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TLS Continuum Part 58: We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are

If you watch the media and social postings there a lot of comments about why process improvement efforts fail. The reasons for excuses run a wide gamut. I would suggest there is a more fundamental reason for improvement efforts that fail. We have the wrong focus. I am not suggesting that the problems are the wrong focus instead I am suggesting that the problem is how we look at the problem.

When we assemble a group of people to work on the resolution of a problem they come with all the baggage they have accumulated over time. They have gained a particular bias towards change and ideas of improvement. The problem is that their worldview may not be a view of reality. The result is that we see problems from our own biases and focus rather than the group as a whole.

In his article on Small Business .com, Joe Taylor suggests that we often look at communication and ideas within the business world with bias due to several factors such as

A lack of tolerance for competing points of view

Each and every one of us is raised within a particular social structure. Many of these social groups instill a set of particular beliefs. When we become involved in a cross-functional team those views can run counter to the goals of the group. We tend to lean towards refuting those views that run counter to the way we were brought up. While those views may have real validity they can be a hindrance to the efforts of the organization when you use your background to deny the validity of other ways to accomplish the ultimate goal. Pande in his book Six Sigma Way tells us that there is no single six sigma way. Likewise there is no single way to resolve the issues facing your organizations.

Dismissal of an alternate opinion as idiotic or ill-informed without fully investigating the nature of the challenge to their own way of thinking.

John Kotter’s new book, That’s not how we do it here hits the point on the head. Our biases and upbringing cause us to refute anything idea that is outside of our comfort zone. The societal structure that we are used to says that idea won’t work and yet we are not willing to explore the possibility that the idea is brilliant. How many of you have post-a-notes in your office? When it was first suggested 3M claimed that the idea was idiotic and that no ne would use them. When the Wright brothers said they could fly they were told it was an idiotic and ill-formed concept because our society background told us that we were not supposed to fly. Now how many of you fly for business or pleasure?

Failure to consider the perspective of audiences from alternate backgrounds.

Like Pande, there are many ways to resolve a problem in you organization. Individuals with different backgrounds and training might come up with entirely different ways to resolve these problems. When we dismiss these influences out of hand we are doing so at the risk of harming the organization as a whole. We are operating in a structure categorized by cross-functional teams and every team member approaches the problems from their own bias based view of the world. The key is to meld those views into a workable model for resolving the issues that concern the organization.

Like our current political climate there are two worlds at work in society and our organizations. The first is that of the real world. We have problems and they desperately need to be solved. These problems have a very real impact on the organizational operations. While we may all recognize that they exist, we confirm their presence from our own vision of the world. The real possibility is that the two visions may clash. When they do we add to the volatility of the problem. In order for the cross-functional team to come to a meaningful conclusion we need to be on the same playing field. We need to understand that our biases can stand in the way of that successful project resolution. It is imperative that we understand those biases and begin to look at the world as it is rather than the way we see it.

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