Back to basics — the missing link in organisations

It’s been several years since I have been given the opportunity to work in organizations, as a part of the HR department.

This experience has been absolutely fantastic for me, because the responsibilities and the potential for HR involvement is unlimited. Any type of organizational issue, and any possibility for organisational development depends exclusively upon the inner mental game of the people in there, regardless of how strongly we believe it to be about anything else.

In many conversations I had with people working in companies, regardless of their level of seniority or their position in the hierarchy, the key to the changes they — or the organisations — desire lies in their personal story, in their own representations about the world, in their interpretations, in their beliefs.

There are so many examples of this. Take, for example, the story of the colleague who is always tired and exhausted; it turns out that the problem is not in the number of hours per night he gets to sleep, or how to prioritise his calendar — it’s actually about the fact that the role and the organisation no longer give him a strong enough reason to carry on.

The story of the leader who talks about wanting growth and expansion, but who is really scared about all of this — because he might lose control, because his set of convictions dictate that the only way you can grow is through hardship and through small doses overtime. Fast success is simply not an option for him. Or maybe, more importantly, rapid growth simply does not belong in his life script. This is an upper limit for him — it is something that subconsciously he deems as impossible to achieve, and this subconscious filter makes him sabotage the process of growth in a very subtle way, that slowly and surely frustrates his team.

Companies are made of people. Now I know that this is not breaking news and it doesn’t make you fall out of your chairs. But bear with me as I invite you to become aware of some things.

People have their fears. People suffer. People have dreams and aspirations. People have families. Health issues. Chances are there is someone in your company that is addicted to alcohol, or pills. Someone who has been abused. Someone who struggles to stay in a marriage, although love has left the nest long time ago. There are people in your company who have been told, since they were little, that they are worth nothing, and now they struggle really hard to prove otherwise. Couples who try to have children, to no result. People who lack a sense of meaning in their life.

It’s scarry to think about this. This looks like chaos, like a complete new, intimidating territory, this perspective that business should care about this kind of things. But drawing the line where we should actually get to know others better and become aware of the real reasons of their behavior is at the same time irresponsible, counterproductive and insensitive.

In companies that aim for top performance, where the level of commitment and involvement required from employees is a ”bend-over backwards” one, where we ask people to contribute in all areas, regardless of their immediate area of responsibility, where we ask for stress resilience, for innovation, we can no longer elude this type of profound conversations.

In the mean time, most companies look at this in a very schizoid way: ”I want to get into the depth of your potential and excellence, but I am not interested in anything else than what you can give me.” It’s like trying to open Pandora’s box, but only half way. Truth be told, every human being is a complex system, that needs to be known as a whole, understanding that there are unforeseen connections between the results and office conduit of employees, and the depth of their life story.

So if we are aiming towards profound change in organisations, exceptional results, solid commitment regarding goals, it is time to have different conversations.

It’s time to know both the biggest aspirations and the biggest fears of people we have in front of us. It is time to lend them a hand so that they can attain work-life balance and so that their daily job becomes a context in which they can bring their true selves, with all the resources they have. It is time to listen, to connect, to react to what they want and need. There is room for a lot more honesty and authenticity — and it’s time for leaders who can survive the vulnerability of showing up as they are.

And maybe, just maybe we would be better off if we stopped throwing all our eggs in the basket of theoretical models that we hear at a training or a management meeting, theories we swear to apply, although we already know how little chance there is for that to happen. No recipe will work, regardless of how complex, shiny or expensive it might be, unless the people who should use it can find a meaning and an inner drive for that.

So it’s time to simplify, rather than add complexity. To peel away the layers until we reach the essence of things, rather than drifting so far away from the truth, that we reach the point of confusion and alienation, just because reality is a bit harder to manage, or because we insist on thinking that people, or businesses, are about reason and mathematics.

Truth be told, it is never about what people do — this is just the visible ramification; transformation, growth, impact, creativity, resilience, leadership, the ability to surf on waves of uncertainty — all these derive from what people are. And this is the future playground for top businesses.

Leadership Coach & HR Leader