Amid the complexities of modern business, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re all people trying to do stuff, and if we’re in a leadership position we’re people trying to get other people to do stuff.
Even if we think it’s about automation and processes and systems…underneath it all, it’s about people designing, implementing , following and improving these things.
People. Human beings. Us.
Understanding the human condition can be a huge advantage in business: we can learn how to identify it when it appears in front of us, leverage it…and mitigate against it when it becomes damaging.
If you look anywhere in the animal kingdom amongst species which operate in social groups, there is a hierarchy.
Being at the bottom of the hierarchy means not being able to find a mate, being lucky to get the leftover food from those higher up the pecking order, and having the shoddiest or most dangerously located nesting site.
Sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it?
In our human / workplace context, this can be captured in one word: status.
We’re in a brainstorming session. Someone comes up with an idea. Our colleague across the table smiles wryly and says “we’ve tried that before – it won’t work.”
She’s asserting her status: “my knowledge and experience are greater than yours”.
A friend mentions something they’ve just read in the news. “Oh, I know!” we reply “I heard it in last night’s bulletin!”.
We’re asserting our status: “I already know. I knew before you did!”
We’re at a meeting and a manager makes a suggestion that we think is questionable. We catch our colleague’s eye across the table and notice their raised eyebrows and we can see that they’re thinking the same thing…but no-one says anything.
We’re bowing to status: “someone ‘senior’ has said it, so it must be true.”
Once we start to see these patterns in the workplace, we can’t un-see them. So what can we do about them?
First, recognise that this deep-rooted need for status exists… and where this might be leveraged in meeting company goals.
Consider carefully how ‘status’ might be strategically conferred in pursuance of your aims.
· Showing appreciation and recognising people for their efforts gives them a status.
· Rewards and bonuses give status.
· Allowing someone to present at a meeting or conference confers status
· Offering a prestigious job title (regardless of salary implications) confers status.
· Creating a ‘preferred supplier’ list confers status.
· Giving someone the lead on a project confers status
· Pricing and brand confer status
· Sometimes, something as simple as giving someone a badge confers status
Think carefully: what IS the endgame here, and how and where can status be deployed in a meaningful way to support your company objectives?
On the other hand, watch out for situations where the need to preserve or enhance status can be working against you. Typical examples are:
· problem solving sessions where people stick to their own interpretation of events,
· strategy sessions where people are subconsciously (or otherwise) seeking to ensure that they or their teams get a bigger share of resources,
· hiring situations where the interviewer doesn’t want the new start to be QUITE as good as they are….
Anywhere, basically, where someone might feel that they must protect their position in some way.
Leaders at all organisational levels forget human nature at their peril.
Know the signs to look for.
Learn how to gently call it out or acknowledge it (this is part of the human condition remember – none of us is immune!)
And build strategies to work with it, while still moving forward with your objectives.