Imagine seeing someone use a laptop for the first time. You observe as they watch movies, talk instantly to friends and family and stay up to date on the latest news. But once you get a computer of your own, it doesn’t work the way you thought it would. There are no movies available, no news updates, just hassle and confusion. The laptop must be broken or you bought the wrong one. That might be the perception of someone who has never heard of Wi-Fi. The root cause of the problem is obvious to someone who is aware of it, but someone who doesn’t know what it is or how it works might draw a completely different conclusion.
We can observe similar situations in the field of leadership and organizational development. Leaders hear about the benefits of diversity and inclusion, so they heavily invest in increasing the visible layer of diversity without truly understanding how to make it work by creating an inclusive environment.
Growth happens when cognitively diverse and motivated people work toward a specific goal in a psychologically safe environment. There are four states based on those three factors and the ability to measure them is essential to finding out what and how to optimize.
State One: Growth
The highest level of performance happens when a company scores high on psychological safety, motivation and cognitive diversity. This is the ideal state that companies and teams should strive for.
Action: Growth is a delicate and dynamic relationship within and between people, so it can never be taken for granted and must be constantly nurtured.
State Two: Time Bomb
Without cognitive diversity, the team would have serious tunnel vision. The collaboration might be smooth as they think and behave similarly, but they might miss out on big opportunities or have issues later on due to their significant blind spot. Without psychological safety, anxiety is likely to develop and lead to burnout. While there may be a lot of ideas and perspectives, individuals may feel it is better not to make a mistake or share any insights. Without motivation, the diverse team feels safe, even too comfortable, so seemingly there is no problem at all.
Missing one factor can lead to substantial issues; that is why this state is called a time bomb. If you don’t know you have it, everything seems to be normal before it explodes. But if you find it in time, you can still defuse it and jump into State One.
Action: This state is like corporate diabetes: the silent killer. You cannot see the symptoms for long and when you do, a lot of damage has been done. The levels of psychological safety and motivation are individually subjective, so regularly checking in with the employees is the smartest way to make sure your organization is healthy.
State Three: Decline
This is a more serious situation in which two of the factors are low.
If there is only psychological safety, the gradual dissolution of the organization is likely. This environment is comfortable, but there may be no motivation to innovate or do more than the bare minimum. Meanwhile, evolution is happening, the world is rapidly changing and there are plenty of competitors who can make your employees and clients feel more challenged and fulfilled. With only a high level of motivation, the corporate culture could feel like a rat race, “a way of life in modern society, in which people compete with each other for power and money.” But a high level of cognitive diversity on its own often leads to confusion. There are so many ideas, but if you do not feel safe or motivated enough to share them and make them happen, nobody is going to benefit from them.
Action: This state requires urgent actions based on accurate information. Some of these questions can quickly reveal where you need to focus:
• Do you have any processes or policies that might be hurting you instead of serving you? The world is rapidly changing, and although the old best practices might feel familiar, they may not be able to cope with the current challenges. Involving external consultants and looking at other industries can provide some innovative ideas you could easily implement.
• Are your employees aware of the purpose of the company and how their actions contribute to creating a better future? Seemingly obvious question, yet analyses in 124 organizations revealed that only 28% of executives and middle managers responsible for executing strategy could list three of their company’s strategic priorities.
State 4: Game Over
In this scenario, members of the team lack motivation, ideas and psychological safety to learn, collaborate or innovate. Disengagement is high, performance is minimal or the exact opposite — outstanding while not realizing how quickly the world is changing. This is what happened to Blockbuster. They were so successful for a long period of time that they could not even imagine why they should embrace online streaming or even a partnership with a new startup called Netflix. Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team rejected the offer from Reed Hastings in 2000. Five years later, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy and only one store survives to this day.
Today, Netflix is number 115 on the Fortune 500 list. They have heavily invested in the smartest people and empowered them to come up with disruptive ideas and make intelligent mistakes. They have paid them better than the industry average and encouraged them to double down on their strengths while listening to customers’ feedback.
Similar to the laptop scenario, if you know how to tap into these factors, you can unlock the potential within and between people across all cultures and personalities. Unlike Wi-Fi, if you don’t know how to do it, it might significantly undermine all the hard work you put into building your business.
The article was originally published on Forbes and it was written by Csaba Toth
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