Cynicism can be a very destructive force, and can be particularly damaging to the trust/goodwill/benefit-of-the-doubt that seems to help collaboration unfold. I might suggest that perceived hypocrisy is the very best fertilizer for those cynical weeds in the collaborative lawn of an intra- on inter-corporate culture.
Claiming hypocrisy appears to be a safe place from which to launch a critical attack. Much of the criticisms of the recent Copenhagen climate summit point to a disconnect between curbing greenhouse emissions and jetting off to global conferences, then taking limousines to the hotel.
Al Gore received the same treatment for living in a mansion.
David Suzuki got it for using a tour bus to move his small entourage around Canada.
On a smaller scale, in the set-up to some client work I did on effective meeting behaviours, the senior manager showed up a few minutes late and then began chastising the lack of respect for people’s time that hampered effectiveness.
In my role as a trainer/instructor, I have an opportunity to instill the importance of “walking the talk” when engaging hostile stakeholder groups, or even members of a cross-functional team. Most of the time clients, students and attendees can’t tell if I actually walk my talk. (Recall the cynical adage: If you can’t do, teach.)
Note: A colleague of mine, who also teaches negotiations found a neat way around the issue: “It’s not how good a negotiator I am; it’s how good are you after I have taught you.”
There are two situations where those watching, I think, have an opportunity to really assess my walk-to-talk ratio.
1 – Training presentation skills: Similar to writing a book on writing skills, leading a training session on “presenting” always makes me feel naked. During one such session, I found the projector frozen (having spent a December night in the trunk of a car). I am certain the audience was quietly thinking, “Wow! What is he going to do now?” and expecting me to have the right answer, (which is get on with the content; you will find the projector works fine once it is warmed up!)
2 – Negotiating grades for a Negotiation class: Students have an option to analyze and strategize their negotiation with me for a final mark in my MBA course. I don’t feel as naked in these situations because of the obvious power imbalance.
Either of these situations provides clear opportunities to spot the “do as I say, not as I do” moments. I can’t say that I have been called out much at all. One gentleman approached me after a training session with a hypocrisy sighting: “You told us you tend to ‘beg forgiveness over ask permission,’ but then you kept asking us if it was OK to move on.”
Hmmm. Needless to say, no “participation” marks were on the line this time.
When under scrutiny, I think that credibility can become very solid very quickly if the talk and walk line up. Authenticity is a strong asset in managing and leading change from any level of an organization. I firmly believe that those under the most scrutiny (from strong out-group camps), have a fighting chance to gain/regain credibility when they “walk their talk” as much as possible. This means that if I am not flawless, I can’t hold you to a flawless standard… that would be hypocritical, which would make you cynical, which limits our ability to collaborate.
No one is bullet proof. It is far too difficult to fake it. Lead with your strengths, and find others to cover your weaknesses.
Earlier this month, I attended a talk at Schulich Business School where Operations Management faculty and PhD students played host to Dr. Kevin Hendricks from Wilfred Laurier University. As is often the case, we began with introductions; the audience was small enough for us to go quickly around the room of students, who were largely looking for research tips. Describing my connection (negotiations instructor) and my interest (helping positive change take hold), I got the sense that people in the room asked themselves “What is he doing here?” I was very clearly “outside” this particular group. It’s not the first—and certainly not the last—time that will happen.
You don’t have to spend too long with me before I start on about in-groups and out-groups. A fundamental belief of mine is that value-producing collaboration requires better communication across traditional divides (e.g. between the two groups). It can, however, be uncomfortable to spend time across a divide (as I can attest from some of the discussion involving research methods).
The set-up for Dr. Hendricks talk peaked my interest: “Many senior executives simply don’t understand the importance and value created by a well-performing supply chain.” His premise was that the best way to “prove” that companies should actively invest in pre-empting supply chain failures was to look at the stock price drop that followed a reported inventory “incident.” (For the truly peaked, click here.)
The take-away for the students was, as I understood it, that many of the traditional statistical methods (presumably familiar to these PhD students) are useless when looking at such incidents. There are other ways to inject the necessary rigour into the study, and this was the focus of much of his talk.
Perhaps a kindred spirit, I am certain that Dr. Hendricks does well in speaking to “practitioner” audiences, and clearly conveyed the importance getting this message out to other parts of organizations. Pre-emptive arguments that require investment are always difficult. Making the case to “senior management” may be easier with studies and findings he and others produce.
According to Hendricks, the majority of practitioners who take interest in this work do so because of such a failure and, conceivably, a drop in shareholder value in their recent past. This means that practitioners can simply wait for “an incident” to occur. Direct experience has a way of persuading.
THIS APPEARS IN THE MONTHLY NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (supplychaincanada.org)
One of my children got an invitation to a birthday party this week. On the invitation was a handwritten addition indicating that my child was invited to sleep-over after that party. We later confirmed that this “after party” was a bit more “exclusive” than that described on the invitation.
You could tell me to lighten up, but I have a fundamental issue with this approach. I envision the conversation (because I have first-hand experience) between the parent and the child.
- Child: “I want to have sleep over for my birthday.”
- Parent: “Great. How many kids are you planning on inviting?”
- Child: “Let me see…. (verbal list of names each prompting a finger to extend). Twelve.”
- Parent: “You can’t have that many kids to sleep over.”
I can understand the motivation to sidestep a conflict/tempter tantrum. Such forks in the road exist. You can invite twelve people, OR you can have a sleepover. You can’t do both.
But hold on a second. In the spirit of Negotiating… What if we invite a large group of kids to the party, and then keep a select few back to sleepover. Is that not a good compromise? Out of the box, eh?
Not to make too much of a big deal out of this, but I think it is unhealthy to fail to select (or fail to make the child select) “one of the other” from the above options. If pushed to further explain, which I was, my argument extends to the quality of the first party. How much fun can it be if the “sleep-over group” has to keep suppress the “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” temptation of the after party? Isn’t there an inherent risk that the “go-home group” will learn about the after party and feel (rightfully so) like a second-tier friend?
This specific trade-off approaches an ethical question. Select between the two party streams OR do both and be deceitful to at least half of your “friends.” (This is all happening in the context on an ongoing conversation with some fellow Schulich faculty on ethics and decision making among business school students. E.G. Is it wrong to gain competitive advantage through exploiting a legal loophole?)
So, yes, you can “have your cake and sleepover, too.” You may find that this type of “compromise” ends up compromising the integrity of those involved. The risk-return will be an individual call, but I can certainly tell you I will take on a conflict with my child to avoid treading into ethically murky waters.
What happens when you get a deal that is too good? I think that we are trained to be suspicious of the “too good to be true”, but here are a couple of recent instances where there may be some excess sweetness: 1 – city workers in Toronto and 2 – Chrysler Canada’s employees. Both of these deals were conceivably negotiated in good faith, so a deal is a deal, right?
Would you really give back what you won?
Topping the list of “don’t even go there” would be the danger of setting a precedent: “they” will take more or give less in the future. I might, however, suggest that mutual interests over the long-term could prevail if these “winners” concede to the “losers” so that there is a bigger “win” (or smaller loss) for both parties.
In both instances there is a sustainability argument to be made. Many people in very different positions have a stake in both the City of Toronto and Chrysler (and other automotive entities) surviving, succeeding and flourishing. The competition in the auto sector better illustrates how the “take what you can” attitude is misplaced.
When the going is good you don’t notice (can handle?) an extra load, so a company/organization can carry more than its share. When competition ramps up to the extent where “placing near the top” is no longer good enough, everybody has a responsibility to work together to “win.” If winning the marathon really matters, non ones cares that you finished in the top ten while carrying your kids on your back.
Chrysler and company (including unionized workers) should be focussed on proving that the current problems are not due to producing cars no one wants. They will need to be unburdened to prove that point. Once proven, let them carry as much as they can. If they can’t live the balance of provide fair wages and remain competitive, they should not be in business. Workers need to look at “fair” in the context of the bigger picture.
And I would not be too concerned about the precedents. One of the few certainties today appears to be that we are living in “unprecedented times.” Desperate times may call for collaborative measures.
In keeping with its mandate to “bring together partners,” the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council together with the Association for Canadian Community Colleges, spearheaded a gathering of self-identified stakeholders in training and certification related to supply chain. Like most “stakeholder” gatherings, the room included representatives from competing organizations. In this case, that meant representatives from “rival” colleges and institutions, as well as from bodies offering “competing” certifications. The potential value of such gatherings comes in identifying shared interests and in enabling better solutions.
My exposure to this sector is largely through such stakeholder gatherings. Cross-functional (or cross-associational) gatherings in “supply chain” often generate discussion around “what is supply chain, anyway?” The opportunity to clarify the function and value of the sector has the potential to unite the many stakeholders. All of a sudden, there is a pan-sector identity (e.g., in-group) whose job it is to convey that value proposition to non-sector (e.g., out-group) stakeholders, who include employers, job-seekers, students, their parents, other functional areas of the business, etc., etc. We all win when these “others” realize the strategic importance and potential of supply chain… and they win, too!
Interaction between competing forces also helps everyone, by fostering good-old differentiation. For colleges, associations and “others”, this is positive – and necessary – because competitive markets don’t tolerate a “six-of-one” and “half-dozen-of-the-other” split for long. Contact and dialogue help to define core competencies and clear the way for collaboration that helps the sector overall.
As a related example, I worked in media sales where we had one main competitor. At an ad-agency function, I recall turning a corner and coming face-to-face with my “rival account manager” who was talking to our mutual client. Once our poor client realized that she could not avoid acknowledging us to each other, she betrayed the look of someone forced between former spouses from an acrimonious marriage. Shortly after I left that company, the “six” and “half-dozen” merged into one company. Strange how competition forces new ways of working.
It is very easy to pay lip service to collaboration and looking for “win-win” solutions to today’s complex problems. Examples are rarer in reality, but I came across one recently whereby rival conference organizers found they both targeted events in Western Canada that addressed the environmental implications of supply chain. Isn’t it fitting that the two are co-branding their events to spur discussion on the opportunities for supply chain and corporate social responsibility to deliver positive impact? Check out “Supply Chains and the Environment,” to take place on May 25 and 26 in Calgary.
The lines between friends and enemies may be blurring. There is value to be had and created in stakeholder gatherings that help us look for intersecting interests. I guess it takes a sector council to foster that dialogue.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE FEBRUARY NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (www.supplychaincanada.org).
In work that I do with clients, the situations with the lowest return on time/energy (ROTE) consistently involve communications with those who don’t “get it.” “Getting it” and “not getting it” creates very strong in/out-group perceptions. “It” can take a number of different forms, and usually, I am on the outside looking in. I will hear, for example:
- THEY don’t get that a for-profit model can fit in health care.
- THEY don’t get that Canada is a different market from the U.S.
- THEY don’t get that they are losing the chance at more business down the road by being so contentious now.
My job is to help them to help the other side to “get it.” It can work, but not all the time. Recently, I fear, I was the one who was likely being accused of not “getting it,” which, honestly, is new for me. I actually pride myself on being able to see both sides of things, in most instances. As I understand, and tell my clients, when you are involved, things become less visible. On top of that, it can be completely unclear who is right.
For example, imagine those who did not want to give the automotive Big Three any U.S. Government funds.
For them, the situation is clear:
The Big Three (THEY) don’t get that the model is broken and more money is only prolonging their ultimate demise.
For those supporting a loan/bailout, it is equally clear:
The U.S. Gov (THEY) don’t get that we just need a bridge loan. Weather this storm, and we are set up for long-term success.
One of those positions is right, but only time will tell.
My recent challenge is bringing my “soft-skills” orientation into a “tech-savvy” environment in a discussion about creating value in information sharing and collaborating. Quite predictably, one of us is “not getting” that if and how people use any tool–not to mention the relationship between the parties–will dictate a large degree of effectiveness. Perhaps the other of us is “not getting” that in the future, personal relationships, perceptions and things like “the benefit of the doubt” have little or no role in the workplace.
One of those positions is right, but only time will tell.
There is no shortage of continuum-based models in business communication and negotiating. Although it is dangerous to oversimplify, I often force clients and students into binary decisions. One example from last fall was asking my class at Schulich Business School (during the current strike) whether they were sympathetic to the union or sympathetic to the school administration.
As an instructor/consultant, this creates better discussions because you can get away from the “it depends” that is necessarily pervasive in the domain of human behaviour. It also can get to the root of ideological divides (as people identify with different groups) and strategic trade-offs (where it really is this or that – e.g. sucking and blowing).The group identity idea made me think of a after-work beer-aided conversation I had with two of the three business partners that ran the company I was working for in Tokyo. I had just seen the movie “Lulu on the Bridge,” which is worth a watch.
In one scene, very recently acquainted Mira Sorvino and Harvey Keitel lounge in the morning (I won’t spoil it by telling you how they got there). She engages him in a game of “Are you this or that?” where you take turns asking the such questions. E.g. “Are you a river or an ocean?” Goofy, but cute, so I thought I’d throw it into our post-work drink banter.While Partner 1 pondered the decision, Partner 2 blurter out, “Come on, everyone would want to be an ocean.” In retrospect, that response actually told a lot about the personality at play. Not long after, that partnership dissolved. It was not over the river/ocean question, per se, but there was certainly something behind the metaphor in the differences of approach and vision.Sometimes there are “this and that” scenarios. It is natural to prefer one side to the other. I think. it’s dangerous to not acknowledge the other side.
Last week Indira Naidoo Harris was a guest host for the CBC Radio One program The Current, and spoke with Lanny Davis, former special legal counsel to Bill Clinton. “Conversation” may be the wrong word for the exchange; “interview” also seems to miss the mark. The topic of the exchange was Hillary Clinton’s appropriateness for the position of United States of America Secretary of State under president-elect Barack Obama.
Some “conversations” are difficult; many more difficult than they have to be. This exchange was clearly both, as pointed out by the National Post in print and online. Mr. Davis gave not an inch, and immediately began the “interview” by calling out the “innuendo” of the Harris’s introduction. He then demanded “facts” to support the allegations. Apparently, he would have settled for just one, but none were forthcoming. It was a strange moment when Harris tried to move on by empathizing as to “difficulties” that Davis must be having with the “issues.” It sounds like a suggested phrase from self-help book on “Active Listening.” Davis was not to be appeased: “give me the facts.”
It is good to hear an exchange where one side gives the other no benefit of the doubt, because, from my perspective, a number of these conversations don’t happen because of the promised contentiousness. This type of conflict, however, is the reality of pushing against resistance in the form of someone who will attack everything you say. This can be especially true if the exchange has an audience. It is not about how you deliver your message; it comes down to what you are saying. (But imagine if they had been e-mailing each other!)
These conversations are good practice for reaching out of our in-groups. I would suggest that often we rely on another’s trust (or disengagement from the situation) to get away with not supporting our position sufficiently, if at all. Pushback is good practice, and demonstrates engagement. I would hope that Ms. Harris learned from the exchange.
I don’t suggest that the answer is to prep for every interaction like you are speaking to the Fifth Estate, or The Current for that matter. Some situations, such as a job interview, can add a degree of healthy “defense” that drives us to spend some time fact checking in order to have our support at the ready. It doesn’t have to be contentious, but conflict can call out some ideas that may be unchallenged but can’t be well supported.
I was recently working with a group of purchasing professionals around effective communication of change messages. Understandably, the focus was on influencing and persuading others to buy into the value that can be created by supply chain-focused initiatives.
We were discussing the example presented by one of the members of the group, who was attempting to centralize purchasing, moving away from the status quo decentralized (ad hoc?) purchasing. Playing a combination of devil’s advocate and helpful outsider, I probed for some objective evidence. The idea that centralized purchasing was “good” and decentralized purchasing was “bad” seemed to be the crux of the argument. How far would that fly outside this group?
No small part of presenting information is providing appropriate support, and this is where the difficulty arose. What may seem “common sense” to a group of purchasing professionals will likely need a bit more behind it to garner buy-in from those in, for example, a sales function. The conundrum that many of us face in supporting to external groups is this: “I can’t understand why you don’t understand this.” We are tempted to try “dumbing it down,” but it may also simply require being ready to answer the question, “Why on Earth would I want to do that?” This question will not likely come from those already on board.
In this article on corporate social responsibility (CSR; potentially requiring a softer sell than procurement rigour), Prof. John Peloza describes the dynamic whereby the camp of those who champion the CSR cause are often talking to each other about their importance, rather than to the finance side of the business where decisions are made. Part of the language of finance is numerical support in the form of return on investment, return on equity and return on assets. He claims that no one in the CSR camp bothers to learn this language in order to engage the finance group in discussion. (And, why bother? We’d rather talk amongst ourselves anyway…) The same may apply to those working in supply chain.
Back to the original example: in light of the current financial situation and a collective cry for more accountability, it may be getting easier to make the case for centralized versus decentralized purchasing. Nonetheless, that case will have to be made to some people who prefer having flexibility in the purchases they make. Having worked in sales, I completely understand the preference for decentralized… and how a sales person might not understand why you don’t see it their way.
Effectively putting the case forward to these “out groups” requires attaching support to what could be “common sense” arguments. It demands going beyond, “It’s just better, OK? Trust me.” Oh, and don’t forget: try to not come across as condescending.
Quick tip: If you find someone from an “out group” who has come to “get it,” ask them to tell you what brought them around. Chances are this support will be appropriate to others in that group.
This originally appeared in the October 2008 e-Newsletter for the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (www.supplychaincanada.org).
What I really enjoy about John Ivison’s discussion of contraband cigarettes is the realistic approach to a complex problem. There are several sets of views, priorities and values at work. Two of those are Stockwell Day and the U.S. law enforcers, who have differing views of how strictly to apply the laws governing production and sale of tobacco products.
Rather than saying, “the law is the law,” Day asks the public to stop buying bargain-basement contraband cigarettes. He appeals to the greater good, imploring that money from such cigarettes fuels more dangerous illegal activity. Demand reduction is a great strategy for stemming market economy problems. If there is no demand for contraband cigarettes, the market will disappear. What you run into is summed up in dialogue from the movie ” The Break Up,” whereby the plea “I want you to want to wash the dishes,” (Jennifer Aniston) receives the reply (Vince Vaughn) “Why would I want to wash the dishes?” Day wants smokers to want to pay punitive taxes… and it may work! My grandmother, who lives in a border town, has always factored “made in Canada” into her purchase decisions. Frugality has lost to patriotism, whenever possible, and, increasingly, where “made in Canada” is discernible. Day is counting a great deal on prioritizing “societal good” over “money in my pocket.” (This notwithstanding that people will actual believe him!)
Assuming Day had there attention when speaking, the U.S. Enforcement Agencies reply suggesting they have bigger fish to fry makes no sense. They are more likely discounting the argument because (a) it is flawed and there is not connection between cigarettes and the “big fish”, or (b) they have additional priorities beyond upholding the law of the land. Assuming Day has it right–so no (a)–one could speculate endlessly as to what those (b) priorities might be: appease a potentially volatile First Nations community? provide some air cover to local manufacturing jobs? allow criminal activity to continue until there is a “big bust” that will survive the court system?
On the surface it would be confusing to see why Day would not get buy-in from U.S. law enforcers: they appear to both want the same thing. It is not that easy, nor should it be, but until there can be a clear discussion of what each party wants, there can be no resolution. Clear objectives may demand some heated internal discussions, and hopefully take into account other interests. At some point the First Nations community should be asked what they want from the situation, as well. Entering into negotiations, there is risk in clearly stating your objectives, appealing to the “greater good” and creating an in-group dynamic, may enable objectives oriented toward sustainable solutions to some of these incredibly complex issues.
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