Is it people not doing what they are meant to be doing? People not getting along or causing tension? Is it people not taking responsibility? Do people have a poor attitude towards management and authority? Is there a general lack of interest in improving things? Or is it something else for you?
If you have read this far, you must be able to think of at least one person in your team that is causing you a headache at the moment. Hold that thought. Think of one of the typical scenarios you experience with them in your mind. You can see in your mind how it usually plays out. It doesn’t feel great but you can see what is happening. Now consider this question. What is at the root cause of the problem?
The reason for asking for the root cause of the problem, is this…. I think your root cause is based on an assumption. That’s right; I am accusing you of making an assumption about the current situation. Why? Because I want to challenge your thinking about your team, your colleagues, and the rest of the managers around you.
Here’s the psychology bit in layman’s terms. The science is that we need to make assumptions in order to function throughout our day and make decisions. We couldn’t possibly check everything; therefore we need to make assumptions all day every day. We all do it. Some of these assumptions are true and some are not. Getting it wrong doesn’t always lead to a catastrophe, but it may cause us pain sometimes that will not go away.
A big assumption that I see a lot of managers make regularly is, “a lot of the people who work here have no interest in helping to improve the business”. They do not want to be involved in making the customer experience better or support your continuous improvement efforts. In fact, some employees go out of their way to make it fail. Sound familiar?
I will let you into a little secret. When we help our clients, it very rarely happens to us. I wouldn’t say it never happens but very rarely. We get a little resistance early days, but we’re a bunch of strange people snooping around the organisation, what do you expect? The reason it doesn’t happen to us is not that we have special powers, it’s because we approach everyone without judgement and don’t make any assumptions. We don’t have the back catalogue of history with your team, and take everyone as we find them.
The problem you and your team have is that you are stuck in what is known as behavioural loop’s. A behavioural loop is a cycle that we get into with another person that eventually becomes a norm and a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can see in the image a perfect example of a behavioural loop that is common in a lot of manufacturing businesses. The manager thinks (assumes) his team don’t want to be involved in improving things. The manager feels disappointed and people in the team get a sense of his disappointment (the body language usually gives it away even if nothing is said). The manager behaves in a way that does not involve others in decisions, including how the work tasks should be carried out by his team and where we should focus our improvement efforts. The consequence of this is a disengaged team that have a very low opinion of the manager. “Nobody is interested in what we have to say, and nobody asks our opinion, so we just keep our heads down”. And the cycle continues.
If you are reading this and this behavioural loop sounds similar to your own experience. You are caught in the trap of making assumptions about people, your team, your workforce… and it’s wrong. So stop. Be the one who takes responsibility and breaks the cycle. Break the behavioural loop. Why? Because this will unlock the door to a step-change in employee engagement, to trust, to respect, to teamwork and to much better communication.
Let me tell you from experience what you should assume about the majority of the people in your team. People want to be masters of their own destiny. They want to come to work and do a good job. They not only want to do a good job but find ways to do it better. They want autonomy. They want to feel part of something. And most importantly… they are all different, which means that you will need to find out what makes each person tick to get the best out of them individually to release their full potential.
Believe me, these behavioural loops are not uncommon. We are all guilty of making assumptions. It is the way we are designed. When we approach a road, we look both ways. We assume that a car is coming, rather than one is not coming and walk straight out into the road. Making assumptions is our minds way of protecting us. With our team members and colleagues, we are making the wrong assumptions a lot of the time. As they are of us too.
If this has set a light bulb off for you, please be brave and break the cycle today. Make the choice to remove your assumptions and judgements of others and start afresh with an open mind. And if you are going to make assumptions about people… make sure they are correct by following them up with questions to gather the facts. Stay curious.