Why Do Some People Find It Easier To Play The Victim Card Than To Get On Board With Change?

Facing change can lead to some people playing the victim – refusing to engage, pointing out the problems in the plans, and not joining in with the rest of the team.

In our latest podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why change can often bring out victim behaviour – and what managers can do to tackle that response.

 

Playing the victim is the path of least resistance: you get attention for being the victim without having to do anything, and it doesn’t hold the associated risks of failure if you try something new.

Sometimes, victims seek out fellow victims to support their view and reinforce their position. They will collude to come up with reasons why the change is negative or won’t work.

In a situation where there are several victims, the group will often begin to dwindle as individuals get on board with change, and those remaining begin to wonder if they are in the wrong. One person is often the most dedicated victim and can be so negative that it puts others off agreeing with them even if they were feeling slightly negative.

Yet many victims don’t realise they’re doing it until they have done the same thing several times, or perhaps hear it coming from someone else. So often, victim behaviour needs to be challenged by an external factor.

How can you as a manager help these people?

Behaviour and language are key: you help people to understand the consequences of them continuing with their current pattern. Ask them how long they want to continue as they are and what they think is likely to happen as a result. For many people, this is all that’s needed for them to realise what they are doing and move on.

Ask questions of the victim to find out if they are deeply held beliefs or they’re just releasing frustration. If they fundamentally believe that things won’t work out, you have a bigger issue to address.

Tackle this behaviour by being consistent. Offer help to everyone involved in the change so they can move through the stages required as easily as possible. Make it clear that this support is on offer to the victim as well, showing that while they choose not to take part, they are refusing the help that everyone else is receiving.

The victim will either join in when they are ready, or they will eventually decide they are not going to engage at all and will remove themselves from that situation.

Are the best intentions of leaders accidentally stressing out the people they lead?

The ability for anyone to keep going in stressful times – that pool of energy that we have inside us that helps us to cope – has several names.

We might call it grit, resilience or hardiness, and it has been investigated by psychologists looking to understand why some people can cope better than others.

One of the most surprising things is that this capability is not fixed: it is something we learn and can be built up. Think of it like a large tank, like a water cooler or coffee urn.  As things happen, we open the tap, and some of our resilience drains away, enabling us to cope with ebbs and flows of life.  With practice and experience, we can learn to quickly fill up our tank, and even upgrade the tank size, making ourselves more resilient.

Research in the early 80s into hardiness identified the traits that help us top up the tank.  Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba identified three underlying beliefs or attributes that come together to create the pool of coping behaviours required. They called them the three Cs:

  • Commitment – This is all about being aligned to a purpose, having a belief in what you are doing
  • Control – a belief that you can influence your surroundings, make a difference to how events transpire
  • Challenge – that the struggles and pressures allow you to grow. This is as much from the bad things that happen as the good.

Increasing focus

This is where I think the problem lies. If you look at how leaders manage through times of change or when the ‘chips are down’, they become laser-like in their focus on what they want and how they can get it. That is normal. It is actually what negative emotions like fear and worry are designed to do: they reduce attention and focus it on the problem at hand.  Really useful when the problem was getting away from something that might eat you!

However, in modern working life, this focus can cause them to do three things:

  • They focus on the ‘what’. What needs to be done, what they want, what they want others to do. This focus on the ‘what’ drowns out the ‘why’, removing the connections that help people maintain or rebuild purpose through the difficult times.
  • They take control. It is just easier for everyone concerned if a small group make all the key decisions; everything will get done faster.  This is inevitable and probably the right thing to do for some key decisions, but it is never true for all decisions.
  • They only focus on the next problem. The conversation goes from one problem to the next, without ever taking stock of what has been done so far.  It starts to feel like that whatever is done will not be good enough, no learning, no gratitude.

Building resilience

So, if you want to be a leader that builds resilience and not be a walking cause of stress then think about how you might be able to consistently stimulate the three Cs.

  • Connecting people to the ‘why’. Partly this is about starting every ‘what’ conversation with reminders of the ‘why’.  However, to be successful at this you will have to help people make the connections between their role and the higher purpose of the team or organisation.  Some people do this naturally for themselves, but you should not leave it to chance.
  • Create opportunities for people to take back some control. You don’t need to make all the decisions, so focus on the ones you need to make and give up the rest.  If you need to, create choices for people so that they have a sense that they have a say in how this affects them, even if that means they get there in a less efficient way.
  • Stop and reflect. Remind the people around you how far you have come so far, and what that says about their skills and abilities.  This might be building in time for formalised structured reviews, but it can be as easy as asking a question that creates a moment of reflection.  Reminding people to think about their growth and learning will help them to build their resilience.

Just in case you think that the people around you just need to ‘man up’, then a word of caution.  If you allow their resilience to drain away, they will burn out.  This means that you need to pick up more of the responsibility, so you may be putting your own wellbeing on the line as well – unless you are lucky enough to have someone helping you recharge.

Is there a topic that leaders and teams just never talk about?

We get asked this all the time. The answer is yes: mental health.

The thing is, mental health is often such a taboo topic that we don’t even realise that it is not being discussed, we treat it like it does not exist.

It does exist, and it effects businesses every day in subtle and often hidden ways.  Research carried out by Mind (a UK-based mental health charity) identified that 1 in 5 people had called in sick because of stress in the workplace, and over half had resigned or considered resigning because of workplace stress.

If anything else had this impact on the bottom line of a business, there would be a project team and a war room!

So, as Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) is focused on stress this year, I want to talk about talking about it.

Stress, like all mental health issues, is not as easy to identify as physical illness. When someone walks into the office with the flu, that is easy to spot, so you can do something about it.  When they walk in feeling so stressed they are not sure if they can get to the end of the day, you may have no idea – the clues can be difficult to spot.

This is one of the main reasons that when it happens to you, very quickly you believe that you are the only one; there must be something wrong with you.  You are not – remember the research statistics: 50% of people have thought of quitting because of stress.  This is why it is so important to ensure that mental health or stress or wellbeing, or whatever you want to call it, gets discussed.  This is the first step to making things better.

I know this from personal experience.  I have been part of that 50%, feeling like I was failing, feeling like I had no more to add.  I was lucky though, I had managers and colleagues who were prepared to talk and, more importantly, were prepared to listen.

As I think back to those times, I appreciate that these were difficult conversations for them: they were terrified of getting it wrong or making it worse.  Even so, they took time out and listened, talked, shared some of their own fears and worries, but mostly they helped me put my worries and fears into perspective and put plans in place to resolve issues, so I could move forward.  They told me through their actions that they had my back.

At the heart of it all, they cared.  They cared enough to have a conversation that they were not comfortable with.  They cared enough to give someone else time when they were busy.  They cared enough because they thought that one day they might need someone else to care about them.  I am not sure I ever really thanked them enough, so I am left with the only other option, to pay it forward.

So, during this mental health awareness week, just talk about it.

Start the conversation, acknowledge the issue exists.  If we can start to talk openly about stress in the workplace, then together we stand a chance of fixing it.

Welcoming a new change and development expert to our team

We’re delighted to welcome Graham Field to our team following recent strong growth at Thinking Focus.

Graham is an experienced consultant, facilitator and coach with more than 20 years’ experience in delivering a range of development and change programmes for organisations across the UK.

An advocate of encouraging people to develop simple, effective action plans, Graham turns learning into results, and will be a great asset to us as we continue our work with clients. He’ll also support the roll-out of our new gamified learning tool for management development, What Would You Do?

Graham’s career in the industry began in a retail bank, before working with organisations in a variety of sectors, including contact centres, the NHS and local government, manufacturing, FMCG, retail, health and leisure, hospitality, property services and charities. He has supported and developed all levels of staff, from front line, through team leaders, managers and project managers, to senior leaders and board members.

Highly skilled in one-to-one coaching, structured development programmes and team facilitation, Graham has developed programmes world-wide and is passionate about achieving measurable outcomes. He’s an expert in removing self-imposed limitations and organisational interference to unlock individual and organisational potential.

He says: “I’m delighted to be joining Thinking Focus at this exciting time in their development. Like them, I believe that development should be simple and easy to understand, and motivate participants to apply their learning on to their role. It can make a massive difference to the individual and, by default, to the organisation they work for.”

Thinking Focus director Ricky Muddimer says: “Graham’s approach to delivering people productivity solutions fits perfectly with ours, and his depth of experience within the industry means he’ll play a key role in driving Thinking Focus forward, continuing to build our reputation as one of the leading organisational change experts in the UK.”

Unconscious bias: The Starbucks dilemma

So Starbucks in America is closing all its stores for the day to undertake training on unconscious bias, following on from an incident in one of its stores.

Now, I am not going to comment or go into the incident itself – there are plenty of others doing that just fine.  I am more interested in the role of unconscious bias in all this.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias in our decision making that is happening outside of our awareness.  These biases are mostly helpful, but they can backfire on us, causing us to make inappropriate or just bad choices – such as the one that leads to Starbucks closing 8000 stores!

What is unconscious bias?

When people talk about unconscious bias they are actually talking about a whole range of different cognitive biases (and there are a lot), and specifically about the ones that lead to poor decisions.  These could be biases we have around issues such as age, race, gender, sexuality or disability, but they can also just as easily be biases in the workplace around seniority, education or even the roles that we do.

These biases have been learned by each of us over time, based on our experiences and environments, and act as cognitive shortcuts, helping us to make decisions. They are formed in our heads as part of the process of us working out who we are.

We create our own identity by becoming part of a groups. I am not talking about joining the local whatever club, but rather the way we identify ourselves as being like other people in an informal grouping. To define the group, some people need to be in it (in-group) and so some people need to be outside it (out-group).

We slowly learn to appreciate all the good things that being in the group offers, while at the same time noticing all the reasons why we would not want to be in the out-group, ensuring that we have made the right choice.  Each and every one of us is in lots of groups, and it is the mix of the groups that goes to the core of who we are.  This all happens outside of conscious awareness, so when this small and subtle biases kick in, generally we have absolutely no idea.

The psychologist Jonathon Haidt uses the wonderful metaphor for the mind of an ‘unconscious’ elephant with a ‘conscious’ rider. The rider is trying its best to influence and nudge the elephant into doing the right thing, but really the elephant is in control, making decisions that the rider then needs to explain away. Because these decisions happen outside of awareness, often the rider does not even know they have happened, so will act as if this a rational, thought-through decision, when it may not be.

By now, you are probably thinking, “So what? This does not affect me,” – but the thing is, it affects all of us, all the time.

Unconscious bias and diversity

Let me give you an example: if you are recruiting, unconscious biases will play out in who you pick. Clearly, if one person can do the job and the other does not have the skills, you will make a rational choice, but when all other things are equal, then the decision is made by the ‘elephant’.

Over time these biases mean that we end up making the same decisions over and over again. This is one of the main reasons why many organisations struggle with diversity in their senior ranks.

The best teams and organisations require diverse thinking and decision making.  We need leaders and managers who are making decisions not biased by their past, but made rationally about the organisation’s future. This is only possible when we acknowledge that everyone has unconscious bias, and without being aware of it, we can all make decisions that might not be in our, or our organisation’s, best interest.

Understanding the effects of unconscious bias does not stop it, but allows us to check our decisions, make allowances for the biases that we all have, and make better decisions. Starbucks thinks this is worth taking a day… Do you?

 

By the way, if you want to find out more about the unconscious biases you may hold, psychologist have developed a test. It is called an implicit association test, and it mixes up our views on different areas of bias, with language associated with good and bad. 

By mixing up these different categories and then measuring the difference in how quickly we can respond these tests identify areas of automatic associations between mental representations.  Or put it more simply, the test pokes below the conscious layer and gives us a glimpse of what we really think. 

You can find these tests online, such as the set produced by the team at Project Implicit.

How can you get your team to contribute more ideas?

 

Ever asked one of your team, what do you think we should do?

Did you even get an answer?

Getting people to contribute ideas sometimes can feel like pulling teeth, but it does not need to.

Rob explains to Paul how, with a few simple steps, you can help everyone channel their creativity and expand the range of ideas available to you.

It can sometimes a feel a bit like pulling teeth when it comes to getting people to come up with ideas. In the podcast, Rob and Paul explore a few simple steps that can make the whole process run more smoothly.

At the outset, we need to be clear of the benefits when engaging a team to generate ideas. In the podcast, Rob and Paul discuss how it’s a two-sided equation. As team leader, we must be willing to let go and let others come up with their own ideas in the knowledge those ideas will subsequently be valued and considered. In turn, the benefits to the organisation are you can harness the collective thinking power of the group rather than just relying on one source.

Rob explains a lot of creativity comes from a combination of different ideas. It’s important to break the process into two parts. Some people are very good, for example, at coming up with lots of ideas whilst others are talented at evaluating those ideas. There needs to be a clear topic and a clear rationale: we then need to apply techniques to generate ideas and establish afterwards how these will be taken forward.

The pair conclude their discussion by focusing on a strategy known as the 20-idea method. It’s a simplistic but powerful way to solve challenges and get the creative juices flowing. It involves setting out a clear topic which is usually posed as a question. Everyone then individually writes down their ideas. Not only does this method generate a volume of ideas, we can achieve a wider scope of ideas. It allows us to compare, contrast and add to ideas with the further benefit of ensuring the whole group is involved.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

5 mistakes when implementing change

Do you wonder why organisational change feels so hard? Why do people react poorly? Why does the original business case for the change seem to get lost? Why has the scope changed so dramatically to the original plan? These are all too common questions in the world of organisational change. At the heart are five easily preventable mistakes.

The secret when implementing change in organisations is to recognise that it is your people who will determine whether your plan is a success.

1. Are your leaders aligned with the change?

All too often change can be undermined by senior leaders. They will be seen to lack enthusiasm; they may even distance themselves from the change or worse behave in a contradictory manner. People are great at spotting misalignment and even better at working out how to play it to their advantage.

2. What are we supposed to be working on?

Businesses are ambitious in their goals. Shareholders demand a return; executives have egos to maintain and a requirement to maintain or keep ahead of the competition. Add to the mix external stakeholders (government, regulators or similar) imposing their will on the business and how they believe it should operate. Confusion reigns amongst your people on what are the priorities and which are the important ones. Even worse when competing priorities emerge, the battle commences for essential resources.

3. Imposition or involvement?

Having made the strategic or tactical decision to change how you engage your people will determine your success. Business is both busy and demanding; it expected the results yesterday. It is all too easy to focus solely on the execution of the plan. Being able to tick off the task on the project plan is one thing, but the lasting effects can be both costly and ultimately fail due to the lack of adoption by the end user.

4. Why do we measure the wrong things?

We all know that businesses move at a fast pace. A symptom is failing to track the impact of the changes implemented. Success gets measured in the execution of the project. The reason for the change gets lost and the impact not measured. Ineffective change represents an enormous hidden cost. Benefits are unrealised due to lack of engagement, employee resistance, and worse, workarounds (the way we have always done it/the way we prefer to do it) are created.

5. Why does it feel like everyone wants a say?

It’s important to decide who you will involve, why you are including them in the process and how you will engage both internal and external stakeholders as getting this wrong can create landmines. Is there agreement on their level of involvement? If not, you will find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time managing fallout and not advancing your project.