Category Archives: human resources

Quantum Computing Requires a Nonbinary Mindset

nonbinary

Nonbinary Computing Make Us More Human

Quantum computers not only process massive amounts of data and solve complex problems. They can help us solve the most complex problem we face. Our own humanity. If there is one thing I have learned about technology it is that we can also use it to reflect on our struggles and continue developing our own humanness. How? By asking simple questions about what a particular technology represents at the human level. This is what I call the Digital Paradox. The deeper we delve into digitalization the more we are confronted with our own humanity. And Quantum Computing, like Edge Computing and the Internet of Things, is no exception.

A Quantum Leap in Gender Identification

What do genderqueer and quantum computing have in common? Fundamentally, they both share a core truth. They both work from the premise of 1 and 0 instead of 1 or 0. Viewing both gender and the world as consisting of only 1s or 0s innately limits our ability to advance in our human development as well as with our understanding of the world and universe for that matter. People identifying as genderqueer are also referred to as “nonbinary”. Nonbinary gender is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍—‌identities that are outside the gender binary classification of male or female.  In other words, like a qubit, they too are 1 and 0.

The Benefits of a Nonbinary Worldview

A nonbinary mindset does away with anachronistic, rigid, and arbitrary value sets used to create a discriminatory system of the human classification system (e.g., race, gender, religion, people with disabilities) resulting in all forms of inequalities (political, economical, and societal). A purely binary system naturally creates the propensity for opposing value sets to square off. An “either/or” mentality sets up the classical “us vs. them”, “good vs. evil”, and “right versus wrong” showdown. Binary thinking has the propensity to act as an incendiary device that can put individuals, families, communities, and countries in the throes of injustice and conflict.

Through The Nonbinary Lens

A nonbinary lens will tend to see the world more openly. Absolutes of 0 or 1 give way to possibilities of 0 and 1. A nonbinary mindset exerts less time and energy dealing with complexity and uncertainty because solutions abound. The continued increase in younger generations either seeing themselves as nonbinary and/or accepting this gender identity is growing. Dr. Mark Mattingley-Scott from IBM–whose AmCham Austria Talk on Quantum Computing inspired this blog–agreed and even went on to say,

“If I look at my young colleagues just coming from university, just starting, they seem to pick up and understand the principles of quantum computing incredibly fast. I think that the reason for that is their mental flexibility… It is certainly of key importance that we completely stop labeling and discriminating people based on arbitrary attributes which have no real relevance in the real world.”

Imagine what young people think about older generations still struggling with gender binary inequity in the workplace and in society!

Measurement Determines Reality

How comprehensive is an X and Y graph in explaining anything today? The days of solving complex situations by assigning simply cause and effect reasons are over. Daniel Kahneman in his international bestseller, “Thinking Fast and Slow” refers to this as an availability heuristic. “I didn’t get the job because of my age.” But the complexity of such questions goes beyond a simple binary answer. Nevertheless, you repeatedly tell your story of age discrimination as if it were fact. Fundamental uncertainty exists when explaining outcomes based upon simplistic measurements. Yet we do it often, pitting one simple heuristic against another.

Conclusion: Probability Is All We Know

We make decisions based on knowledge never knowing its certainty. We misconstrue simple assertions as fact. I will wake up tomorrow morning is based on probability. It is not a fact. Probability is also a major tenet of quantum physics. It is known as the uncertainty principle. Life is one of probability. To best navigate it we need to infer more like a quantum computer. How? Embrace an open nonbinary mindset in the face of uncertainty. See all reasons as plausible. Include as many perspectives as possible. Tap into the collective wisdom of those around you and watch the possibilities unfold.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Accelerator specializing in conflict resolution,  intergenerational dialogue, and team interdependence. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!

The Lowering Value of Higher Education Costs

higher education
Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Trusting Your Gut in the Age of Information

Two years ago I was speaking with a Country Manager from an American multinational tech company when he asked me an HR-related question. He was contemplating whether to hire a young programmer who had no higher education degree. Ostensibly, he wanted my opinion. In reality, he just needed confirmation.

I knew he knew the answer, just as he knew my thoughts. But cultural norms are hard to break even for senior-level managers, so I entertained his inquiry. I asked about the young man’s skills, motivation, fit, attitude, and ability to learn. Not surprisingly, he responded to all in the affirmative. I then asked, “What does your gut tell you?”

MBAs are Leaving a Musky Scent on Innovation

What do Google, Apple, Ernst & Young, Hilton, IBM, Nordstrom, and Penguin Random House all have in common? These top 7 companies no longer require a college degree, rather place more emphasis on skills. And in a digital age skill acquisition is no longer bound to a university. Even Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes there is a big problem in corporate America.  At the WSJ CEO Summit in December, Musk stated, “I think that there might be too many MBAs running companies.”

Musk labeled the “MBA-ization of America” as the bane of product innovation. He believes big corporate CEOs should spend less time on board meetings and financials.  “A company has no value in itself. This thing they call profit, should just mean over time that the value of the output is worth more than the inputs.” Musk urged CEOs to “get out there on the goddamn front line and show them that you care and that you’re not just in some plush office somewhere.” What results would Musk’s formula produce if applied to university costs (inputs) in relation to the student’s employability (output)?

What are Parents, Teachers, and Students Thankful for? YouTube

Both my sons would tell you straight up that if it wasn’t for the best teacher and tutor–YouTube–their academic performance would not have been and continue to be as high as without this essential learning tool. Homeschooling and distance learning have brought YouTube and free education-based learning platforms such as the Khan Academy to the forefront of learning. I’d be curious to know what percentage of high school and college students would credit such online platforms as reasons for passing and dare I say even graduating!

Teachers and parents are not always available for students, but YouTube is there 24/7. Videos can be paused and rewatched as needed at any hour of the day or night. Even pre-COVID the use of virtual classrooms enabled a new model of learning called the Flipped Classroom. Competent professionals and teachers making inspirational videos are modern-day virtual educators. They are here to stay and more are on the way.

Reevaluating Higher Education and Standardized Tests

Well-known and highly competitive international companies are beginning to write off higher education as a requisite for gainful employment. How will this trend impact the continuous rise in the cost of US higher education which has surged more than 538% since 1985? COVID has not only claimed the lives of over 2.5 million people. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the numerous social, racial, political, and economic injustices plaguing humans globally. The rising cost of US higher education contributes to all four.

There is another major change in higher education happening for the 2021-2022 college academic year. Pre-COVID about 2/3 of US colleges required applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. As a result of COVID restrictions on the administration of standardized testing, over a thousand US colleges and universities for the upcoming year are waiving the SAT requirements. Most appear to be doing so only for the upcoming school year. Others are choosing to go several years without. They seem to be using this as an opportunity for a longitudinal study. Maybe they want to see what impact omitting aptitude tests has on recruitment, student performance, and job placement? What would be their reasoning for doing so?

What Are Companies Looking for in Candidates?

Standardized tests were designed to level the college admission playing field, but do they? The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) only tests critical reading, math, and writing.  How far will this knowledge alone get a recent graduate in today’s job market? We live in the age of information in which computers outperform humans. So what is needed in the marketplace in addition to technical skills?

Leadership, adaptability, cultural awareness, ethics, communication, and conflict management are six essential skills that companies seek. These essential human skills are not measured on a scholastic aptitude test. Companies, however, are at the end of the training and education line. They must teach these life-coping skills if not previously acquired by new hires. There is no one else. Companies are becoming surrogate parents and alternative education centers. So what value alone does the increasing cost of a diploma have for a company that ends up having to teach vital competencies needed in a fast-paced and even faster-changing global economy?

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert specializing in conflict resolution,  intergenerational dialogue, and psychological safety. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!

Mental Health: Reframing Employee Well-Being

Mental Health
Empty recreation room due to COVID and increased use of remote work

A New Mental Health Reality

Anne was a second-year apprentice when the Coronavirus outbreak occurred. Prior to that, she had a controllable washing compulsion. She started showing up late as showers now took an hour. Colleagues noticed she wasn’t as attentive. Anne required meetings to address her slipping performance. She started feeling stressed and shunned. She requested a reduction in hours. That request was denied. Anne was at risk of losing her apprenticeship.

COVID Bringing Mental Health to the Brink

Even pre-COVID, of 1,900 remote workers polled, 21% reported loneliness as the biggest struggle of working remotely. Now with lockdowns, family concerns, social distancing, homeschooling, remote working, layoffs, and financial struggles–all during the holiday season and cold winter months–people, like Anne, have reached or exceeded their ability to cope. “Depression, alcohol, other substance misuses, and anxiety have all skyrocketed because of COVID. It’s having an impact on the business bottom line because sick employees mean decreased productivity and increased accidents at work.”, Sagar Parikh, M.D., University of Michigan. Growing mental health issues extend beyond the US. The Mental Health Foundation reports the leading cause of absenteeism in the UK is mental health. An article titled, “Mental health in the workplace”, states 70 million workdays in the UK are lost yearly to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

Working Remotely: Mediating Loneliness & Isolation

A recent Mental Health America study found that among people who screened with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, 70% reported that one of the top three factors contributing to their mental health concerns was loneliness or isolation. According to Dr. Adam Hickman’s GALLUP article, “How to Manage the Loneliness and Isolation of Remote Workers”, employees can feel as lonely at work too. Physical presence alone does not remedy feelings of loneliness. It is a question of emotional, psychological, and purposeful connectedness. Hickman differentiates loneliness from isolation. Both, he writes, can be remedied with targeted interventions.  Interestingly, causes of burnout in a study conducted by GALLUP were related to feelings of disconnectedness whether in regards to job expectations, role, relationships, culture, or sense of purpose. Whether working remotely or in offices, rising mental health issues are the next major HR challenge to reckon with a digital age.

Addressing Loneliness to Improve Mental Health and Productivity

In the Mental Health Foundation article, “How to support mental health at work”, 10 mental health improvement tips are provided. Four tips–keeping active, eating well, taking breaks, drinking sensiblyin theory only require self-discipline. Three tips–talking about your feelings, keeping in touch, and caring for othersare only fulfilled in relation to others. The remaining three–asking for help, doing something you are good at, and accepting who you are–not only require others, they also require a connection to a greater purpose, other than your ego. Six of the ten tips presume that which is usually lacking in cases where loneliness exists–the existence of relationships and purpose. So how does one implement a tip requiring a key ingredient that is already lacking?

Mental Health Initiatives Strengthen Personnel

Building rapport during scheduled Zoom meetings only goes so far. Calling someone with a question is different than spinning your chair around. “Organic interaction in a virtual world is difficult.” Michael is one of the thousands of pandemic graduates whose first job out of university was in one state while his office was back home in another. Employed since August he has had no personal team contact. Michael also has a history of light depression. The remote COVID reality has him seeking counseling to help cope. Michael is happy overall with how his supervisor tends to his mental wellness. He has a mentor, but this onboarding initiative feels more like a policy than a mentoring relationship. Mentors require time and proper supervision to deal with the multitude of onboarding issues that can arise. Michael stated there really is no forum to discuss psychological health. This, he said, would be valuable.

Mitigating Mental Health Requires a Clear Shared Goal

“An essential building block for workplace mental health is the ability to have open, authentic conversations about mental health in the workplace, both individually and on a strategic level. This is more important than ever as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.”
– Mental Health Foundation

Loneliness is not simply being disconnected from people. The remedy is simply not gathering around a billiard table or organizing a team-building workshop. It usually also entails a lack of role clarity and meaning.  Anne, Michael, and their respective teams would be better able to implement all ten tips with clear roles and expectations, all focused on a shared goal greater than any one member. Indirectly teams mitigate feelings of loneliness and purposelessness while achieving the goal. Inter- and intrapersonal inquiries are naturally addressed when this common goal stands in the center–holding the space and focus. This approach fosters a solution-focused, resilient, inclusive, and innovative work culture all in real-time.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert specializing in conflict resolution,  intergenerational dialogue, and psychological safety. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!

The Challenger Tragedy: The Human Cost of Hiding the Truth

Challenger Crew
STS-51-L crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik (Creator: NASA/Johnson Space Center)

Challenger: The Final Flight

Just 73 seconds after Challenger’s liftoff, a leak in the right solid rocket booster led to the shuttle breaking up over the Atlantic Ocean perilously hurdling all seven astronauts in a 2 minute 45-second free-fall at speeds over 200 mph. One of those seven astronauts was Concord, New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe had been selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first participant in the NASA Teacher in Space Project.

But there was something more tragic than the innocent loss of seven lives that brisk morning on January 28, 1986. The accident was preventable. It was known and on record, that cold temperatures increased the risk of O-ring failure in the solid rocket boosters. The initial recommendation from the engineers of the boosters was to scrub the launch. After watching the recent four-part Netflix docuseries on Challenger’s final flight I could not but think of how it eerily resembled the way the US President has been handling the Corona Pandemic.

Mounting Pressure: Thiokol/NASA Conference Call

On January 27th at 8:45 PM, the evening before Challenger’s last flight, there was an intense and controversial conference call between Morton Thiokol (contractor for the solid rocket boosters) and NASA officials. Thiokol engineers in Utah made a unanimous case not to launch Challenger due to abnormal below-freezing temperatures that night. During the call, Thiokol’s Vice President of engineering further advised not to launch unless temperatures were above 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Larry Mulloy, NASA’s Project Manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center, then countered, “Good God Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April!

Prior to holding a final vote and further adding mounting pressure to launch in light of strong resignation, Thiokol’s VP of engineering was told to “take off his engineering hat and put on his manager hat.” Since Thiokol had no conclusive evidence of absolute sealing failure and feeling the pressure from NASA, the VP gave in. NASA was happy. The launch would proceed. Challenger’s fate was sealed.

The Rogers Commission: NASA Image vs. Integrity

President Ronald Reagan was to give his State of the Union Address also scheduled for later that day on the 28th of January. For the first time in US history, a Presidential State of the Union Address was postponed for one week. There was even a rumor that the Challenger launch scheduled for that morning was insisted upon so that Reagan could address it later in his speech.

Due to the national and international significance of the tragedy, Reagan created a Presidential Commission to investigate the Challenger disaster. He appointed William Rogers, a former Secretary of State under Nixon and Attorney General under Eisenhower, to lead the commission. It was reported that President Reagan told Rogers prior to the investigation, “Whatever you do, don’t embarrass NASA. They are national heroes. We are going to need them. They are going to have to launch again.” If the goal of the Rogers Commission was to protect NASA and not discover the reasons for the tragedy, how would that interfere with the Commission’s integrity?

Richard Cook & Phillip Buffey: Whistleblowers & Investigative Reporting

A NASA business analyst by the name of Richard Cook was present at the Commission’s open sessions. Cook would later describe NASA as being a close-knit family. Problems stay within; whistleblowers are few… They would never go outside the family.” When he heard NASA officials falsely reporting to the Commission of never having seen any evidence of erosion on the secondary O-ring seal, Richard Cook’s conscience no longer allowed him to stay quiet. So he contacted the New York Times NASA writer, Phillip Buffey.

Just like the leak in Challenger’s solid rocket booster seal set off a series of cataclysmic events, so too did Buffey’s Sunday, February 9th New York Times article titled, “NASA HAD WARNING OF A DISASTER RISK POSED BY BOOSTER”. Mentioning Cook by name the insider stated both Thiokol and NASA knew extremely cold temperatures could result in ring seal failure. Moreover, both parties knew that a sealing failure would be catastrophic. The article would be the first example of several whistleblowers who would come forward. With the assistance of the New York Times and a few Commission members, NASA’s attempt to cover-up the truth of the Challenger disaster would unravel.

Sally Ride: Employer Loyalty vs. Coworker Loyalty

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was the only active NASA astronaut on the Rogers Commission. The other well-known long-retired astronaut was Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. Ride had previously flown on two Space Shuttle Challenger missions. The seven astronauts who perished on Challenger were her coworkers. She would not let their deaths be in vain.

Due to Richard Cook’s New York Times‘ article, printed just the day before, the following Monday hearing was held behind closed doors and out of public view. Rogers wanted to give NASA a chance to speak privately. But before Lawrence Mulloy from NASA could even begin, Ride interrupted him. She had received calls from Washington reporters who had heard a rumor that one of the contractors may have recommended not even launching. Ride wanted to know so she asked Mulloy, “Is that really true?” Mulloy dodged the question. Ride had information and did not relent. Ride asked Mulloy if he had any documentation from the contractor saying they were worried about the cold temperatures. Mulloy responded, “I don’t recall any.” Ride knew that wasn’t true.

Allan McDonald & Sally Ride: The Truth Must Be Heard

Upon hearing Mulloy’s response to Ride’s follow-up question about documentation, a man sitting in the back of the hearing room thought to himself, “Well that is a flat-ass-out lie!” Allen McDonald, a Morton Thiokol representative, was present at the January 27th conference call in Florida. He heard Mulloy take umbrage to Thiokols’ engineers’ recommendation to postpone the launch. Like Ride, McDonald knew Mulloy was lying. So he proceeded to raise his hand and stand up. With a quivering voice McDonald said, “Mr. Chairman, we (Morton Thiokol) recommended not to launch!

Shortly after the hearing Ride walked by another committee member, Air Force General Donald Kutyna, and without saying a word handed him a piece of paper. On the sheet were two columns. One showed temperatures. The other showed corresponding O-ring resiliency. The chart showed that as temperatures dropped, so did the O-rings’ ability to properly seal. With this evidence, Roger’s ability to protect NASA for much longer was also dropping. To protect her from the possibility of employer retaliation, it wouldn’t be until after Ride’s death in 2012 that Kutyna would publicly announce that she had handed him proof that NASA was doing everything in their power not to take responsibility for the deaths of their own employees, her colleagues.

Donald Kutyna & Richard Feynman: Friendship, Dinner, a Car, & an Idea

In addition to Ride’s overt comments in the hearing and covert action in the hallway, two key members on the Commission would come together with the hope of preventing another catastrophic shuttle accident. Air Force General Donald Kutyna was one of them. The other was renowned physicist Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics.  Both Kutyna and Feynman hit it off from the get-go. That friendship would have a significant impact on the investigation. Feynman, with Kutyna’s support, would deliver what would be remembered as the most memorable performance to be televised from the hearings.

With Ride’s chart in hand, Kutyna had a dilemma. How could he introduce to the Commission the document Ride had slipped to him earlier that day without getting her in trouble with her employer NASA? That same evening on the 10th of February Feynman went over to Kutyna’s house for dinner. Kutyna’s had a sports car in his garage. Kutyna suddenly had a revelation. Kutyna said to Feynman, “Professor, I have O-rings in this engine and they leak when it is cold.”  Feynman didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He had a plan.

Feynman’s Oscar-worthy Performance: How A Simple Demonstration Influenced Public Opinion

In a futile last effort to honor Reagan’s request to protect NASA, Rogers purposely avoided the topic of temperature. So instead, Rogers began the live broadcasted session on February 11th by asking NASA to talk about the joints on Challenger’s booster rockets. Once again, NASA’s Project Manager, Larry Mulloy, was called to give the presentation. Feynman couldn’t hear it anymore. Sally Ride’s evidence showing NASA’s known correlation between low temperatures and sealing failure was about to go on full display.

Feynman couldn’t wait to end the charade and make his mic hot. When the moment was right, Feynman went live. He started with a clamped frozen O-ring taken from Kutyna’s garage. Feynman showed how the rubber ring’s resiliency is compromised as it gets colder. And as the rubber seal warms it takes time to go back to its original form. Feynman concluded the brief yet effective demonstration by saying, “I believe that has some significance for our problem.” NASA members and Rogers could only sit and fume. For the next 48 hours, the media would replay the Noble Laureate’s experiment. Public opinion had been swayed.

Roger’s Discovery: Human Safety Has A Price

There was a shift in Rogers after seeing Feynman’s experiment and hearing Mulloy’s response to Thiokol’s recommendation not to launch below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Rogers could no longer protect NASA. Mulloy: “I found this conclusion (launching only above 53 degrees Fahrenheit) without bases and I challenged this logic.” To which Rogers responded, “They (Thiokol) construed what you said to mean that you wanted them to change their minds, so they were under a lot of pressure to give you (NASA) the answer you wanted.”

The families of Challenger’s ill-fated flight could not apprehend the lack of consideration of human life. Dr. William Lucas, Mulloy’s boss, and Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center believed NASA needed to launch shuttles on schedule. NASA and Lucas knew in 1985 and even well before that, there was a design flaw with the seals. When asked by Rogers, Lucas responded, “I have been aware of the problem with the seals. My assessment was, it was a reasonable risk to take.” Rogers then followed up by asking about flight safety to which Lucas coldly replied, “I did not think it was a problem sufficient to ground the fleet.” Rogers with some emotion retorted, “The waiver says actual loss: loss of mission, vehicle, and crew. I don’t know how you can say that didn’t involve flight safety.

The Human Risk Factor: Profit vs. Human Life

Why was NASA in such a rush? Why wasn’t Challenger’s launch postponed to more conducive conditions? NASA tried to maintain a very high launch rate per year in order to honor commercial and military satellite contracts. Up until Challenger’s explosion, NASA had carried out 25 missions under the Space Shuttle Progam by using four orbiters (Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, and Atlantis). Whether real or imagined, Mulloy’s hands were tied to the constraints of the system that required more launches than they could successfully make.

The culture at NASA at the time was that they could do anything.  NASA portrayed the image of a well-run agency, on time, and on budget. NASA was saying the orbiters were like commercial airplanes, so safe that they could put teachers in it. They were the good guys who could do no wrong. In actuality, there was a high level of risk with every launch. Overconfidence overcame care. Ego over empathy. In the end, it was a fatally flawed decision process.

Three Truth-Seeking Takeaways: The Crucial Role of Whistleblowers, Investigative Reporting, & Experts

Like the Challenger astronauts, we too are floating in space on a ship. Similarly, Earth requires maintenance and care for its passengers. Earth, like Challenger, has a current “deadly gas leak” called Coronavirus. For about a year it has been combusting and killing human passengers all over the world. Just as Morton Thiokol and NASA  knew about the high risk of a deadly launch risk, the President of the United States back in February 2020 also knew about the deadly contagiousness of the airborne virus. NASA put business, profit, and company gain/reputation before human life resulting in a national and global tragedy. Donald Trump also withheld the truth. Donald Trump, even after being infected and hospitalized, still downplayed the deadly risk for the sake of business, profit, and personal gain/reputation. The similarities are eerily similar.

There is a key difference though between the Challenger tragedy and the current Corona tragedy still underway. The truthful conclusion from the Rogers Commission, in light of its unwritten wish to protect NASA, was only possible because of a combination of whistleblowers, investigative journalism, and the role of experts. Donald Trump wages daily wars against exactly these three essential elements to uncovering the truth. With each passing day, globalization and our interconnectedness grow. Therefore, corporations and governments are being increasingly confronted with ethical decisions. Most ethical dilemmas pit growth and profit against human life and environmental sustainability. The Challenger tragedy and the Columbia tragedy that would also take place over Florida in 2003 are stark reminders of these dilemmas. History has countless stories. One is being written right now. With current global environmental and humanitarian concerns, there are three significant questions to ask and answer.

Three Salient Questions: Profit or Posterity?

At what cost are companies/governments willing to put our spaceship Earth at risk to disintegrate for the sake of business, profit, and individual reputation?

What price are companies/governments willing to pay to put its passengers (all humans) at risk of death for the sake of business, profit, and individual reputation?

At what cost are companies/governments willing to shame whistleblowers, denounce investigative reporting (not only media), and delegitimize the role of experts for the sake of business, profit, and individual reputation?

President Reagan: On Humility, Humanity, Taking Responsibility, & Instilling Hope

I end this article with content from a speech by President Ronald Reagan months after the Challenger disaster. The current president has not once even come close to publically addressing the pandemic in such a fashion. It is long overdue. Reagan’s speech is as salient and needed now as it was then. With a few words, it could easily be altered to honor the over 220,000 American deaths and counting (over, 1,100,000 worldwide) as if “the Gipper” were speaking to us today.

In America, we learn from our setbacks as well as our successes. And although the lessons of failure are hard, they are often the most important on the road to progress. We’ve learned in the past few months that we are frail and fallible. But we have also learned that we have the courage to face our faults and the strength to correct our errors. This has been a difficult passage for America, but we will go on just as the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger would have wanted us to. We’ll simply do what has to be done to make our space program safe and reliable and a renewed source of pride for our nation. We’ve suffered a tragedy and a setback but we’ll forge ahead wiser this time, and undaunted, as undaunted as the spirit of the Challenger and her seven heroes.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Change Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

VUCA: From A System And Problem Focus To A Person And Solution Orientation

VUCA

VUCA needs a new meaning and focus

By now VUCA is as familiar of an acronym as ADHD, AWOL, and of course COVID.  Acronyms are useful in labeling and giving importance to complex themes. Labeling a problem soothes the mind by identifying something hard to understand. The hope is then to find a solution. What if the solution were in the acronym? What if the problem-focused and system-oriented VUCA acronym became solution-focused and people-oriented? The angst derived by the former would diminish and the optimism derived by the latter would flourish. People solve problems and influence systems. So wouldn’t it be wise to promote solution-orientated attitudes and behaviors?

VUCA people transform VUCA situations

What do adolescents, first-time parents, adults in a mid-life crisis, or anyone facing a life-altering event tell you? Life is VUCA. Digitalization and globalization may be intensifying VUCA, but it isn’t anything new. What if instead of associating VUCA as a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world to dread, it was linked to Virtuousness, Understanding, Compassion, and Adaptability? Instead of being at the whim of a VUCA world, these essential human skills foster life-long learning. What effect would this reframing of VUCA and consequent skill acquisition have on our human development?

Virtuousness contains volatility

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines virtuous as “having good moral qualities and behaviors.” Fears have a tendency to rise in volatile situations. Drastic fluctuations, therefore, influence people to act impulsively with short-term results and immediate gains. A selfish mentality can develop. “Take what you can now before it is too late!” This perturbed mindset can lead to rash and immoral reactions. The accumulation of unethical decision making on a large scale in times of volatility ironically increases and compounds the volatility one wishes to diminish. A strong moral compass helps contain volatility. Virtuous people are stabilizers in times of instability.

Understanding reduces uncertainty

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines understanding as “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” How should one deal with uncertainty? Be mindful of what is in your control/what is known. Seek guidance to understand that which is uncertain or not completely known. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Conduct your own research. Simply put, be curious and learn. There is nothing more conducive to festering uncertainty than a fixed mindset, or solely relying on hearsay or one source of information. Fear of the unknown is best dealt with by keeping an open mind and understanding other realities.

Compassion humanizes complexity

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”  With nearly 8 billion people navigating complexity each day no one is exempt and no one goes unscathed. Unchecked complexity can lead to victimization and potential harm. Therefore, we need to show our compassion. Compassion humanizes the negative consequences of unresolved complexity by fostering inclusivity, a helping attitude, and raising social awareness at all levels. The pervasive, inclusive, and multi-leveled effort of the current Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Compassion ensures that we acknowledge how complexity impacts us all. And as importantly, it illustrates the vital role we all play in dealing with it.

Adaptability neutralizes ambiguity

The online Oxford Dictionary defines adaptability as the “quality of being able to change or be changed in order to deal successfully with new situations.” As creatures of habit, we adopt routines to creatively deal with ambiguity. Being too reliant on a fixed routine or way of living, however, can have limitations when an unforeseen significant event occurs. COVID-19 has been disrupting the routines and habits of millions of people. The further our fixed mindsets stray away from an ever-changing world reality the more we are confronted with this widening gap. This is illustrated in the digital paradox.  Unfortunately, it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to remind us that we are not masters of the universe. Rather, we are a part of it. And as such, we, like all other living organisms, must either adapt to changing circumstances or face unnecessary hardship.

VUCA people need to be nurtured and engaged

It is high time we better deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Fortunately, with a change of perspective and focus, the answer may be hidden in the same acronym. With virtuousness, understanding, compassion, and adaptability one is better able to cope with VUCA situations. All humans have the capacity to develop and practice these life-long skills. Doing so feeds a growth mindset and cultivates a collective consciousness focused on posterity. Younger generations see the value and need of being VUCA. We are seeing more VUCA people organizing in greater numbers across continents and for causes affecting all humans everywhere. Progressive companies also reap the benefit of developing human edge cultures. In sum, VUCA people are essential for a VUCA world.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Change Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Effective Leadership – A Changing Of The Guards

Effective Leadership

What is effective leadership anyway?

The Online Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Additionally, it defines effective as successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Simply put: Effective leadership is the capacity to successfully guide the intended or desired action(s) of a person or group. According to this amoral definition, any person or group of people versed in rhetoric and/or subversive tactics can display effective leadership. But we know this not to be true. Ethical intention and the means by which outcomes are achieved are paramount. 

Essential components of effective leadership

Organizations seeking effective leadership must look beyond outcome achievement. As the current global reality demonstrates, the ends no longer justify the means. Personal integrity, social competencies, economic equity, conflict transformation, transparency, environmental stewardship, posterity, ethical conduct, and inclusivity (age, gender, race) need to be at the core of effective leadership requirements and competencies. First, companies must clarify the intention of effective leadership. Second, this raison d’être should elicit an authentic response in every individual inspired to heed the call. Lastly, leadership needs to have the capacity to skillfully and creatively orchestrate the collection, the aggregate of these diverse individual entities in order to bring the intention to fruition. How should leadership ethically and equitably influence your organization? What sustainable methods should leadership use to reach objectives? How inclusive should processes be? How should leadership ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the outcome?

Effective leadership ensures economic equity 

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Adults with less than $10,000 in wealth make up 56.6 percent of the world’s population, but hold less than 2 percent of global wealth. Effective leadership needs to become financially transparent, sustainable, and equitable for posterity’s sake. Universal economic opportunity needs to be at the forefront of all policies. Leadership needs to ensure that all humans have fair and equal access to both natural and artificial resources necessary to sustain a proper standard for living (access mental and physical healthcare included) and provide for a family when desired without jeopardizing career development.

Effective leadership is inclusive

The most translated document in the world is the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date, it has been translated in 370 languages. Why? In addition to preserving the environment, without which humans could not exist, there is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the basic rights of all human beings. For example, which traits allowed women-led nations to cope well with COVID-19? Likewise, how can improving racial/ethnic balance in leadership better ensure basic human rights? Leadership is appropriately and ethically represented across gender and race when the ratio of those in leading roles are proportionate to those being led.

Bright Spots in closing gender and racial gaps

In 2018, Glassdoor partnered with JUST Capital to look at major corporations committed to equal pay. Remarkably, only 16 out of 920 publicly traded companies, the likes of Microsoft, VMWare, and Salesforce–just to name a few–were ensuring pay equity across gender and racial and ethnic lines. As companies close gender and racial/ethnic gaps and governments ensure human rights for all citizens, effective leadership promotes values that are transparent, ethical, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive.

Effective leadership entails environmental stewardship

The Internet of things (IoT) entails everything connected to the internet. So too are we interconnected with all living things (IoLT). When nature is out of balance so are we. We are an integral part of nature. We cannot survive without a healthy and diverse environment. As such, it is our human responsibility to care for our use of it. Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” (source: Wikipedia)

Effective leadership is intergenerational

Leadership roles in traditional organizations are often held by those who are one, two, or even three generations older than those being led. This alone is not a problem. Actually, there is a wealth of potential here. It can become an issue, however, when senior leadership is unable to incorporate the values and intentions of the younger generations of those they lead. Intergenerational learning is paramount in mutually acknowledging and integrating old and new forms of leadership. Companies who can do so will become more resilient and have an easier time ensuring an organization’s vitality. How can organizations with older forms of leadership give space for newer forms of leadership?

Acknowledging a changing of guards

Each generation has a new ideal of what effective leadership entails. Young people feel unheard and are quick to dismiss older mentalities as antiquated. Older people hold on to long-held beliefs are quick to dismiss newer realities as not being time-tested. A lack of mutual acknowledgment and respect prevents a seamless integration or transition of leadership styles. When all generations can honor the wisdom each brings, then there is an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and growth. Newer companies and start-ups have an easier time implementing newer forms of leadership and organizational management since most employees belong to one or at most two generations. How can newer forms of leadership be given space in older and larger organizations where three or four generations are working together? As with all changing of the guards, the process must be honorable, on-going, and inclusive.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems & Group Dynamics Expert, Conflict Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals and teams wanting to fully integrate their human resource potential at all organizational levels. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

How to effectively navigate difficult conversations at work

difficult conversation
Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

What are difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.

Address difficult conversations as soon as possible

Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.

Document, document, document

Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.

Have a policy on staff conduct

Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.

Be fair

There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.

Bring in a 3rd party

Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.

It isn’t personal, it’s about the company

Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.

More tips on handling difficult conversations

For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

 

Creating An Observer-Actor Culture

Observer-actor
Courtesy Prawney @ Morguefile

Leaders Need More Than Observers

In a world of information overload, a leader’s ability to be the sole key observer in keeping an organization abreast of trends, innovations, and market changes is diminishing. There is an ever-increasing multiplicity of social, economic, technological, environmental, and political factors impacting the business cycle. Leaders depend on the keen observation of others, but observation alone without action falls short. Observation without the ability to act is not only a missed opportunity, it is a step backward. Because standing still is as good as going in reverse. It is like staying afloat in the ocean. In today’s world, there are strong currents adrift. Knowing a current is taking you out to sea and doing nothing about it will still result in you being swept out to sea. How can leaders create an observer-actor culture to maximize the benefits of what is being observed?

The Observer Obsession

According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, the verb observe is to notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. Do what employees deem significant match what management deems to be? Collective opinions matter. To add some perspective, on just one day there are on average 500 million tweets and 95 million pictures and videos shared on Instagram. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. (Source: The Social Skinny).  What do these mindblowing numbers mean for leaders? Alone, not much. The Cambridge Dictionary defines an observer as a person who watches what happens but has no active part in it. This is why the observer-actor is crucial to corporate vitality.

From Water Cooler Chat to Accountability

According to a two-year-old Pew Research poll, 86% of US adults aged 18-29 are social media users. What does that mean for companies? Every new young hire brings to the company someone who is used to regularly sharing observations on various social platforms.  But it doesn’t just stop there. Employees want to do more than simply share their observations. They not only want their voices to be heard, but they also want to have the ability to act. They want their behaviors to have a noticeable impact. And organizations can profit from this desire. This too, however, requires a shift in leadership to have the courage to channel this untapped potential. How can leaders improve the quality of employee observation and ability to respond by fostering an observer-actor culture?

 The Idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground

As we go about the world with a high-powered computer strapped to our body and vibrating with every notification we have a lot to see and with that a lot to say. What is the point of observing if not to share with your followers? The problem is this. Unfocused observers can go rogue, using information sharing for selfish gain and harming others, undermining team cohesiveness, and creating a toxic gossip-filled work environment. Cliques form. Sides are taken. People start feeling excluded. In worse-case scenarios harassment and bullying result. The company’s mission takes a back seat while personal emotions and ego-driven attitudes overshadow purpose. Organizations need to understand this basic human need to be heard and to belong. Once this is understood, then action can be taken. The key is to focus the errant mind. How can a company reel in the idle mind with a pro-social focus instead of reprimanding anti-social behaviors all-the-while losing your competitive edge?

Focus the Observer-Actor

Give your employees something you want them to observe and tell them how it is important it is for the company! This also tests their mindset to see if they are in line with the organization’s mission and purpose. When employee attention is focused observations become more targeted. Their ability to respond also improves as they are encouraged to take more responsibility. Organizations creating a human-edge inspired observer-actor culture reap the rewards from an ever-growing observer workforce. Focus the observer’s attention on a specific goal, service, or product. Always have employee attention clearly directed toward developing the organization and enhancing its performance and purpose.

Focused Observer-Actors Create an Open Feedback Culture

When management seeks clear observations from its employees, deleterious chitchat wanes. Innate pro-social behaviors kick in. Believe it or not, people want to work together. Everyone benefits from a culture that promotes pro-social interactions. A group of focused observers creates a peer culture that derives constructive feedback and not harbor toxic rumors. Safety to verbally contribute increases. Speaking up is now associated with sharing an innovative idea or an improvement of some kind. Making your voice heard now brings the organization forward and not for the purpose of degrading a colleague or undermining a project. Feedback becomes solution-oriented. Possibilities become the focus and not what is not possible. An observer-actor culture entrusted to respond creates an atmosphere of collaboration and collective wisdom sharing. Which organization doesn’t want that?

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert specializing in conflict resolution,  intergenerational dialogue, and psychological safety. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!

A warning about the use of labels on people

labeling
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Product labels have their place

Product labels have become increasingly important the more conscious we become about what we consume and purchase. A healthier lifestyle, environmental concerns, and social responsibility are a few reasons we search for and read labels. One ingredient, one raw material, or even a product’s origin is enough for a consumer to disregard an otherwise appealing product. This use of labeling is for both the benefit of the individual and the community. This is, however, where the benefits of labels stop.

Labeling allows us to discern information, however…

In an age of overwhelming access to information, the desire to share knowledge increases, as does skepticism around accuracy and its source. Everyone can’t be right, so who is telling the truth? There is some truth on all sides when we listen without judgment to find common ground and seek understanding.

Humans instinctually discern the goodness and value of the information we gather from our senses. From an evolutionary standpoint, a slip in judgment could have been a matter of life or death. The problem is, too often we make rash one-sided judgments of people and therein lies the danger of labels.

Labeling people leads to dehumanization

labelsOpposing views, as displayed in the political arena, are usually not resolved through inquisitive processes to further understand the other(s). Rather, people with differing viewpoints are labeled in dismissive and demeaning ways. The goal is to diminish their worth and tarnish their reputation. Dialogue under these conditions cannot take place.

Name-calling is unpresidential

Small leadership gestures have a big follower impact. On a larger scale, leadership under an umbrella of fear, threats, and verbal aggression slips into dictatorship. Such a manner of conduct breeds animosity and divisiveness. The contentiousness that results has the propensity to lead to violent behavior and clashes.

Believe it or not, Wikipedia has a “nickname” page for Donald Trump. The list is surprisingly (or not) extensive. This a dangerous political method of dealing with opposition. Labeling systemically condones an “us versus them” mentality, allowing it to become the accepted way of dealing with differences. We are witnessing the damage this divisive behavior brings to our diverse communities.

Labeling places people at risk

Once labeled, a person is reduced to several unflattering stereotypes. Once dehumanized that person is perceived as less than human. Their needs, voice, and value are diminished. Susceptibility to discrimination, mockery, oppression, neglect, and abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional) increases.

In extreme cases, significant harm and even death can result. One needs not to look too far in the distant past to see how hateful and dehumanizing language can lead to an act of genocide. The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 is a stark reminder of how the Tutsi minority for decades prior was verbally degraded and labeled as cockroaches and snakes. What does one do with cockroaches and snakes?

Read product labels, stop labeling people

Continue reading labels on products on shelves and on racks. They hopefully make you a more informed consumer.  A label on a bag of organic apples grown from a local farm helps the consumer determine the value and worthiness of the purchase.

Degrading labels on people are not accurate and only decrease a person’s value. This can become a slippery slope leading to oppression and the likelihood of injustice to arise. Use great caution before consuming a demeaning and dehumanizing label placed on a person. Rather than labeling people seek to understand and find common ground. Take the time to look into what is not on the label.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.