A Spotlight on Your Collective Shadow Reveals Opportunities

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Put the spotlight on the shadow and simply observe whatever crawls out.

While it requires courage to get that spotlight out and shine it into the corners, that is exactly where you will discover opportunities. Opportunities to improve, to innovate, to take your team, business unit or organization to an other level.

Many of you may have listened to one of my episodes about the #RRTs to #evawCAN where I, with the help of some friends, have invited men to come to the table to talk about a myriad of elements that contribute to violence against or silencing of women in our democratic society. This process has proven generative in ways I hadn’t expected. While many prefer a very structured process to explore and guide conversations, I was again reminded about how, while it is more work, a loosely structured but focused conversation will often provide more insight, awareness and options.

Now clearly the #RRTs are venturing into a societal shadow and thus the complexity of the problem requires more patience to reveal the key cause and effect links than most organizations require. As a leader though, the lesson is that conversation, free and open dialogue can give you the answers you didn’t even know you needed. You have to be willing to ask and listen.

I realize it is safer to keep things controlled in a neat box where you fool yourself that you are building connections and collaboration and meaningful solutions but unless you are willing to be courageous and open it up…you are limiting the possibilities.

Recently I’ve found myself in the enviable position, largely because of the #RRT experiments, to pull together a loosely connected group I affectionately refer to as co-conspirators and our main goal is to go into organizations of all shapes and sizes and structures to surface shadows and discover opportunities all while building the empathy necessary to connect people with each other and ideas that will make a difference for them all and the bottom line of their organization. Ultimately we use deep learning, applied with a combination of collected data and facilitated interactions that offer context, to get closer to clear cause and effect.

This experience, while formulated from 21st Century emergence theory, connects me back to my intuitive roots and approaches I used early in my career.

In the 90’s I was asked by a client to help them interpret their job satisfaction results in their Canadian operation. They hadn’t been in Canada long and while they had some difficult results in their US surveys they specifically wanted to understand what was happening in Canada – at least that was my task they assigned.

I had no idea what the data meant. Clearly it revealed unhappy employees but it offered no context and the HR Site Directer seemed to be jumping to conclusions. I expressed a willing to immerse myself and learn more but I demanded freedom to do so. I requested that a group of self selected participants be identified from across the site at every level. I got the most resistance to including representatives from the front lines which I suspected would make the exercise counter-productive. There were some who argued the conventional wisdom against including people from different levels. After all how open a conversation can you have when some feel threatened by the positional power of others. Well I am not one to bow to conventional anything so we went ahead.

Listen to Episode 094 to hear more details on how I developed comfort with frank conversation within this group. You don’t want to miss the references to “let them eat pie” and the accusation that “what the front line wants is all ‘pie in the sky'”. Please note: If you aren’t willing to take the time to build the connections as we did, you may need a slightly different approach.

Many practical and meaningful ideas came to light as a result of the groups willingness to see each other as people first rather than simply as “positions in the order of things”; people with a common goal.

One area of contention that came up several times from different angles was about schedule adherence. Service level results were key to the success of this business and that required front line people to be at their desk serving clients according to the schedule developed by the finely tuned workforce management system. Adherence results were poor so supervisors and managers were under pressure. In turn this resulted in strained relationships and frustrated, sometimes even disagreeable front-line representatives.

When hearing this frustration, the members of the front line immediately took offense to it being a one-sided problem and they outlined several grievances that were clearly reflected in the poor survey results. They outlined several mitigating factors that management wasn’t appreciating including the use of a system used to manage their pay which required them to swipe an employee card at various stations throughout the space before and after their shift and each break. It was revealed that this was both an unpleasant experience (a few young women came to me privately to share stories – their own and other’s – of systematic sexual harassment they experienced while in line) and a delay.

After a review of our recommendation, the organization built a technological solution to this practice saving time and, I suspect, increasing employee retention. Over the next few years, as that business grew in Canada from 300 employees to close to¬†50,000 (or maybe more) this solution alone saved the company 10’s of Millions of dollars while clearly making the lives of front line staff better.

It was by examining the shadow in a new way leadership discovered this very easy fix.

If you would like to learn more about the work of the consortium contact me. We don’t come in with a program or a neatly packaged solution or a flavor of the month….we start with a 1 day surfacing approach out of which you and your organization can determine next steps. We are developing the consortium of resources to support you in a variety of those next steps.

Leaders often resist shining a light on shadow because of the potential it will reveal something you know but don’t want to address or accept. You may believe it will call into question your purpose and place in it all. SO, NEXT TIME: we’ll dig into the questions of meaning revealed by stepping into the shadow.


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