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Defining the Game

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  • Defining the Game

    Maybe we could start a discussion about the set of rules we agree upon when doing our work (our standards). In his article Making It Up and Making It Happen David Allen wrote:

    1. The Purpose and the Rules -- Defining the Game

    Do we know what we’re really about -- why we’re doing what we’re doing? Is it clear to us when something is off-purpose? What do we really do? We provide. . . . We deliver. . . . We contribute. . . . We assist in. . . . We produce. . . . (Fill in the blanks.)

    For effective leaders, the value of this kind of focus should be a given. Purpose defines the direction and meaning of the enterprise. Organizations don’t often change their basic purpose, but at times it needs to be reunderstood at new levels. A "drill-bit" company won’t get into lasers, but a "hole-production" company could.

    Of equal importance as a criterion for decision making is the set of rules we agree to play by -- our standards. Whereas purpose gives us direction, values and principles lay out not how we get there but how we play along the way. We define what behavior works and what doesn’t. How do we act when we are at our best? What is critical to us in everything that we do?

    When our people really know the purpose of the enterprise and have committed to the critical rules of engagement, we can trust them to make important decisions intelligently, as needed, without unproductive bureaucratic procedures. If we’re not sure that our people know what we’re doing or we have doubts about their behaviors in the process, we cannot let go, and we will be pulled down into a level of detail likely to misappropriate our attention.

    Where could a discussion of "Why we are doing what we’re doing here?" be used right now in your world to good effect? With whom would it be wise to have more clarity and agreement about critical behaviors to assure success? Strong leaders are willing to initiate these slightly uncomfortable conversations on the front end, to prevent potentially disastrous ones from happening later on.
    I’d be interested in this topic because I’ve noticed at work that a lack of common intra-departmental standards can lead to a lot of friction loss.


  • #2
    Shared Work Values

    Where I work we have a number of strict work values ... however, the values vary from person to person, function to function, and situation to situation. Further, all of the values just exist in the haze of day to day functions; that is to say, none are in written form so they have been clearly articulated and rarely are they discussed meaningfully so that we can operate from a higher level of clarity in the things we do. And they are well nuanced (meaning they can shift ever so slightly but with enormous consequences, generally not positive, depending on the situation and how people feel that day) and hard at times to get traction on as operating principles that you can live by.

    As a result, we have this low level buzz of anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty, and angst in nearly everything we do. The impact is that we have over time become very stale in our work methods/processes. Jim Collins in "Good to Great" talks about how businesses and individuals could make so much headway by being more focused, stopping the activities that are so much waste that don't contribute to the cause, and doing those things that create meaning. We are unable to face up to that challenge and have the conversation "Why are we doing what we are doing here." And until we do, we won't be able to make the kind of headway we are capable of.

    I continue to hold out hope that we (collectively as a group and as a business) will crest the wave, turn back the tide, and come out on the other side. But I have come to realize that it takes an extremely high level of desire (ie, stated as "I really want this to happen, I really want us to move to this way of operating" on the part not only of the leaders but the staff as well) and commitment (ie, "I am truly committed to making this work no matter what" backed by day to day actions showing that level of intention) ... in other words you gotta want this deep down in your gut. As a result, we hover in the netherland of the same old thing. To have the kind of conversation necessary to do what we need to do to achieve values clarification and then act on it is a risky venture for everyone involved and the chosen path right now it to stay the course. In some instances I think if we truly clarified the values as they are currently held, people would find that they were not willing to act in that manner and would have to leave. The truly damned not only like hell, they are loyal to it.

    And alas I am an enabler of this situation to exist because I can see but am unable to act. It is a soft, un-technical area that has so much meaning for an organization. My interest in this is high.


    • #3
      Is it possible that this lack of common standards is in part caused by the current corporate culture of disposable employees. The sence you get is that a lot of people are simply trying to hang on through the next round of layoffs. Obviously the poor economy did not help in this regard, but even before the downturn, there were masive restructurings as firms realigned, reassessed, etc.

      People work to their own standard and are not aleays willing to adopt the standard of an organization that is not committed to their well being.


      • #4
        Common Standards

        I am not sure it is wholly related to the current economic configuration, although I think there is an element that comes into play from those conditions. In my judgement (a) it is a lot of work to develop and articulate commons standards, (b) there is a lot of risk involved in actually articulating the standards for everyone, (c) there is the unknown of whether by going to the work and risk that there will be a commensurate payoff or any payoff at all that is discernable, and (d) the leaving things as is appeals more than (a) and (b) because the current situation is known and work arounds have been developed and there is nothing to risk other than co-existing with the situation. Unless things become so untenable it is the rare (maybe) organization that wants that much clarity to exist.

        By risk I mean that if a group is to actually state the operating values/standards, then you have to live by them ... and that means everyone from top to bottom. And it you bump against something that is "edgy" on the standards you have to have a dialog about where things really are instead of just ignoring it. You also cannot have mixed standards. Once the standards/values are out there you also have the risk of not being able to buy into them fully and if everyone is really using them, then your options become challenging to face.

        Does this make sense? Does it match what you are seeing and living?


        • #5
          I am a little taken aback at this thought-provoking thread, because of the implications of actually having to either define your environment or changing it (getting another job, a new relationship, etc.)

          Change is the real thing resisted against.

          I've been very frustrated with many of the procedures and processes in my own job and could never quite get a handle on what was bugging me. Reading this thread was an 'aha' moment. Other people in the organization have a stake in keeping things 'as they are' because that is their comfort level, regardless of whether it makes sense in the 'real' world!

          The only real way to create a culture where the right things get done would be to actually live that philosophy daily (which would also probably mean leaving the cultures that don't work and starting up one's own shop).

          This is the part that likely makes many of us pause ...the realization that a change is necessary, and that this change will likely involve some (social, financial, physical) short-term discomfort. So, many individuals make the choice to just stay where they are, patch frayed corners of their lives with 'work-arounds', and live lives of quiet frustration. It's the brave soul that breaks from the crowd and makes a dash for the barbed wire fence.

          Good thread!


          • #6
            Tallmarvin's last paragraph

            Tallmarvin - Your last paragraph is right on point as far as I can tell. Thanks for the elegant summary. It is what I have been struggling with for some time.