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Posted by on Jan 26, 2012

The Program is Loading

I often compare the emerging, new story of supervision and leadership to the loading of a huge new program on your computer. You know — the blue status bar creeps slowly across the screen, so you go get a cup of coffee rather than staring at it for a long time.

This new story loading onto the computers we call ourselves and our organizations is contrasted thus:

• Commitment versus compliance
• Initiative versus status quo
• Communication versus need-to-know
• Engagement versus apathy
• Listening versus just telling
• Connectedness versus fragmentation
• Spirit versus emotional void
• Caring versus not caring
• Excitement versus depression
• Winning versus just getting by

The blue status bar just lurched forward a bit with the news that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is going to widen the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) out to all federal employees. It currently goes to about one-third.

http://www.fedview.opm.gov/2011/Reports/

(Caution: Descending into the survey results can result in a lot of time going by. The results are endlessly fascinating, and OPM has brilliantly made the data available in a way that can be sliced and diced across multiple dimensions, such as age, gender, supervisory status, HQ versus field, etc.)

OPM Director John Berry said the survey is becoming more important in how federal agencies address their challenges.

Now, let’s just stop here for a moment and have a pulse check.

One interesting thing that we run into from time to time in our work is supervisors’ and leaders’ reactions to hearing the concept that they are going to receive feedback from employees reporting to them. This is often in the form of the 360-degree assessment, an instrument that is rapidly growing.

There is simply no way to comprehend the sanity or utility of such an idea if you believe supervision and leadership are about control, command, only telling, using power to punish dissenters, and most of all, that the “people stuff” in work is irrelevant.

Sorry to tell you ladies and gentlemen, this mental model is much more common than many people think. Old habits die hard.

And so, here we are in 2012 with the federal government tripling the size of one of the most powerful surveys by which the workplace, supervisors and leaders are evaluated. It’s only been around 10 years, and now it’s being rolled out to all employees.

There is an expression command-and-control types use whenever employee perceptions, recommendations or even actions come into the mix. “The lunatics are running the asylum.”

This is a dark, depressing expression on several levels. It name-calls – a very primitive defense against uncomfortable things — and it compares work to an asylum. Some other expressions you have probably heard include, “When I want your opinion I’ll ask for it,” or “That’s not your area.”

I have often said that we are living in a fascinating time. The old story of leadership is slowly, agonizingly slowly, headed toward the door, mainly through the room called retirement. Showing up in its place, and championed by Generation Y, is an entirely new mental model around what leadership and supervision are.

The voice of employees is about to get a lot louder.

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