Having good intentions that harm your organization
The key feeling from this article might be demotivation. You might realize that what you do – even when you do it with good intentions – harms your organization. If that happens, know there’s a solution. The purpose of this article is mainly to help you name your, possibly subconsciously motivated, behavior and name the negative consequences it might have and what to do about it.
Let’s show 4 personas of leaders who want to help their organization (in some ways), work hard and harms their organization (even in the ways they want to help the organization).
Example 1 – Jirka
- Jirka is an organization leader and wants to build a great organization.
- Jirka – probably unconsciously – assumes all people are very similar as he is.
- Jirka – consciously or unconsciously – believes that he will build a great organization by focusing on good relationships, employee happiness, support for each other and harmony within the team.
- When someone comes to Jirka with some problem that he/she wants to be solved, Jirka subconsciously doesn’t want to acknowledge the problem if it represents a short-term threat to good relationships, employee happiness, support for each other or harmony.
- Not only the problem is not solved, but Jirka also transforms it into a new problem that is being solved: that someone came up threatening good relationships, employee happiness, support or harmony. Jirka probably does that subconsciously.
- Previous two points happen a few times in different situations.
- Conflict avoidance and tolerance of low standards become a common part of the organizational culture. Jirka probably doesn’t see it, but employees (typically those with the highest work standards) either feel it or – if they have an active vocabulary around organizational culture – even can name it.
- The fun part: Conflict avoidance and tolerance of low standards lead to unhappiness of the best employees, harmony only artificial and artificial relationships with low levels of trust and negative emotions. What Jirka optimizes for suffers.
- The best employees start to get unmotivated, have worse results or even leave the organization, the average employees stay.
- The organization becomes mediocre.
Example 2 – Michal (if I followed my intuition and didn’t have the knowledge I have, I would tend to be this type of leader)
- Michal is an organization leader and wants to build a great organization.
- Michal – probably unconsciously – assumes all people are very similar as he is.
- Michal – consciously or unconsciously – believes that he will build a great organization by focusing on efficiency, quality, predictability, and control.
- Michal – consciously or unconsciously – thinks that the work of others might have low standards (done late or in low quality or too costly) and wants to do what he can do to prevent that.
- Michal – or his organization – writes a lot of documentation, creates a lot of processes and focuses a lot on monitoring and control.
- This creates a lot of complexity in the organization.
- Michal doesn’t see it, but people who like to work in a less organized way than Michal start to feel not only unhappy but also inefficient. Michal might see that a huge part of employees starts to be demotivated (even those who like the same systematic/organized way of doing things as Michal does). But Michal probably doesn’t realize that his beliefs and behavior is behind the root cause: the basic human needs of autonomy and mastery are violated. A lot of research suggests these two needs are required to be fulfilled in order to have high performance and motivation.
- Michal might not see it, but because of all that complexity, new changes are hard/impossible to make. They might require a lot of changes in documentation, processes, lead to unpredictability and represent a high risk to short-term efficiency, quality and/or stability – things that are valued.
- The organization continues to use old ways of doing things even though almost everyone knows there are better ways of doing things.
- The fun part: Organization has demotivated employees working with inefficient, outdated tools and processes. Even though predictability and control might still be there significantly, efficiency and quality are lost, so what Michal optimizes for suffers.
- The organization becomes mediocre.
Example 3 – Patrik
- Patrik is an organization leader and wants to build a great organization.
- Patrik – probably unconsciously – assumes all people are very similar as he is.
- Patrik – consciously or unconsciously – believes that he will build a great organization by focusing on financial aspects, fulfilling customer needs, working hard, beating the competition.
- Patrik enjoys the work and spends lots of hours on it.
- Patrik doesn’t know much about psychology, human needs or values. He expects his employees to also enjoy working hard on increasing earnings, providing great customer service and beating the competition.
- Patrik never thought that other people might be more interested in good relationships, harmony, appreciation, teamwork, work-life balance, fun or other needs. Even though Patrik is focused on adding customer value, financial results and competing, he realizes that some people tend to be in a bad mood or have low energy. But he doesn’t understand why and thinks it’s the employees’ fault.
- There are talks with employees why they don’t work harder, provide better results.
- Employees start to be even more demotivated, some of them leave the organization by themselves, some of them are fired.
- Patrik might see that this creates a culture of fear where people must show results. He might also see that there is a high fluctuation of employees and the high costs it takes to hire and train new employees.
- What Patrik doesn’t see is that this culture of fear where people must show results in order to stay in the company leads to internal competition, worse relationships, worse teamwork, lower trust.
- And that creates an environment suitable for the more egoistical people. Promotions to higher positions seem to be based on individual contribution, but because of worse relationships and worse teamwork, it starts to be easy to “steal” work of others, pretend individual contribution in other ways or use less ethical matters to achieve short-term results.
- The highly egoistical people step up in the career path.
- The fun part: Because of all the employee fluctuation, lack of teamwork and lots of egoistic behavior, the financial results get worse, the quality of the service/product gets worse, competition is not beaten, but beats Patrik’s organization.
- The organization becomes mediocre.
Example 4 – Martin
- Martin is an organization leader and wants to build a great organization.
- Martin – probably unconsciously – assumes all people are very similar as he is.
- Martin – consciously or unconsciously – believes that he will build a great organization by focusing on autonomy, enthusiasm, creativity, and innovation.
- Martin doesn’t like complex thinking or analysis, likes to solve problems in an ad-hoc way and doesn’t really understand or appreciate people with more systematic, structured way of problem-solving – Martin thinks it is too complex and includes processes, documentation, and planning which is boring, adds too many boundaries and minimizes autonomy, enthusiasm, and fun.
- Martin probably doesn’t realize, but as a result, there is a lack of direction, people often fight whose responsibility is what and don’t know where to come for help when needed, some important things are not being done, different people or teams are not coordinated or synchronized leading to inefficiencies or even waster efforts, some reoccurring activities don’t have processes or documentation and doing them over and over against is like reinventing a wheel.
- More systematic, organized people see how this could be improved, but their suggestions are either not understood or seen as too complex and bureaucratic fighting against autonomy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Therefor not accepted.
- Martin might not realize that, but these systematic, organized people lose their enthusiasm and moreover, the result of the previous steps is high inefficiency, low quality, and quite a chaos.
- After a while of high inefficiency, low quality, and all the chaos, even the people with more ad-hoc problem-solving approaches start to lose enthusiasm because they start to see the results are not good.
- The fun part: The enthusiasm is down and combined with the high inefficiency and low quality, little real and useful creativity/innovation is happening. And What Martin optimizes for suffers.
- The organization becomes mediocre.
I have not only heard about, but also seen similar scenarios as above in many teams or even companies. Maybe you have seen or heard about some similar leaders and organizations. Maybe you are Jirka, Michal, Patrik or Martin with their strengths and weaknesses.
The flows might be a little different, but if a leader focuses on similar things as Jirka, Michal, Patrik or Martin and doesn’t see the things the other 3 archetypal leaders see, the organization is pretty likely to end up mediocre or non-existing. Not sure what is worse in this case – if a mediocre one or non-existing.
The way I have created 4 archetypal leaders and their organizations is not random. The underlying frameworks are called DISC personality profiles for individuals and the Competing Values Framework (CVF) for organizational cultures.
|Example||DISC personality profile||CVF Culture type|
|#1 – Jirka|
|#2 – Michal|
|#3 – Patrik|
|#4 – Martin|
As you can probably see, I and C personality profiles are in conflict (when someone is strong C, he/she is probably weak I and vice versa). D and S personality types are in a similar conflict.
I haven’t seen a person who has good qualities in all 4 personality profiles strongly present. Typically, a person has strong characteristics of 1 or 2 profiles and has not strong characteristics of another 2 or 3 personality profiles. I personally am strong C and D person. I have relatively successfully cultivated some of the S qualities (while eliminating some of the D characteristics, mostly weaknesses, but also some strengths). And I am almost sure I will never be strong in I qualities. And maybe I give you unnecessary limiting beliefs, I don’t believe you might succeed in having strong qualities in all 4 personality profiles.
With organizational cultures, it’s similar but different. Most of the organizations I have seen or heard about tend to have at least 2 of the CVF culture types weak. A lot of organizations – typically those terrible – have all 4 culture types weak. I have also seen some companies being strong in 3 of CVF culture types. I like these companies a lot. So far, I have seen only one company which seemed to me to be strong in all 4 CVF culture types. It’s a long work to achieve such a state, it’s really hard to achieve it, but it’s possible. I believe I know how it can be done (the key is organizational culture), but I am in the process of testing it.
- If you are a leader and you assume all people are pretty much the same, you are most likely headed for big troubles. In all 4 examples, it caused or increased the problems. DISC is one model (I personally prefer it), but feel free to use MBTI, Jung’s archetypes or some other model.
- Focusing too much on short-term objectives over long-term objectives is likely to lead you and your organization to troubles.
- If you are a leader and want to build an excellent organization, focus on all 4 types of CVF cultures. Don’t try to make compromises. Aim for high standards in all 4 types of CVF cultures (or at least in 3).
- Jirkas – combine your employee-orientation with having accountability to high standards in results.
- Michals – combine your focus on efficiency with allowing non-trivial autonomy.
- Patriks – combine financial and customer-orientation with loving-kindness towards your employees.
- Martins – give your enthusiasm and creativity some direction and order.
If you are an organizational leader who doesn’t want any of these or similar scenarios to happen to your organization, you might want to check our consulting services.