performance evaluation is a carrot-and-stick approach that engenders fear, crushes joy in work, stifles innovation and keeps peers in artifical competition that sub-optimizes organizational performance.
If you want to reinforce courage in the workplace, you have to be in a workplace that values courage, that values "speaking truth to power." Developing some political tact, the ability to speak truth to power without insulting or diminishing those in power, can help, if the leadership is open to listening.
One of the things I have always used to some advantage was an agreed understanding of the leaders' goals. If they can articulate their goals up front, bringing in new ideas that advance those goals becomes easier. When they jerk knees to try to squash a new idea, a good consultant can say, "I'm sorry...I'm confused now. I thought you wanted to get [goal] accomplished. This idea is the best we've seen yet for getting there. Do you want to get there or not?"
Another important habit is that of providing evidence for your case. Bringing data, well-analyzed and presented for clear understanding and insight, is also very helpful. Even though resistance is an emotional reaction, appeals to reason are still valuable in demonstrating the superiority of a proposed idea. It provides evidence for trialability and competitive advantage. It helps make the vision clearer and more concrete, therefore more feasible.
So, for those at the top...you want innovation? Create a climate for innovation. Drive out fear, articulate and share your vision to build a vision community in which every contribution toward reaching the vision is valued, innovation is a corporate strategy, and creativity is recognized as a core value.
For those not so near the top, develop good communication skills and tact, provide good clear evidence for your ideas, and persist as long as possible. If you continue to get hammered down, find another place to work that DOES value innovation; in the end, that organization will be more competitive and you will be much happier.

No comments:

Post a Comment