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. 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!