In a recent conversation with an executive I found myself explaining the difference between what I spontaneously called “Type I” and “Type II” leadership action.
Type I is when a leader inquires informally about the experience of people, say over a cup of coffee or part of hall talk, welcomes a genuinely open exchange, learns something important about how the work is going and then collaborates with staff on making needed improvements and changes. As in, “Wow, I didn’t know most people see the staff meeting as a waste of time. What can we do about that?” This is right in line with the culture change methods I discussed in a June post, Lessons in Snow and also harks back to an earlier post, Why Talk About Leadership? For me, the capacity to initiate and follow-through on Type I conversations has everything to do with what is described as “employee engagement.”
Type II is when a leader introduces some sort of needed work, change, or initiative above and beyond typical daily work, the result of evolving organizational needs. This could be a new strategic plan, an innovation or cost cutting effort, or a new technology. In theory at least, in Type II, the leader also collaborates with staff to communicate about, plan, manage, and implement the change.
Type I emerges from the experience of staff. Type II comes from shifting organizational directions and demands.
My sense is that a great many leaders believe their job is really only Type II. They may assume they already know staff concerns and issues, whether they actually do or not. Despite the fact that Type I is essential to the health of the enterprise and gives people in leadership roles an opportunity to actively demonstrate their connection and engagement, it is typically less valued.
We then come to the staggering statistics. Here’s one, from a Forbes article titled, “When CEOs Talk Strategy, 70% Of The Company Doesn’t Get It,” by well-known professor, change management author and consultant, John Kotter and colleague, Jimmy Leppert. Australian researchers found that in high performing companies about 70% of staff could not correctly pick their own company’s strategies out of six possible choices.
Perhaps it’s only me, but I find it an almost magical coincidence that 70% is the same number of unengaged and actively disengaged workers (including managers), as determined by the Gallup organization.
At least, perhaps, these two 70%’s overlap like a Venn diagram?
A closer reading of the Kotter article reveals some clues. Of the three actions the authors suggest to increase alignment with strategy (a Type II problem), none have anything to do with Type I action. All that is present is 1) a suggestion that leaders be clear about the vision, 2) exhortation to “create a movement” and excitement around these larger goals, and 3) encouragement to celebrate contribution after the fact. There is not one word devoted to finding out how staff actually feel about the goals, discovering the needs they have or assisting them in reducing the challenges they face. Not one word about the participation of staff in the design of the strategy. I suspect if the option for Type I action came up in the context of strategy implementation many would say it is just assumed leaders are in touch with their staff and know the problems. And many others might express blame either for those staff members who do speak up or for those who do not. Those who speak up without being asked might well be labeled as complainers while those who do not as unhelpful victims.
As a consequence of the failure to acknowledge Type I, Type II results (and the strategic alignment they are supposed to accomplish) are actually pretty tough to achieve.
By the way, I am not suggesting that Type I and Type II are kind of a trade-off, as in “I have to satisfy those pernicious staff hygiene needs in order to get the work done.” The real problem is deeper, in the mindset that worries about exactly that kind of “bargain” and really believes “we shouldn’t have to deal with that stuff.” It is in the mindset that believes employee surveys handle the challenge of “employee attitudes.” It is in the one that surreptitiously believes that because people are paid for their work, they shouldn’t actually think too much.
If this false Type I, Type II dichotomy is the past, tell me, what do you think the future looks like or ought to look like? How can we break down the walls?
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