As Marvin Gaye reminds us, ‘what’s going on’ in a business is very often more than meets the eye. Consultants and coaches are often hired to deal with obvious ‘surface’ issues without addressing what’s creating them. The problem is not what they are trying to do, but how they go about it. They are trying to treat the symptoms without looking at what’s causing the problem.
Much of what’s happening below the surface of the business has to do with unexpressed emotion. As we all know, it’s emotions that determine how well people, and the businesses they work for, perform. In other words everything that’s happening behind, beneath and beyond all the fancy systems and processes in the business.
In terms of unexpressed emotions, these are some of the most dangerous offenders. You can find them in every business if you know where to look.
Apathy – The reason why so many management initiatives fall by the wayside. Founders of businesses often complain about the lack of effort of their staff, forgetting that their own passion for the business is unique to them. Why should your people care as much as you? Because you pay them? Because you tell them to? They don’t ‘get it’ because it’s not their dream, their vision, their lifelong ambition. If you want them to care as much as you, you have to do the heavy lifting to engage them, and keep them engaged. If that’s sounding like too much hard work, or ‘not a priority’, then do everyone a favour and stop whingeing.
Anxiety – The perfect excuse for indecision. We live in uncertain times, and when we are living with uncertainty we can quickly become very defensive, gossip more, and develop a pessimistic and cynical view of the business. This in turn leads to procrastination and meeting fatigue as people do everything they can to avoid making decisions.
Anger – The quiet seething that goes on behind closed doors and is never expressed directly. People get angry for all kinds of reasons. Lack of communication, inconsistent leadership, lack of support, lack of feedback, lack of direction, bullying, boredom, being taken for granted. The reasons for any and all of these may not even turn out to be real, but they need to be dealt with as if they are.
Rivalry – The quiet battles that go on behind your back. The obvious example is the silo mindset found in most businesses of more than 20-30 people (yes, the numbers are significant). People identify with their own function or division far more than they do with the business as a whole. The other parts of the business often feel remote, hard to deal with and always getting in the way. Rivalry is also seen in the boardroom as heads of functions or divisions fighting for share of voice, share of resources, share of the agenda.
Paradoxically, the way most businesses deal with these rivalries is to send groups of people on the kinds of team building courses which divide them into smaller groups and get them to compete against each other, with predictable effects on the business. Silos become more exaggerated and more clearly defined. Any real team building is done in the bar afterwards, which says it all really.
What’s going on right now?
There’s plenty going on below the surface of your business as you read this. No-one is talking about it because it’s too difficult to deal with and/or too shameful to admit. What’s below the surface is what’s in the way between the way your business works now and the way you want it to run. The sooner you start dealing with that unexpressed emotion the quicker you’ll get there.