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Hare bolting across a fieldWe’ve spoken in several places already (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) about the importance of being process oriented vs. outcome focused. We’ve seen why this is a good practice. Today, we’re going to take it one step further and argue that process orientation is not just a behavior, but a value for sustainable companies.

Behaviors and habits are not enough

Sustainable companies understand that most habits and behaviors change over time, and the ones that do not often have roots that go deeper than the present moment. Behaviors reflect the things we do; habits reflect the behaviors we do day-in, day-out.

Both habits and behaviors, though, tend to change when people experience stress.

Treating process orientation as a behavior, and the behaviors around process orientation as habits, will sustain most companies for a while. This is especially true about procedural matters and items that have significant risk compliance documentation.

But derailment of process orientation occurs outside these day-to-day work due to five challenges.

The Five Challenges

Anxiety.

When something happens that generates fear – especially a visceral or existential fear – our brains short-circuit our executive functioning to make things safe again. This built-in, evolution-optimized reaction prevents us from stepping out in traffic or jumping out of aircraft without a parachute; it also causes us to put our hands up when something comes flying at our faces. They give us the quick results we need without thinking to get us back to safety or prevent harm.

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Zoom Normal

Professionals at every level of business are still grappling with how to effectively communicate over video calls. Nine months into the pandemic, some of the most common concerns we hear are:

  • When I give a presentation, I can’t tell if anyone is engaged.
  • I sometimes struggle to maintain my focus on others during virtual meetings.
  • I am worried the virtual environment is negatively affecting the quality of my client relationships.

 

It seems that Zoom will be in our lives for the foreseeable future so here are four tips to help you and your organization improve virtual meetings.

 

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2020 has thrown curveball after curveball at small- and medium-sized businesses. Those with adaptive leadership are best suited to survive the pandemic, economic downturn, and political turmoil. Adaptive leadership starts by understanding what kind of game you are playing: finite and infinite.

 

Uncertainty 

 

Finite games have known players, set rules, a point at which they begin and end. They have winners and losers.

 

Infinite games have known and unknown players, constantly changing rules, and continue forever. There are no winners in infinite games. A player’s sole objective is to stay in the game as long as possible. When a player runs out of the resources and/or will to play, they lose.

 

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creativekidengineersWe consultants are wired to be problem-solvers. See something not working right? Let’s find a way to fix it. See a workplace in conflict? Let’s find a way to resolve it. See the organizational duct tape starting to show? Build a structure to hold it together better.

It’s not just consultants, though: the strongest, most sustainable businesses (and nonprofits, let’s not forget them) see a problem, one real people experience, and provide a solution for their problem. Sometimes, that’s a technical problem (my home won’t heat); other times, it’s a “what if” that someone figures out (what if I could search for information on a handheld device that also makes phone calls?).

The problem-solution orientation drives so much of business that we consider it essential for building new businesses, new product lines, and new service offerings. Problem-Solution Fit comes as phase one of three as leaders develop new value propositions.

Nevertheless, problem-solution thinking does not address some of the most fundamental business questions we face. Business questions where defining the problem itself is the problem are called adaptive challenges, that require adaptive change. How do we work in problem-solution thinking if problem definition is itself the problem?

[See the definition of Adaptive Change here]

Moreover, problem-solution thinking tends to discount or dismiss the humanity (and sometimes even the personhood) of those involved in the situation. When we discover that the problem we are facing is a “people problem”, we often try to “fix” the people. This is especially true of the so-called “soft skills” problems: team alignment, listening, leadership, timeliness, engagement, and so on.

When we see people problems as the problem, and we apply problem-solution thinking there, we tend to view people as machines that need someone to tinker with them or repair some flaw, rather than as human beings who have real – and valid – motivations for doing what they do, and mindsets in which they operate. In short, we discount those things that make us human, and then wonder why our solutions don’t work.

By contrast, when we intentionally view people as creative, resourceful, and whole, we tend to approach others differently.

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Team MeetingThere comes a time in every small- to medium-sized business when leaders start asking, “how do we scale our team”? While for startups this involves making first hires beyond the core owner / operational team, for established businesses this usually means navigating adding management and executive leadership.

The general trajectory for businesses is three basic steps:

  1. They hire the entry-level and technical personnel.
  2. They hire those who manage and organize people and workflow.
  3. They hire an executive team to oversee forwarding the vision and direction of the company.

Three types of organizations approach their scaling challenge three different ways. Please note that these are categories, and intended as descriptions, rather than prescriptions.

The Models

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