How we might wish our organization could change position so quickly… maybe you can.
It has been my great privilege to work with disaffected managers and team leaders. I say privilege because there is no doubt in my mind that this is where we can make the greatest difference to the success of an organization in the shortest period of time.
Most leadership development effort, money and time is spent with the upper echelons of an organization. These are the highest paid, well-educated and highly adaptable people, who display their ability in the board room and on the executive floors. Here people read, study and discuss the latest theories by eminent thought leaders. In fact many are prominent thought leaders themselves whose words are poured over and dissected by the leanest, fittest brains in their organization. Often papers are produced describing new observations in the market before disseminating how these latest signs and signals can drive better practices into the business, to gain a competitive advantage.
Well, someone has to do it.
Meanwhile deep down in the murky depths of an organization there are a different group of leaders working, managing and communicating. Here are people whose purpose is often quite different from that of the corporate leadership team. They often work to a different set of rules. This group will assume a veneer of the corporate culture as defined by the finely crafted corporate values designed to show them how they should behave, the mission statement pointing to why they are there and the organization vision of Shangri-La. Sometimes, (when it suits), these statements are referenced by this group of leaders but only to achieve their own agenda. They inhabit a different culture; one with it’s their own mindset. One which Gerard Egan called the ‘shadow side’. (Working the Shadow Side, 1994)
This group operates in most organizations. They are your team leaders and line managers. Employees respond to them. After all that’s why they were put there. You may recognize some of the signs of the shadow side at work; the world of intrigue, ‘the buck doesn’t stop here’ cc’d emails, and the ability to articulate, when necessary, the rhetoric which will make them look good to those at the next level.
This is a Darwinian culture, where it’s not the strong who survive, but the most flexible. The strongest disappeared with the first whiff of corporate change when they made their misguided stand to support the old ways! Whereas those that adapted quickly became recognized as the best people to take the organization forward and they represent the greatest opportunity to transform an organization rapidly. Let me explain.
As far back as 1992 in ‘Transfer of Training’ Broad and Newstrom identified a number of studies which showed that only 10% of the expenditure on training results in “any observable behavior change on the job”. (Little has changed in the intervening years!) The common perception is that the most impact on transfer of training into work place practice is created by the trainer during the training. In fact, Broad and Newstrom showed that the most impact on transfer lies with the line manager particularly before the training takes place.
Training is little different from any other form of communication, change or improvement. How much actually results in “any observable behavior change on the job”? We now start to understand that the driver of improvement in all organizations is the team leaders and line managers. Whatever the Corporate Leadership Team disseminates this group have the absolute power to make things happen or make things murky.
We all must have seen how our shadow leaders can galvanize their team into a frenzy of negativity about the most trivial change, they can ‘dismiss’ the message from the CEO with a simple ‘it’s just another message from on high’, even effortlessly tie an organization in knots with ‘a rumor about a possible…’.
Shadow leaders can galvanize their team into a frenzy of negativity about the most trivial change.” Tweet this!
Alternatively… given the right conditions, they can be the engine room which propels the ship forward leaving the officers on the bridge to steer the best course.
When this team is at their flexible adaptable best they can find improvement, reduce waste, and improve patient / customer care at the drop of a hat. They can engage their teams to go the extra mile even when there isn’t a crisis. We have put them in the perfect position to deliver rapid improvement. This is why I believe we should pay more attention to this talented group.
Before you say that you already do this I refer you back to the work of Broad and Newstrom. To ensure that training of team leaders and line managers is quickly transferred into improved workplace practice they also need to be integral to the support of this development. In this way if we invest more in the development of their skills, open their minds and help them adjust their rules they are then in a position to make a real difference, very quickly.
In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard ‘Make it so, number one’.