Category Archives: vitality

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!

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.

Running Barefoot: Life & Leadership Philosophy in Motion

Barefoot running
10k Herbstlauf 2019

Running Barefoot: Life & leadership philosophy in motion

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of running barefoot, running barefoot has evolved into a life and leadership philosophy. Here are many lessons I am still learning!

  1. You always have a choice. No matter how difficult the terrain looks ahead while running or in life, there is always a next step you can make, even if it isn’t the direction you expected to go in.
  2. Trust your instincts in a difficult situation. Running barefoot is instinctive running. Humans have been running much longer without shoes than with shoes. When in doubt, trust your gut.
  3. Listen to your body. Valuable information is not always transmitted through words, nor through your shoes.
  4. You can handle more than you think. I run barefoot on gravel, snow and in temperatures just below freezing. Overcome your fears through practice.
  5. Be mindful. Barefoot running requires your full attention most of the time. Be present. Act with intention. Be mindful of your form and your conduct.
  6. Silence is golden. When running bare I am silent and can listen to the environment. I have startled shod runners and animals alike. Learn to listen with all of your senses.
  7. Take responsibility for your actions. If I step on a stone I cannot blame it. We choose how we respond to life. No one or no thing makes us do anything or react in a certain way. 
  8. Transform hurtful energy. When I step on an object I allow the unpleasant energy to run through my body and transfer it to briefly run faster. Convert as much energy into self-improvement.
  9. You need less than you think. Rid yourself of clutter. Become a minimalist with how you conceptualize and interact with the world. The less you have the more you can take in.
  10. Be light in temperament. You are physically lighter barefoot. Holding grudges leaves no space to hold something that gives you power and energy. Forgive. Let go and move on.
  11. Be non-judgmental. I received looks and was made fun of when I started. Now people are curious and ask questions. Be open to new possibilities. Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  12. Use both body and mind simultaneously. Running barefoot incorporates both. We tend to use one at a time. A more holistic experience results when engaging both simultaneously. 
  13. Have fun. There is a playful quality to running barefoot. Try something new. Laugh with others and at yourself! Life is too short to take yourself too seriously!
  14. Be adaptable. Running barefoot requires you to adapt your approach and movement according to changing conditions. Train your mind and body to be flexible. 
  15. Live in the moment. Running barefoot demands that you be present in the here and now. Scan ahead but know your next step.
  16. Stay alert. Running barefoot doesn’t allow you to be inattentive for too long. Stay on your toes and don’t get caught flat-footed!
  17. Connect with nature and discharge negative energy. When running barefoot I reap the health benefits of grounding. You benefit when interacting and connecting with nature.
  18. Be true to yourself. No matter what you do, say, or if you wear shoes or not, there will always be critics. Do what is in your best interest as long as it doesn’t prevent others from doing so as well.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Facilitator, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Executive Coach, and Youth Expert. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. 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.

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.

 

Change Management: It’s time for a change

change management
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Origins of Change Management

Amongst the pioneers in the field of organizational development, Richard Beckhard (1918-1999) was an American organizational theorist and Adjunct Professor at MIT. In his book, “Organization Development: Strategies and models” (1969), Beckhard defined organization development as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, (3) managed from the top, (4) to increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes’, using behavioral-science knowledge”. 

Has Change Management changed much?

What is today’s definition of change management? The University of Virginia (UVA) defines change management as “the structured approach to proactively manage the impacts of change both at an individual and institutional level. It incorporates strategies that help individuals and the organization make successful transitions and result in the adoption of change for desired outcomes. It is most effective when all objectives – institutional, technical, and human – are fully implemented and embedded in the institution.”

Is UVA’s definition much different than the one from 50 years ago? “Structured approach” and “proactively managing” sound similar to Beckhard’s “planned interventions” and “managed from the top”. Regarding “desired outcome”, who is desiring the change? What outcome is desired? Solely relying on top management to guide and lead change processes in an information age is the equivalent of expecting only environmental experts to resolve climate change. Effectuating meaningful and sustainable change is not a one-time project with a fixed deadline and budget. It is a never-ending process and investment.

Nomen ist omen

What does change mean? What words are associated with it? Is management one of them? What does management imply? What words are associated with it? Is change one of them? Either word (change or management) used alone triggers a healthy dose of skepticism. Change usually disrupts and threatens management structures and corporate policies. Management practices usually prevent change by ensuring constant, predictable, and controllable conditions. Is that reflective of the current global and digital reality? Does the term “change management” seem like it wants to effectuate change?

Wisdom from the past

The distant past can help conceptualize an evolved form of change management. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia, had insight into creating a culture that ensures vitality. Below are some of his thoughts.

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
(Quotes source: quoteambition.com)

From Change Management to Change Facilitation

What would Thomas Jefferson think of UVA’s definition of change management? What Jefferson is alluding to are conditions conducive to facilitating change processes, not managing them.  Culture is neither prescribed nor managed. Rather, it naturally evolves, like the leaves in the picture. The leaves change and fall to be recycled, giving way to new growth. With minimal guidance and a clear vision, organizational culture naturally seeks to adapt, inspiring innovation and nurturing forward-thinkers and risk-takers. As Jefferson duly noted, paramount is placing people in the center by educating and keeping them informed. Only then are humans best equipped and able to ensure a system’s liveliness.

Nowhere does Jefferson explicitly mention hierarchy, management, or control mechanisms. Organizations able to process multiple realities and appropriately respond in real-time have a competitive edge in a VUCA world. Organizations fostering an aware workforce–where everyone is expected to sense and adjust as needed–will not only outperform their competitors both in scope and scale; they will lead the pack.

The need to incorporate change facilitation

Change facilitation is change management in constant motion. Managers control services and ensure product quality. Process facilitators working side by side with managers create working conditions that enable and empower all human resources to act not only as producers, but also as observers, data collectors/analysts, and change agents. Change facilitators help create a workforce that is attentive, wise to know when a shift is needed, and prepared to collectively respond from down below without being managed from high above.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert. He specializes in Conflict Resolution, Change Facilitation, and Youth Engagement. He optimizes employee engagement, team cohesiveness, and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics and ensuring the successful integration and retention of young employees into organizations. Jean-Pierre is also a Speaker and Author. He is the creator of the youth inspired EPIC Model of development.

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!