Aligning yourself with the best organizational culture…for you.

universityYou would think I would know this stuff, right? Here I am, stressing over whether I should leave my (now past) employer and step into the unknown. Did I once include my natural success orientation mix into the decision? Did I relate my uncertainty and stress back to who I am and what the organzation I had been working for was like, and what they were transforming into?

Heck no. All I thought about was my loss of financial security and my stress as I tried to continue to fit into what was getting to be a harder and harder institution to work for.

Ack. It was definitely time for an epiphany. And it came: My employer was now more process oriented than relationship oriented and shifting rapidly even more so. What had been a small, community focused institution with a strong relationship oriented leadership was now transforming into a larger, process oriented one. Now, the new hires, mostly PhD process oriented academics, were pushing hard to get rid of the relationship aspect and force a new, more predictable (read: process oriented) structure into place. Don’t get me wrong: Bad things happen when institutions grow and they are trying to be run on relationship alone. But education as a whole, particularly at the post-secondary level which on the surface espouses departure from the norms (‘process”), should not be about process, but about achieving goals and doing so while learning what processes work and don’t work, and learning to get along with peers and build relationships across boundaries.

So, here I was, a strong relationship and goal oriented person, becoming increasingly more uncomfortable as the symptoms of this change were becoming more painful for me: I would be almost in tears when I heard things from my peers like “the student used a non-standard font in the footer of her paper” and “the standard structure for the thesis was not followed” (with marks deducted for both). Needless to say, there is no “standard font” and the whole concept of forcing a student into a “standard structure” is so scary to me that I almost gagged when I heard it for the umpteenth time. Where was the “relationship” or the “human development” in this picture?

Well, I got the message and not long ago I left the security of a predictable paycheck and started in a new city at a new instition to me. “As one door closes another opens” is an old saying. Well it was true: The new institution is very relationship oriented, with people-centred communication, relaxing staff social events, and a real focus on getting to know students (read: relationships and human development).

Big sigh of relief for me.

And a wry shake of my head: I should have known better. I work with this stuff all the time. Align your success orientation mix with a job and an organizational orientation mix that matches yours and you will be a MUCH happier. Period.

Bikram Hot Yoga – wow!

I had the interesting experience of trying out something new the other day: Bikram Hot Yoga. Essentially, you are in a room that is set to about 100-120 degrees Farienheit (39-45 Celsius) for 90 minutes. In this room they have an “instructor” at the front who talks loudly into a microphone at you for essentially the whole time. You are expected to work through a whole series of quite challenging yoga moves, one after another in rapid succession to the tune of “PUSH-HARDER!!-REACH FURTHER!!-HOLD-FOR-5-MORE-SECONDS!!!-FOUR-THREE-…”.

For 90 minutes this went on, move after move, the largely out of shape participants mechanically working through the moves in this glaringly flourescent lit room in a mess of sweat and toil. After about 30 minutes I gave up and because the leader asked us to stay in the room for the whole time, even if we didn’t follow the moves, I stayed in the room, stretching, breathing, and just working hard…to get the instructor’s loud voice out of my head!

East meets west: What is Bikram Hot Yoga? In the incarnation I experienced it is yoga translated by the goal oriented mind. From what I could tell, this was not the yoga method as I had learned it, but more a yoga workout, for the achievement of a goal.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that some people won’t really get a lot out of it. Heck, a workout is a workout and if you sweat some crap out of your system when you do it then good for you.  But this was not yoga – it was a goal-oriented boot camp.

A large group facilitation…

DCP_3777Last Friday I did a workshop for a large group. The venue was a hotel ballroom and a nice lunch was put on for everyone by my client. I was contracted to deliver a full day of experiential team building to help a diverse group come together. I was told to expect an attendance of 60, which is fairly hefty for one person, so I was joined in the process by a counselor co-facilitator I knew well and 2 assistants on top of that.

The day went very well and the participants came out really happy and excited about what they had experienced and learned. But it did not go off exactly as planned! Firstly, Friday was the last day before a long weekend. Secondly, the event was voluntary for participants.

The net result? Only 40 people turned up. And when I put self-assessment questions up on the computer projector for the group to determine their mix of success orientations, a sea of hands rose whenever the answers were process oriented. No hands rose for the goal oriented answers and only 2 or 3 hands went up for relationship. The goal oriented folks were likely off doing goal oriented stuff at the start of a beautiful British Columbia end of summer weekend. Hiking, cycling, or kayaking, I would guess. The relationship oriented types were off getting to know new folks from their cultural communities – I often see groups of them doing this on the ferry to Vancouver. They are heading off to have some fun and meet friends in the big city.

So there I was, working through success orientations and trying hard to create a nice hum of contrast and what I find was that the only ones who had come that day were those who followed established processes – in this case a day of team building experiences. Hmmmm…

When I reflected later on this situation I noted again the challenges we have working with people of different orientations. I am not a process oriented person by nature. By nurture I sure am, but it is easy for me to drop the veneer and get back to my true self. When working in a workshop environment under pressure, my natural strengths come out and I like to let them fly. So my co-facilitator had a chuckle along with me as we saw the emerging pattern of attendees. Not what we had expected, but also not a problem. Some quick adjustments to our plans and we pulled off a great day for the attendees. Lots of structured exercises ending in a raffle for a variety of items that resulted from an earlier experience in the day. Thankfully we are both experienced facilitators who can work outside of our natural orientations.

But it did irk me a little because what the process oriented attendees needed was exposure to other people with different mixes of orientations. And vice versa. Getting these different types of people together can be a challenge, but it is really worth it to see the sparks fly and help them see through the initial tension. That is what I love to do in facilitation: Help people move on to new and more productive modes of working together. From a starting point of friction caused by very different ways of doing things and ways of seeing the world, you can help them see others in a new light, one that is far more positive and respectful. I have found that you can never eliminate frustration, but you can minimize it and build tolerance through helping people feel good about themselves.


A very strong process orientation

I had a philosophical disagreement this week with another faculty member. Basically this instructor believes that students should follow a template for completing their graduate thesis work. “I do consider the process resembling a ‘paint-by-numbers‘ approach” is a direct quotation.

Further arguments used in favour of a standard format approach included:

1. “…most of the IE [international education] students in the MBA program do not have a good command of the English language, and they are not used to working in unstructured settings.”

2. “…the standard format provides them with more focus and structure, and generally…results in a better grade for the student.”

3. “…grades are given for specific tasks [tasks=structural components being present is the implication], and the marker is asked to judge how well that task was accomplished.”

I respectfully disagreed and left this a philosophical difference – which it really is. Obviously a process orientation dominates my peer’s way of thinking. Rather than provide a line by line rebuttal, which would fill a book, I thought to leave my notes here with a few questions in response:

1. How do people learn to work in unstructured settings? By being given structure or by being given a “safe” and supportive environment in which to find ways of generating their own structure? And at a Masters degree level, should we still be giving structure – any structure – to students? When Masters degree graduates get into the real world, will they be taking up positions doing highly structured work or will they have to be the ones who create structure for others to follow? If the latter is the case, then shouldn’t they be getting ready now in our post-secondary institutions?

2. By following the standard format we may get better grades (from this one instructor only!), but will we be successful in life by always being followers? More importantly, what if the standard format leads us to an incorrect output? What if life is not about standard formats but about change, uncertainty, and finding your way through tangled and often conflicting messages? The “standard format” for the American Way of Life, for example, is consume as much as you can, have as big a house as you can in the suburbs, and maximize the size of your SUV. What is the output of this standard template? Global warming, huge disparities between the rich and the poor in the world, economic imperialism, and more. Perhaps people should focus less on following someone else’s standard template in life and more on creating their own?

3. In the end, do grades matter? Will anyone look at your grades once you graduate? Will the bottom line of your company reflect how well you as a manager, for example, followed a standard template? Does it matter how much “stuff” you have collected at the end of your life following the American Way of Life? Will you look back bitterly and wish you had not judged your own accomplishments (and lack of them) by the limited criteria of a standard template?

All interesting questions. And all part of where philosophies and views of the world differ. Success orientations play a part by being both a cause and by being a result of these ways to thinking.

First Thoughts: Success Orientations in the movies

I love observing human behavior and trying to figure out why people do the things they do. Maybe it is because I find the contrast between the logic of science and the seeming illogic of human behavior so fascinating. I use the word “seeming” because once you dig a bit deeper into human behavior there is almost always some sort of clever logic going on, even if it is based on shaky foundations.

So when I see a TV show or movie that makes me tilt my head like a dog does when he is trying to figure something out, I delight in digging deeper to see how the script writer and director worked to put together certain behaviors.

A delightful case in point is a new series running on the SciFi channel this summer called “Eureka“. The setting is the Pacific Northwest in a town full of scientists gathered by the U.S. government. The environment and the government installation where most of them work is top secret and high security. Due to the off-the-wall nature of some of the scientists and their creations, the scene is set for strange and interesting drama. I chose this one series out of zillions of examples because part of it was filmed where I live – so it hits close to home, so to speak.

What is particularly interesting is the characters emerging and how they fit the success orientations model so perfectly. Here are a couple of examples:

First is the new Sheriff Carter, scripted to be a primary goal and secondary process oriented lawman. This is the typical old-west Sheriff updated to the 21st century – get to the heart of the crime even if it will kill you (goal orientation), do so within the bounds of the law and due process if you can (secondary process orientation) and relationships can just go and hang themselves. In the series he is divorced from his wife and at odds with his daughter, who has barely seen him since birth since he works all the time achieving goals.

The not-so-normal sidekick to the Sheriff is an extreme process oriented deputy named Jo, played by an ex-military, gun-loving toughie. Jo is so process oriented that she cleans her guns constantly, and uses the want ads to find a date, allowing the Sheriff’s daughter to help her sort out the illogic of matchmaking. When at odds with the Sheriff, she uses processes to keep him from achieving his goals as in the 4th episode when he wants access to cool sci-fi weaponry but she won’t let him until he passes a knowledge test. Besides being “relationship challenged” goals are secondary to her process orientation. When the phone rings she waits for the Sheriff to answer it, regardless of how long it rings, again struggling with him in the establishment of process dominance. Process oriented people love controlling the processes to be sure they achieve success. Jo was at odds because the normal promotion process didn’t pay off: She was passed over for promotion to Sheriff. Perhaps it wasn’t because she couldn’t shoot a gun but because she was so grossly weak in terms of relationships!

When authority figures come into contact with the public in the daily completion of their duties they have to have some relationship orientations skills at the very least but at best can use all three orientations well. This balanced individual is typically extremely effective at their job.

Our media is packed with examples of different orientation mixes playing themselves out. Good script writers put different mixes at odds with each other for the purposes of conflict, drama, love, and comedy.

OK, a promise to myself: I won’t start to dissect everything I watch. BORING. Just enjoy some of them, like the new Battlestar Galactica series where the really goal oriented Commander Adama is at odds with his relationship-starved son…