Let’s take a walk.
Recent events have pushed into very sharp focus the relational behaviours between and among individuals and groups. Our collective memory will suggest that since time immemorial, man has been preoccupied with the notion of race and labels. We create societies built on opposites. If one is not rich, one is poor. If one is not superior, one is inferior. Sets of opposites, as the ones identified play out in our discourse and impacts the way we interpret our environment. We organize our world in schemas. Schemas are shaped by our experiences in the world and help us make sense of what happens around us. So if we believe that persons from inner-city communities are lazy and do not wish to work, when we do meet one,our schema will rear its head. We then look for examples that will support the view we have of inner-city folks. Any information that does not support the view will be quickly discarded.
In the world of work, schemas have a powerful influence on the relationship between management and labour. I am sure you have heard statements that seek to characterize the players in an organization using unsavoury terms. An already tense relationship between management and labour is likely to erode further if there is no attempt by either party to reframe the relationship in terms that will improve the results they both desperately seek.
As I reflect on my journey in the business world, particularly in the area of industrial relations, it is clear there is much work to do in changing the attitudes and behaviours of those who lead management and labour. To do this is no easy feat as there is a strong pull to default to what we know best, even if it has not worked. If we were to suspend for a brief moment the need to place another “defense brick” on our already complex and challenged organizational wall and peer over the erected psychological structure of our making, we may see a glimpse of mutual interests. If we were to reject the schemas that hold no substance and retrain the mind to see beyond the perspectives that stymie collaboration, that would certainly move us a step closer to accomplishing identifiable mutual interests.
What will it take to get there?
This is not rocket science. Education is one catalyst that will help. Add to that as well the benefits of having your company reflect the values of a truly diverse team. Workforce management practices will have to look at embedding in its culture, the appropriate values that reframe old paradigms to reflect the new dispensation. There is need for each and every organization to define its way forward. Operating in a rich, culturally diverse community suggests that a company, any company, will have to be mindful of its recruitment strategy. Get a team together and create a diversity plan. Why not craft the new vision. The organization is changing, so it’s a fantastic time to check in, engage and design an even better model.
© Suzette Henry Campbell 2014
Recently, I met a young woman who shared her harrowing experience of trying to land a job post university. At the point of tears, she was growing more and more disillusioned about what it takes to get a job. All her life she was told that changing her circumstance of poverty, she would have to dedicate her young adult years to earning a degree, which would be her ticket to economic freedom. She buckled down to her studies, putting in the time, gaining the strong academic credentials, the coveted GPA (Grade Point Average). She was an active member of her University’s debate team and boasted an excellent athletic profile.
Now 23 years old, with a degree in Sociology, her pathway to a fulfilling career has been littered with rejection letters. In some cases, after being shortlisted, no further communication followed. Dejected, frustrated and in debt, this promising young lady’s confidence takes a nose-dive.
It is very seductive to fall into a state of helplessness. Our desires and dreams charm the best of us. Then reality hits and we suddenly come face to face with life’s harsh realities. But for every failed endeavor, there lies an opportunity to learn from the mistakes and improve the our game. It will take practiced patience to review and reflect on what may be the hindrance in reaching the goal. Hard as it is to review and critique our handling of events and interactions, it is important to addressing our developmental needs.
It is seductive as well to blame the system for not providing the opportunity to grow. In many instances that may be true. Systemic challenges do influence outcomes and this is where you will need to find out more about the enterprise of choice. What is there reputation like? Is there a high turnover? Is the organization’s culture one that promotes or retards excellence? Research, research and research!
In the short term, this young lady will have to re-access her goals. A growth map can help her visualize what she holds in her head. She will need to list the industries that will find her particular area of study useful. Creating this list will help her focus her efforts on mapping her experience with their needs.
She will need to focus on her resume. Speak to the needs of the organization. Cite all relevant experiences. Packing the resume with non-essential data, will distract from pertinent information that would otherwise have opened the door for an interview.
It is a competitive world. You want to position yourself as the best fit. But you may have to back pedal a bit and opt for being an unpaid intern. I advocate this measure as a short-term commitment because it provides a real opportunity to be visible. Your skill sets will be sharply improved. Yes, there are companies that are unethical in their recruitment of interns. This is where your research will come into play.
Your aim as an intern is to grow your skill sets and to add value to your professional journey. It is a partnership and although you may not be earning a salary in the short-term, there is an immense opportunity to improve your professional worth.
© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014
Meet Deena, a server at Plantation, FL., IHOP. Former elementary school teacher (over 20 years), with an impressive, incredibly buoyant personality.
“I love what I do. It is important to get to know your customers. I usually begin by getting the name right. That gesture personalizes the relationship and becomes a pleasant experience.”
© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to the CEO of a medium sized retail company. Our conversation was at first the usual awkward way of getting warmed up to someone new. A joke or two cracked here and there to lighten the exchange. I worked through my head the stages of building rapport and mentally tried to establish how well we were doing. It would have been very easy to end the conversation by expressing how great it was to meet him and move along, but, that did not happen.
The conversation steered along and I was quite willing to relax and become a significant participant. That decision allowed me to put to the test the concepts I was being exposed to in graduate school. Eventually the question was asked. ” What are your studying?”
I thought of using the long cumbersome title of my program, Conflict Analysis and Resolution, but I have seen the reaction of so many business owners and managers that I quickly aborted that idea and decided to use another route. I did not want to add to his confusion of trying to figure out what it meant.
So I shared a story and because my interest is in organizational culture and the conflict narratives, the one I chose would be adaptive to any situation. I spoke about the tension for resources; the gap that exists between management and labour; the type of media used to introduce new company directions. I tied the fact that there is an inability to respond to stakeholders in a expeditious manner and the issue of how we communicate.
I then asked, “where does conflict not exist?”
His response was the classic response from company directors and owners of business. “There is the elephant in the room, and this elephant, conflict, is not acknowledged.”
“No leader of a company wants to admit that they experience conflict”.
The question is, if one does not acknowledge it and take steps to address the “tension”, are you then prepared to spend top dollar to resolve it? Litigation is costly, but there is also a toll on the morale of the organization. To minimize an organization’s tension, steps must be taken to assess the risk associated with not addressing events quickly. From my own experiences, we are mostly afraid of confronting issues head on and prefer to hit the default button. Confrontation is a stressful matter for most, but if carefully managed, can offer rewarding results. But note, conflict (tensions) should be carefully managed with built in strategies to guide how people interact along with appropriate intervention responses.
The field is a growing area and does not only apply to conflict zones, where we imagine slaying modern dragons, with weapons of mass destruction. It’s application has far reaching implications for organizations that are struggling with resource challenges, team synergy and manifestations of leadership crisis. As Conflict Resolution Practitioners, our craft is aimed at significantly improving the relationships through a range of solutions, not of our own making, but developed from the innovative minds of those who require assistance. Our field is multi-disciplinary and because of this we are able to add a variety of perspectives to the experiences of those who are experts in their business.
Forty minutes later, the CEO, who was initially in the awkward tango of conversation with me, smiled, extended his hand and firmly shook mine. Something was reinforced to me that afternoon and I will share it with you.
Being an expert is a humbling experience because you are always called upon to sensitize another to what it is you do. It is not necessary to echo the traditional labels that have been socially constructed nor is it necessary to seek to establish your credibility by flashing titles. People genuinely want to know the answers to questions. It is our responsiblity to choose the right stories for the right audience as we help them construct in their minds the limitless possibilities that are associated with our profession.
© Suzette Henry Campbell 2014
Our global village is in turmoil. We are buffeted by the constant flow of challenges. Left unchecked, our challenges reach a crescendo known as crisis. Our new fascination and mounting fear is focused on a new threat to our health – Ebola. Months before, this threat was confined to specific locations on the continent of Africa. The rest of the world sat unperturbed because the health risk was not in our neck of the woods. There was concern, but not enough to halt our pursuit of happiness.
Sadly, as is the norm, our knee jerk reaction to events that are problematic is a sign of the inadequacy of our risk management techniques. Agencies that are charged with the responsibility of acting decisively and with proactive protocols appear to be plagued by paralysis of the mind. The fact that Ebola has reached the West, has prompted a flurry of activities to stem its spread.
Risk management is everybody’s business. We all engage in risk assessment everyday. From choosing a route that will get you to your destination in the least amount of time to complex risk assessment tasks associated with defusing the tension associated with a crime scene, our choices are informed by available data.
A basic risk management guide will focus on the following:
- Planning for risk.
- Identifying risk events.
- Examining risk through qualitative and quantitative lenses.
- Developing strategies and response systems.
- Monitoring and controlling risk.
- Identifying resources to address different levels of risk.
- Identifying appropriate qualified talent to drive the decision making process.
Most organisations boast of having protocols in place, but when put the test … you get the idea!
Protocols are only as good as the paper they are written on. Here are some reminders that will assist you to make risk assessment habit forming for your company. Frame (2003) suggests the following:
- Run a risk assessment before investing huge sums of money, time and other resources.
- Help your team to understand that keeping a log of issues/concerns helps to identify weaknesses that can be addressed with urgency.
- Create and communicate to all stakeholders, a disaster recovery plan. It makes absolutely no sense to say you have one and organization-wide your team has no knowledge.
- Create, refine and communicate a crisis management plan. Determine, based on your industry the appropriate information to be communicated to your team.
- Do not forget to use checklists. Remember as well to update your checklists in line with new data/knowledge. Communicate amendments.
- Organize. A working group, comprised of different members of the organisation promotes buy in. Too many committees and working groups maintain the status quo. A diverse team will help to create diverse options and solutions.
- Meet frequently and update the organisation periodically. Keeping your leaders and the members of your organization informed eliminates confusion in the event of perceived and actually threats.
© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014
Frame, J. D. (2003). Managing projects in organizations: how to make the best use of time, techniques, and people. John Wiley & Sons.
Awake by 4:30 a.m.
Most mornings anyway. My senses are alert, my mind sharp. There are no distractions and in those hours, I treasure the stillness of the world around me.
Forty-five minutes later, I reach over for my phone. Now a habit, I surf through my favourite social media sites. News in a flash. With my interest piqued, I devote a few minutes to reading the content. Multiculturalism is the new buzz word but there are defining moments that prove the journey will be long and arduous when balancing this concept with the need to preserve cultural and racial identities.
This leads me to an interesting post by Richard Branson on his Virgin Blog. The title, “First ever Black Business Awards held in London”. Reactions to this post ranged from questioning why such an award was necessary to applause and support for an initiative that celebrates successful stories from black enterprises.
Those who oppose the move frame their discontent with the belief that by describing the initiative as Black British Business awards, the initiative reeks of attempts to discriminate. But is that the intention of such award ceremonies? I do not believe such is the case.
People of colour are more likely to understand why this is a grand gesture. That is because their experiences have taught them and reinforced that contrary to what is desirable, (that of a level playing field), biases exist.
I want to share why I believe black-owned businesses should host events/initiatives much like this one. It is not about discrimination.
Through the black lens, the aim I dare say, coincides with the statement of Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Businesses.
“If we are to build a stronger, fairer, more modern society, we need to do more to back the achievements of the black entrepreneurs that are celebrated at these awards today.”
As much as we dream of a more inclusive culture, we are not quite there as yet. Imagine a child being exposed to business celebrities other than those who succeed in sports and entertainment. Imagine the powerful connection, like a surge of energy, when a child is able to identify with the image of someone that looks like him/her. Mainstream media continues to push images that do not reflect the composition of the world. The creation of an alternative space to reflect the contributions of those who are shunned by powerful media interests, exposes the world to other beautiful stories of resilience, courage and success.
Recognizing the efforts of the black community raises an awareness that shifts our narrative away from labels that seek to destroy than encourage black success.
© Suzette Henry Campbell 2014
Resources for additional reading
Fairlie, R. W., & Robb, A. M. (2007). Why Are Black‐Owned Businesses Less Successful than White‐Owned Businesses? The Role of Families, Inheritances, and Business Human Capital. Journal of Labor Economics, 25(2), 289-323.
John N. Ingham (2003). Building Businesses, Creating Communities: Residential Segregation and the Growth of African American Business in Southern Cities, 1880–1915. Business History Review, 77, pp 639-665. doi:10.2307/30041232.
Clarke, T. H. (2014) Bridging the Diaspora Divide http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sg6F-M6v1iM
Photo Credit: SHC/2014
We appear to be hurried today more than any other period in our checkered history. Even with the latest communication gadgets, our ability to become engaged has been severely compromised. This conclusion hit home recently as I sat in a meeting and within minutes, mobile phones were in hand and eyes glued to the content on the participants devices. Admittedly, I have found myself acting out the very behaviour witnessed. For many of us, the digital age distracts us from the art of engagement. We have become slaves to tools that were created to enhance our interconnectedness. We are seduced by the power we have to access information at any given point in time and our inability to tame our appetite for “digital news” impacts the quality of our interaction with others.
How do we self-regulate to get the most out of human to human interactions during meetings?
Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Meetings are purpose driven. Silence your mobile phones and place them out of easy reach. The temptation to sneak a peek at the sound of your phone vibrating/buzzing is distracting to not only you but other participants.
- Many apps today have a status bar for updates. Make use of the options available to let your contacts know when you are indisposed.
- If your are expecting an important call, arrange a convenient time with the caller to contact them or for them to contact you. If this happens to be during the meeting, step outside to make the call.
- For many of us, we take notes using tablets/laptops. Indicate to the participants that you will be taking notes, so as to avoid the disapproving looks.
- If you declare your are taking notes, do not open your social media or instant messenger applications. Others will be aware that you are not focused on the agenda and may be offended by your actions.
- With the distractions out of the way, become engaged through the practice of reflective listening. Meetings are called for a variety of reasons and your input as well as the input of others is crucial to its success.
Our behaviours are habit forming so it is essential to practice the appropriate etiquette to achieve the most from our interaction with others.
Copyright Suzette Henry Campbell 2014
As I watched an interview carried by a popular US media house, I was struck by the calmness of spirit demonstrated by a citizen whose country by all media reports, is being attacked. I speak of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon that shows no sign of abating. What had me transfixed was not only the appearance of calm but when the young woman serenely said, “this is our reality”.
One’s reality is shaped by their experience and we cannot challenge the lived experience of another. Unfortunately in many interactions we attempt to do so and fail to practice reflective listening to get to the truths. We interpret each others stories as threats to our identity and values. We constrain ourselves with the idea that there is only one narrative and thus miss the opportunity to engage others about their own experiences of a shared phenomenon.
So the young woman’s response to the rockets and bombs that assail her community, although frightening for those of us who have never experienced it, highlights the painful fact of acceptance. The statement “this is our reality”, conjures up the idea that she and thousands more know nothing else. History influences the future and in my attempt to understand the conflict, I am urged to look at how the past continues to feed the conflict.
Although my interest continues to be organizational conflict, I have developed an interest in culture and conflict across the globe. With themes like genocide, refugees, ethnic cleansing, racism and many others dotting the media landscape, persons trained in conflict analysis and resolution will be in demand. Universities across the world have seen the need to create programs to not just create awareness about the discipline but to challenge its students to become architects of change.
Where does conflict not exist? How do you define conflict? What is your preferred style when dealing with conflict? Does the way we communicate impact on conflict? What tools are available to you when dealing with conflict?
Deutsch (1973), in his definition captured below, reminds us that conflict emerges where there is interdependence and the participants will take steps to protect their own interest.
“A conflict exists whenever incompatible activities occur . . . one party is interfering, disrupting, obstructing, or in some other way making another party’s actions less effective.”
In pursuit of their goals the actors will assume behaviors and attitudes that may help the process or create more tension that pushes them farther away from the desired outcomes.
Conflict is that “white elephant” in the room that we pretend not to see. But by ignoring the symptoms we are in fact fanning the flames for results that will have direct and indirect costs. Develop a conflict audit and map the major challenges to historical data. Visualizing the chain of events which has contributed to the debacle is one way to help the participants to the challenge acknowledge their role. Another positive outcome is the possibility of co-creating new paths to obtaining their interests. For many, this is a timely exercise and may be rubbished for more expedient options. Imagine the costs if not attended to with the appropriate response!
Our world continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, in the 21st century we have not matured enough to embrace diversity, forgive the transgressions of our ancestors and move towards creating the kind of future that will see collaboration as the vehicle for meaningful change.
© Suzette Henry Campbell 2014
Deutsch, Morton (1973). The resolution of conflict. New Haven CT. Yale University Press.
Peace Studies (Universities)
Note: The list of Universities above is purely for information purpose. This blog is in no way advocating the strength of their academic programs. The provision of the list is to help those with an interest in Conflict Analysis and Resolution progress their research for the best fit.
There is an advantage to getting out of the office. I have always held that belief, especially when faced with a difficult decision, complex project or just simply a need to stretch one’s legs. You may bump into someone you know or a stranger and that random conversation becomes the catalyst for a new idea or a different perspective.
Today, I happily got up from the desk. The sunlight beamed onto my face as the electronic doors opened, giving way to palm trees and the sound of birds chirping in the distance. I began my stroll, walking with some degree of purpose to the closest coffee house on campus. It was no Starbucks but I was willing to reduce my coffee standard just a smidgen. No big deal.
As I made my way along the walkway, I imagined what the next decade of my life would yield. My goals have evolved compared to when I was much younger. I think about the things I would like to give back to communities or organizations that can ill afford pricey consultants. We cannot continue to discount the potential that exists in communities with less resources. If we were able to distill and translate hard academic language into easily digested components, many more people would probably begin to understand the world we live in. Academia must be packaged as something appealing and relevant to lives of ordinary men and women. We live in an age of so much data, but if we are unable to locate what we are looking for; unable to interpret the data that we are confronted with; unable to filter what is fiction from non-fiction, then we will be faced with the tools to change our attitude to challenges. My thinking is that the best way to improve our chances, rests in preparing each generation with the best tools to help create better solutions for their future.
As I waited on my bagel (somehow having coffee without a bagel was sinful), I fell into an easy conversation with the concessionaire who introduced himself as Larry. I learned he was successful in completing graduate school with a Masters in Computer Science. Now Jerry appeared to be in his mid-forties but what struck me was how excited he was about having earned this degree and how his business orientation would help him to re-define his future. The possibilities are endless.
For the next fifteen minutes we shared stories about education and its role in providing added value to our complex lives. We concurred that sometimes our worldviews stifled our appreciation of how diverse our world is and we lose the opportunity to move from being just good to being exceptional in our relationships and our chosen professions.
Larry, shared a story that got me thinking about personalities and how we miss clues that can help to develop healthier relationships in the work-place. In this story, Larry reported to a female boss, who was not well liked and was described as a task master. She was polite but she expected no chit chat nor did she appear remotely interested in hearing about people’s lives outside of the work sphere. He remembered approaching her with his trade-mark smile and sunny disposition. Her response to his actions he interpreted as cold. He learned to turn down the charm whenever he had to meet her. So, on completing projects he would go to her office and in a tone devoid of emotion he would say, ” I have completed the assessments. The results are captured in this file.” He determined after a number of such interactions that this was the kind of relationship she found satisfying, because on his evaluation, compared to the others he had before, the result was that his behavior had improved.
His story led me to a profile test I completed some years ago called Emergenetics. The Company’s website describes what they do in first opening lines. The words that I find to be key to unlocking results I have placed in bold.
“Emergenetics International is an innovative, results-oriented organizational solutions company specializing in analyzing, identifying and leveraging the way people think and behave.”
Organizations are reliant on people to bring about successful outcomes, so why not invest in understanding how to help them perform optimally. No two companies are created equal, and I am in no way suggesting that the solution to every perceivable conflict or challenge experienced by professionals will be fixed by understanding personally types. What I am suggesting is that an awareness of non-verbal and verbal clues will help us frame how we pursue conversations with others.
I took from Larry’s story the view that we can regulate our preferred communication style to “match” the preferred style of business associates. Larry recognized the need to alter his ray of sunlight language style to one that matched the style of his supervisor. As he pointed out, his boss was interested in results and the words she constantly used were key performance indicators, accountability and high impact employees, so he started to speak her language. That simple action authored a new beginning that helped to improve his relationship with his supervisor.
-Suzette Henry Campbell, 2014
The word predator has surfaced a lot in conversations over the past week, and not in the context of an eagle hunting its prey. Workplace predatory behaviors in the context of pursuing a sexual agenda is an uncomfortable topic and for many of us in the practice of people management not the kind of conversation we want to have with our employees. Unfortunately, the failure to address and curtail counter-productive behaviors, opens the door for serious challenges later on.
Organizational culture is bandied around and yet I believe it is not fully understood. Just what is this thing? Think about it in this way:
- Organizations are made up of groups of people with varying beliefs and attitudes.
- An organization is conceptualized to provide goods and services [and knowledge].
- The organization, as a system, is built on values held by the visionaries and cascaded to the lower levels by those who lead.
- Behaviors are managed/regulated by internal policies aligned with expected global and legal obligations.
- There is a pattern to the way the organization functions. The processes lead to an expected outcome.
- Organizations respond to internal and external stimuli.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) offers in an on-line post by Michael Watkins several definitions but there is one that stands out for the purpose of this discussion.
“Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organization.” — Richard Perrin
Culture is a carrier of meaning. Cultures provide not only a shared view of “what is” but also of “why is.” In this view, culture is about “the story” in which people in the organization are embedded, and the values and rituals that reinforce that narrative. It also focuses attention on the importance of symbols and the need to understand them — including the idiosyncratic languages used in organizations — in order to understand culture.
The first half of his thought points to the fact that meaning is an important factor in the organization. How do your employees interpret the symbols and rituals that are policy driven and do policies regulate the behaviors? Put another way, does your policy on sexual harassment effectively carry the meaning that is intended or is it just one other useless electronic piece of data?
Sexual predators are able to thrive in organizations that are not too sure of how to handle reports of harassment. It matters not what the gender of the perpetrator is, although many will suggest that women are more at risk and in organizations were power imbalances are great. For example, a female manager who has been on the receiving end of sexual advances from her superior may not report the matter for a number of reasons. She could be fearful of losing her job because the offense is not something that is easily proven; she may lack faith in the process that will be utilized by the company; she may be blamed by her colleagues who will suggest she must have done something to provoke the attention and lastly she may experience victimization from the perpetrator if nothing is done to progress a zero-tolerance approach.
What should organizations do?
- Acknowledge that sexual harassment is a reality and is supported by the lack of credible resources to help both the victim and the perpetrator.
- Acknowledge that invariably, hard evidence may not be available which does not mean the act has not happened.
- Take every report seriously and document them. If untreated, you will find that toxicity increases and your best talent will leave.
- Revisit your policy on sexual harassment. Provide information that is user-friendly and for those who wish to remain anonymous, create an opportunity for them to report the challenges without fear.
- Create meaning around the policy. Simplify and ensure that the symbols and rituals are in sync with a zero-tolerance approach.
- Be creative in your approach. Re-acquainting your team with the provisions of the policies should not be met with “oh no, not this again!” Invite other leaders to share stories about how they dealt with this challenge by engaging what I refer to as the new generation of collaborative game changers.
- Create an action driven policy. By that I mean, ensure your audience understands the range of disciplinary actions that will be used to address this silent threat.
- Train all your supervisory levels to treat reports as confidential concerns and to progress them to the Human Resources Office post-haste.
- Pay attention to the external culture and its interpretation of sexual harassment and predatory behavior and its influence on your organization. It is not uncommon for employees to think much ado about nothing because of what is an acceptable cultural practice. But as organizations embrace diversity, the focus must be on managing the cross-cultural pool of behaviors, attitudes, values and mores.
By all means not an exhaustive list but there are certainly things to improve. I acknowledge that there are some establishments that will provide difficulty especially those that are driven by powerful interests. I would suggest that you document the instances that created discomfort, by documenting time, place and the comment or action; reach out to counselors who will offer advice on what to do to safeguard your emotional state. If all else fails, determine if the time is right to move on.
© Suzette Henry-Campbell 2014