Look for opportunities to make a positive difference

It's sad to hear the "D" word applied to the efforts of organizational leaders whose attempts to improve things don't work out as planned. If this happens often in your workplace, it may be time to think about a more effective way of bringing about change by pulling people together rather than driving them apart.

The "D" word dysfunction is commonly used to describe unsuitable, unsustainable or undesirable outcomes. An organization has the potential for becoming dysfunctional whenever its employees lack the confidence to tackle big projects. Like a contagious illness, dysfunction spreads from person to person and then from project to project. Left unchecked, it is possible for an entire culture to become diseased and still not know it is "sick."

Much of what's broken in most companies stems from the way programs and projects are processed. The announcement of a well-intended idea, solution or proposal is more likely to incite protest than it is to garner support. Most of the negative reactions are the result of too few people getting a chance to "see" the project before it's launched; they only get a sense of it after-the-fact, and they feel left out. Too often, a management-sponsored program has reached the execution stage before the employees most impacted by it have a chance to understand and support the outcomes.

When this happens employees will react in predictable ways: some accept it as a step in the right direction while others challenge the need to deviate from past practices. Most folks lack sufficient information to take a stand either way and standby while the opposing sides do battle. If the neutral majority doesn't like the outcome, they'll complain to their leaders or post e-mails griping about the idiots in charge.

Building trust

In additional to training decision makers how to think strategically, you need to adopt more open processes for sharing information, forming plans and building consensus so that all of what is known about a particular issue or problem is thoughtfully considered before a decision is made.

Open processes will expose all concerned parties -- perhaps for the first time -- to the possibility that they may not know the "truth," and that they may not be able to discover it on their own.

The key to improving an organization lies in the creation of a strategic planning process that has a three-pronged purpose: (1) to reinforce functional behaviors, (2) to discontinue dysfunctional practices and (3) to help those sitting on the fence to get involved for the right reason.

Inclusionary thinking

Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.

--Ben Franklin, 1787

The tone and tenor of information transfers between leaders and followers in a functional organization tend to be inclusionary. The key to fostering inclusionary thinkers such as Ben Franklin is to select the most appropriate factors and pose the right questions. Here are some prime examples of both:

Assumptions: What conclusions have people brought with them? What do they actually know? What information is missing? Do their assumptions differ?

Opinions: What do people think should happen? Who has taken a stand? Who is open to change? Are people proactive or reactive? How were their opinions formed?

Perceptions: What do people think has happened? What information has gotten through? What needs correcting? How clear is everyone? Who is aware and who is not?

Expectations: What are the anticipated outcomes? What sources are people using for their information? What's the difference between what is wanted and what is proposed?

Viewpoints: What do people see from where they stand? What views are represented? Are they looking at the facts? Who's views are blocked and by what?

Effective leaders must first seek out and consider all views before deciding. As open processes begin to form, your leaders will be amazed to discover how much of what they intended to communicate got through intact and how much got lost along the way. They'll soon realize that it's important for them to suspend judgment until everything that is known has been completely digested.

What's broken in most companies can be fixed. But, you can't expect your leaders to do it without support. In order to ensure functionality you must get involved by looking for opportunities where you can make a positive difference.

As the transformation to functionality takes hold in your company, you'll find satisfaction in knowing you helped to build a better future.

Jones is a motivational speaker and seminar leader. Send comments to All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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