At Reality-Based Leadership, we study drama in the workplace. Reading the word drama surely brings a particular flavor of organizational angst to mind: employees gossiping, blaming, moaning, whining, resisting change, and withholding buy-in. And we know through our research that workplace drama is on the rise, increasing to nearly 2.5 hours per day per employee.
What we know about drama is simply that it is waste, and emotional waste in the workplace is robbing organizations from the value that talent is intended to provide. What’s more, new research is suggesting that our current L&D philosophies are hurting, not helping.
There’s one major area of training that leaders have failed to recognize while planning a successful L&D initiative: ego. We aren’t talking about the healthy self-confidence ego we rely on to have faith in our abilities and achieve our goals. We are talking about the ego that assigns negative motive where there isn’t any. It operates out of your own wants and needs. It seeks approval and appreciation as a condition for being happy and eats anger for lunch. When we’re operating out of ego, we find ourselves incapable of receiving feedback and comprehending anyone else’s perspective.
We all have an ego; it is part of the human condition. It often sneaks up on us when we are least prepared for it or unaware of its presence. The ego is the culprit of the major sources of drama at work, and it’s stealing our productivity and the future potential of our learning and leadership programs.
There are three ways you are hitting the ego head-on in your learning and development initiatives, fueling more drama and halting productivity instead of accelerating great results:
Rolling out mandatory (nonsafety or compliance) professional development training.
When we as humans and teams find something that works, our first instinct is to standardize it and roll it out to the rest of the organization as best practice. However, it’s a natural paradox of human behavior to resist the very standardization of best practices we advocate. A better approach to rolling out new learning or processes is to start with the willing—the groups of visionaries who will advocate for the program long after the launch. Beyond this, leaders should ensure that the attention, rewards, and recognition are given to employees in vision, and not to those who are loud in resistance.
Although it’s tempting to spend time as a leader with folks who resist, attempting to cajole them into vision, this is the work of our own ego to get them to approve, and it hardly ever produces a return on our efforts. Instead, spend your time with those who support the vision. Ask your visionaries to take a step further and be willing to publicly advocate for your program. Folks who wait and see will align with where your love and recognition as a leader is spent and will get on board, too. Those who’ve chosen the permanent state of resistance have two choices: to get on board with the program or leave the organization in peace. Those who’ve chosen permanent resistance should be performance-managed out.
Rolling out initiatives with sympathy (not empathy).
If you’ve held a training communication, meeting, or conversation with an apology to the team or organization for adding another task to their plate, you’ve flared the ego. In Reality-Based Leadership, our circumstances are the reality in which we must succeed, not the reason why we can’t. Our egos are sneaky; when we’re called up to meet a new challenge, our ego will often find a reason to step down and away from the challenge instead of stepping up to say yes. Using tentative language and apologies or phrases like “the board says we have to” gives the ego all the reason it needs to believe that leaders aren’t really bought in, the program is optional, and isn’t really that important.
Training to protect the people, not the business, from change.
For 30 years, we’ve been training people on change management, and our conventional approaches are doing more to engage the ego and coddle our people than protect and prepare our businesses from the realities of the evolving business climate. We’ve come to believe many common myths about change, and our egos and teams have clung to them, citing their circumstances as the reasons they are unready for changes coming their way.
For example, one of the myths we’ve let people believe is that change is hard. The reality is that change is only hard for the unready, not for those who have kept their skills (future potential) current in today’s business climate.
Consider a recent process or program you’ve recently rolled out at work. As excellent L&D professionals, I have no doubt there was a crafted communication and roll-out plan coupled with some training sessions on the new program. One group greeted this change with excitement and anticipation—they love working for such a forward-thinking company that invests in technology and innovation! The second group greeted this change with anger, panic and blame—it was too much all at once, they couldn’t keep up, and this was too much disruption to their current daily work.
Two groups. The same rollout and training plan. The only variable? The mindset of the employee and their readiness for what’s next. At Reality-Based Leadership, we train our leaders on building and sustaining business readiness, which focuses more on protecting the business from the impact of change by keeping employees’ skills ready for what’s next.
We have uncovered a great new opportunity for L&D to have massive impact on the bottom line by teaching leaders how to cut the cost of drama and drive big results. Learning and development leaders who want to revolutionize the leadership development approach will do so by learning simple tools to bypass the ego and redirect energy into delivering results. They will quickly learn to facilitate “how we can” versus “why we can’t.” Leaders can redirect employee energy from resistance to problem solving by encouraging them to “think inside the box.” The “box” is made up of the desired goal and two of the constraints currently in place, such as a freeze on headcount or limited professional development funding. By thinking inside this box, you will ask employees to contribute ideas for how the goal can be achieved, generating real solutions that respect real constraints of current challenges.
Learning and development leaders who want to remain relevant far into the future will be great managers of energy, not time. That starts with a better approach to bypassing egos at work to ditch the drama and improve the results of learning initiatives and talent potential.
Intrigued about learning more tools to bypass egos and deliver big results at work? Tune into my webcast on June 5, 2017. Based on Cy Wakeman’s research in her new book, No Ego, the webcast will reveal the latest thinking and data on how drama shows up in the workplace, leaders can learn to effectively reduce it, and L&D leaders can harness their organization’s future potential to drive big results.