“I’m just trying to stay off the radar”
“I’m keeping my head down”
“I’m not going to stick my neck out”
I can’t count the times I have heard comments like that over the years. I bet you have too. You generally hear this in an organization where people are just trying to survive. They have come to believe that raising your hand means getting dumped on… or having it cut off. Any sense of commitment, engagement or passion has long gone. Now the focus is on avoiding risk, avoiding work, avoiding the boss, avoiding the project…avoiding leadership. When an organization is operating with an avoidance culture the costs are severe.
Imagine the energy that is expended in avoiding.
- Hours spent rationalizing to others
- Innovation burned on creative excuses
- Reams of “CYA” documents and emails
- Projects that cycle through endless indecision
- Passion spent on being right instead of doing right
- Ideas that never see the light of day
Yet I am amazed at how many organizations not only live with this huge energy leak but continually sustain it by repeating the same behaviors that created it. Imagine driving down the road with a hole in your gas tank and then complaining about the price of gas and how often you have to refill the tank. Not too far afield from the comments you hear from leaders in avoidance cultures. “Why can’t we seem to get any traction”? “Why does everything take longer than it should?” “Why are all the best people leaving our company?” The cause comes back to one source, leadership. When leaders use fear, blame, manipulation, competition, indifference and unrealistic goals to maintain control – people learn to avoid attention. Not just bad attention, any attention at all.
An avoidance culture can’t survive or thrive in the presence of effective leadership. If you find you have inherited an avoidance culture in your organization, team or coaching assignment here are a few ideas to consider:
- Declare the problem and the impact it has on the organization
- Provide a compelling reason to change
- Start with the leadership team
- Create opportunities for people to test your commitment
- Establish a culture of accountability without blame
- Reward the people who stretch
- Model and expect honest and authentic communication
When you move from a culture of avoidance to a culture of action performance can improve dramatically even with little change to the underlying operating process or strategy. People will grow, profits will grow and the positive energy will be felt by your customers. Here’s the point. It’s not them, it’s you. Leaders too often want to blame people for being uninspired, unmotivated and under-performing. We wonder where all the initiative has gone? If avoidance is sapping the energy in your organization it’s time to invite people out of the fox holes and into the fray. And go first.
“You can’t implement a ‘blue ocean’ strategy if no one is willing to get in the boat.”
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/geoff_mv/