Adapted from Anne Rød`s keynote speech at the HR Directors conference in Cape Town 9th march 2016
We had arrived for the regular follow up with an organisation we had been working with for four years. During our initial ”how are things?” conversation the CEO, we learnt that profits were up by 25% compared to last year. He was obviously both thrilled and proud with the results. “ All very good”, we said, ”but your people looks exhausted” .We were especially referring to the grey faced Head of Warehouse, ”What will you do if David collapses?” we asked with some concern for the hard working warehouse manager. The CEO leaned forward and said smugly: “ I will just replace him”.
Have you have heard this before? Do you believe this is an intelligent way of dealing with the talent and resources in your organisation? Do you feel comfortable with this or do you cringe at the thought?
Modernism – all about numbers, measurements and effectiveness
The American CEO, and his like minded colleagues, are stuck in the modernistic world of measurements and numbers. They are adhering to an approach that has been the most prevalent since the philosopher Renee Descartes introduced dualism and the scientific approach in the 1600 century. Our business logic today is based on an Anglo -Saxon individually focused management style centred around command, control and measurement. It is geared for creating expenditure and usage resulting in waste and loss. It is a kind of mind set that bases itself on the same consumption which is slowly but surely depleting the resources of our own planet. This hegemony of consumption and battle of the individualistic agendas does not work anymore,
We need to explore new ways.
“ Leadership is not about knowing the answer; it is the capacity to release the collective intelligence and insight of groups and organisations” (Source: Living Leadership, by George Binney, Collin Williams and Gerard Wilke).
We are loosing and abusing the talent we have. We are not getting the best out of our people, our most treasured resources. We cannot rule nor innovate on a diet of fear and control. The challenges we are facing are too complex to leave it up to a few people alone to solve. We need to create environments and languages where intelligent teams and organisations can be created and sustained, allowing us to tap into to the immense resources and potential that exists before our very eyes.
It is time to take a leap from modernist ideas with one strong leader at the helm, to engaging the talent and expertise that is readily available in teams and organisations. And to harness this potential through empowerment and engagement. In order to do that we need to make some major shifts in the way we operate. We need to shift our focus from ME to WE, from Ego to Eco, from ”I” leadership to distributed leadership. This means going from taking room to giving room, from individual agendas to holistic thinking and it also impacts how we view change; from reacting to change to navigating and welcoming emergence.
The inevitable future
When we look around us, we see technological innovations that will transform the way we lead our lives. We are talking about a world so complex that leaders, however skilful or intelligent, cannot navigate these changes alone. To succeed they need to fully involve, optimise and empower the talent and expertise that exist within and outside the organisations that they lead.
Media is full of news explaining the impact new technology would have on our societies. Bitcom and especially Bitchains may replace our banking system as we know it. 3D printing will in the not too distant future severely impact a wide range of industries both directly and indirectly. To give you one example: it is likely to transform the building industry, replacing many traditional crafts and print houses at the site on demand. Sadly, representatives of some of the industries affected only shrug their shoulders and say this is a reality too far away to interest them. They would rather concentrate on delivering top quality solutions for today`s customers.
I use the word sadly, because that it is how it feels to me. In a few years from now, nearer than most of us can imagine, these craftsmen will be out of work, and surprised at that. How can the people running these businesses not notice the signals flashing at them? How can they turn a blind eye to these developments? What is preventing them from stepping up and engaging their people in the processes necessary to be prepared for what is to come? How can they afford to ignore it?
In the post- modernist world, we find social constructionism, which is all about co- creating our realities. Social constructionism proposes that context and relationship determine the conversation we have about something. It grows into being from the communities we are in, from the relationships we have. So we socially construct it together. Whatever perspective we take on something is what gives it value. So the way we describe it and what we do with it, will give it value and meaning. We challenge the dominant discourse held through language of power. This becomes a resource we can use which will invite a lot of creativity. It allows us to create new narratives and collaborative conversations paving the way for new organisation for the future. We move away from organisations as machines where people are measured, replaced or discarded according to a ROI or right/wrong perspective. Organisations become living organisms and learning communities through which we involve and include and combine perspectives that enrich and open up opportunity. (Kenneth Gergen, 2010.)
A new language
We are entering an area where the process of relationship makes things real. The future is dialogical and the dialogical practices will include all different kinds of logic, including eliciting collective intelligence and collaborative decision- making. To become successful at this practice we need a new intelligence and a new language, that transcends the individualist ME approach to include and promote the understanding of the WE and to give it a voice. It is also about what we give value and how, what counts as knowledge and not. As Einstein so eloquently expressed it: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” (Source: Albert Einstein quoted in Klein 2004)
As part of my doctorate degree I am curiously observing and exploring what language we can use to make this happen. And I know we have found it in Relationship Systems Intelligence. This will help us create intelligent teams and organisations that can approach and navigate the future challenges better than we have done so far.
Relationships Systems Intelligence (RSI) is the ability to reinterpret an individual’s own experience (and that of others), as an expression of a human relationship system. The experience is both personal and belongs to the system. RSI transcends Emotional intelligence (understanding one`s individual drive and motivation, ability for self management and awareness of impact), and Social intelligence (having empathy and building relationship with other). When we apply RSI we shift the focus from the individuals in the human relationship system to the team system itself. This enables us to see, read, understand and act with a team, releasing and utilising its inherent insights and creativity.
Change or emergence?
The idea of change is scary to most people because they are prevented from influencing it. It is something that happens to them. In organisations they are usually presented with a ready solution for the change. Whereas command and control kills the creative seeds and collective insights needed to navigate the uncertain and, to many daunting, future ahead of us, RSI gives the collective intelligence a language to co-create and collaborate. Inherent in this approach is also a belief that change is constant and it can be navigated successfully. For this to happen we need to understand and accepted it. Maybe this is possible if we view it differently.
Let us reframe change. It is not transformational, it is continuous. Kurt Lewin`s three phase change model, from 1947, of unfreeze, transform and refreeze, seems to be the most prevalent model still influencing how change is implemented in organisations around the globe. It is not a stop and start process. It is continuous flow of emerging signals that surface on the horizon, firstly in small bleeps, then stronger and louder until it stares us in the face. The sooner we can learn to recognise the signals, the more chance we have to respond early and proactively. The better we become at it, the more we can engage our collective intelligence to collaborate and co-create the future ahead.
I wish people can come to see that change is as natural as the air we breathe. We are always living it and experiencing it. Life itself is a journey of continuous change which noone can avoid. What would be the alternative? I also wish that people could be trained to spot the signals of change, and respond to it while they have a chance to exert some influence. That they can become familiar with the phenomenon of change and befriend it, rather than resist it. So the are prepared.
Last, but not least, I wish people would abandon old style language games and terminology that limit our thoughts and ideas. Rather, I wish people could learn the language of Relationship Systems Intelligence and engage in new style conversations to co-create. This would enable the growth of collaborating intelligent teams and organisations focusing on the signals ahead, and how to intentionally and consciously navigating these to the benefit of us all!
More than 2500 years ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said – PANTA RHEI- everything flows. That is still the case. We can never control it- our best chance is to navigate it.
Anne Rød is an author, keynote speaker, facilitator and executive team coach. She has written several books and articles on organisational communication, change and intercultural teams. The latest book Creating Intelligent Teams is now available on Amazon.