Humble Workflow

pa·tience – the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

hu·mil·i·ty – a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. -Oxford English Dictionary

Patience and humility have been my watchwords since beginning this blog.  For too long I was too proud to recognize these blind spots of mine.  Too proud to see that my actions did not align with my values.  Too proud to understand how I was hurting others.  C. S. Lewis asserted that pride “is the complete anti-God state of mind.”  Not only will pride get the best of one’s personal life, but it will also impede one’s professional effectiveness.  

I was recently humbled at work.  My division celebrated our first birthday in Aprile and we’ve been celebrating ourselves.  Our senior executives praise us for becoming “connective tissue across organizational boundaries.”  Our depots praise us for giving them a voice. Our parterns priase us for an improved signal to noise ratio. Everywhere I looked confirmed the great job we were doing…until I was hit with evidence to the contrary.

MIT Sloan’s Three Lenses1 approach to organizational psychology is a reminder that not everyone views the world from the same perspective.  I will walk through three blindspots in my career to highlight each.

Strategic blindness

Ironically this is both my preferred lens and most recent blind spot.  The strategic lens views organizations as machines crafted to achieve defined goals through planning.  I started a company to help individuals and very small businesses do this!  

A big focus over the past year has been healing the relationship between one external and one internal stakeholder.  Both parties were vital to the success of our shared program, but their relationship had soured over nearly a decad. They could no longer see eachother’s point of view and egos were preventing the constructive communications required to resolve legitimate issues.  This power struggle pulled me away from monitoring the progress of my employees toward financial deadlines and we began missing them.

My failure in the strategic lens undercut the political power I had accumulated and prevented me from advanced my team’s agenda.

Political blindness

The political lens views organizations as contests of contradictory interests with action achieved through power.  This is my weakest perspective and why I am “gently reminded” where my authorities end once or twice each year.

I like to tell people that in my current role, my only powers are policy and a $25 million sustainment budget.  My staff must be “masters in facilitation” as they nudge our partners who have the requirements and acquisitions authority.  When the parts of the system are not fitting well together to make needed decisions, I impatiently start moving out on my own.  Sometimes I achieve a first-mover advantage, such as when my executive needed a quick electronic document routing system at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.  Other times I’m sidelined until those with the power move forward at their own pace.  

Ironically, one’s failure to include politics in an effort will likely extend the time required when it materializes.

Cultural blindness

The cultural lens views organizations as institutions of norms and traditions that bring actions through habit.  Charles Duhigg states that all habit loops contain three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward.2  I’ve written about this blindness previously when implementing the Theory of Constraints (TOC) at an aviation depot.  Seeing the world through the strategic lens, I thought everyone would cheer for transparent, prioritized work-in-process lists.  I was aware of the supervisors’ existing cues and rewards, but not the strength of their routine.  It was only after a few shops achieved wins by following the new prioritization that the system was accepted.

WFLD

A friend of mine likes to say that learning is a change in behavior based on experience. These experiences taught me to remain both emotionally attuned to the environment and emotionally flexible in my response.  I recently served my first client and these lenses helped me put organizational roadblocks into buckets that could be triaged.  After reflection, I decided to update WFLD’s values to remind me to do this systematically as I help other individuals and very small businesses focus and finish:

Values – WFLD is different from others as we:

  1. Believe physical and knowledge work should be managed in a similar fashion.
  2. Integrate relationships with oneself, one’s work, and others.
  3. Adapt to strategic, political, and cultural realities.

  1. Ancona, Deborah, Thomas A. Kochan, Maureen Scully, John Van Maanen, and D. Eleanor Westney, Managing for the Future: Organizational Behavior and Processes, (1996), Cengage South-Western.
  2. Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit, 2012.

2 responses to “Humble Workflow”

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