Is Your Organization Ready for the Human Revolution?
Is there really a revolution going on in human resource management? According to LTP, the oldest psychological consulting firm in the Netherlands, 95 years young, there is. LTP organized an event on the human revolution at the Johan Cruijff ArenA on November 7. On this Tuesday afternoon, only soccer players were to be seen on the man-sized posters in the ArenA. Young people making the best of themselves under the guidance of their trainers and supported by their club. But a diversity of talent alone does not make a winning team.
This message is the model for that of LTP. Nearly 200 people listened to how LTP is leading organizations through the human revolution. ‘Employees are no longer only human resources for an organization, as if they were merely serving,’ Ageeth Telleman, Director and General Manager of LTP, opened the meeting. ‘It is now the other way around: the organization and leadership become servant to the people who form the organization. All organizations hope that people will choose them and stay with them. For that, it is important to listen to what motivates employees, including the people who contribute behind the scenes. Without them, everything comes to a standstill.
According to Telleman, listening to employees is also increasingly about values. ‘The new generation of employees brings their beliefs to work. They are driving social issues higher up the corporate agenda. And, as in society, values and beliefs can clash. This requires radical curiosity about the other and inclusive leadership.’
The challenge within the revolution
This is not easy, Telleman acknowledges, but it also presents opportunities. Where people make themselves heard, ideas that can lead to innovation arise. Make use of this by developing into a network organization, in which people increasingly work together in alternating teams. This will stimulate creativity and innovation, because there is room for a diversity of ideas and initiatives. This gives employees and teams much more responsibility. The development of personal leadership and effective teams is crucial.
‘The formal structure can come under pressure,’ Telleman warns. A network organization becomes more informal, and work is increasingly done in teams assembled above the formal structure. ‘The permanent team versus the temporary teams.’ What functions are performed in the formal structure with permanent positions and what gets allocated to the more informal network organization? That, according to Telleman, is where the human revolution challenge lies. The network organization can start to feel less clear, less predictable. Telleman: ‘Then everyone quickly looks at management, who is supposed to have the overview. But if you really want an overview and be well connected, make sure you are well connected to each other, that there are many short lines.
This requires a considerate approach, Telleman continued. The human revolution makes great demands on employees and teams to take initiative and responsibility themselves. That also puts more pressure on employees. Psychological insights can help develop more self-insight. In doing so, also evaluate the effect on behavior when the team is under pressure. What team dynamics and potential conflicts can arise? Start with this at the top. It is important to make it more normal and safer to develop insight into potential derailments and toxic behaviors. ‘Everyone knows the stories about the narcissistic leaders who get out of hand for lack of feedback,’ Telleman said. ‘But these are not incidents. We all carry these risks in us. You can be successful with charisma and assertiveness, for example, but under pressure those talents can turn into self-centered and transgressive behavior. Do not wait for things to go wrong.’ The message is to invest far more in effective teams and self-insight, because the human revolution is irreversible and comes with challenges. In four breakout sessions, LTP consultants explored ways to do this.
Be alert to toxic behavior, because that is the biggest threat to a network organization, according to Karst Bongers (Business Lead Executive Services) and Marly Schutjes (Manager Business Development). At the start of their session, with the help of two actors, they demonstrated the irritations to which uncomfortable cooperation can lead. For a moment, guests thought things would get out of hand. What the duo portrayed is how quickly toxic behavior develops and how elusive it can sometimes be. Every year, 2.5 million people experience verbal humiliation, harassment or transgressive behavior in the workplace, but for a variety of reasons, many times because of underlying psychological and group dynamics, there is often no timely intervention.
A toxic culture is often the result of dysfunctional leaders, some of whom are not up to the task or are guided by task-oriented or interpersonal views. Sometimes (and this is worse) it results from destructive leaders, leaders who are manipulative, or ruthless. Leadership does not only mean being able to remain effective under stress. You must be able to be vulnerable, to deal with situations you have not faced before. You also often have to deal with complex, conflicting information. When you do not have sufficient adaptability as a leader, it increases the likelihood of toxic behavior. Know yourself as a leader, know where your tendencies for toxic behavior lie, and be aware of how you come across. Dare to discuss your own discomfort. Realize that toxic behavior occurs in everyone in a form that is person-specific. As a leader, stay alert to this and organize feedback sessions.
But the ball is not only in the leader’s court. The group also has an important role to play. When you feel something is not right, speak up, no matter how difficult. If necessary, use tools such as tests that measure toxic behavior and coping with pressure, and insist on formal feedback sessions.
The breakout session by Marian de Joode, LTP Business Lead Team and Organization, and LTP Senior Consultant Floor Lina, explored the need for psychological safety for successful functioning in teams. This safety is crucial in the movement we are making from hierarchy to the networked organization. De Joode quotes Amy Edmondson, one of the pioneers in the field, ‘Psychological safety is the belief that the work environment is safe enough to take an interpersonal risk.’ It is not about being soft on each other or adjusting expectations, but rather about working together to create an environment where team members can be themselves, feel respected, speak up and admit mistakes. De Joode emphasizes that employees have their own responsibility in this: it fits in the movement of the human revolution that employees develop personal leadership and work together for the success and safety of the team. And support each other and intervene when unacceptable situations arise and not to exhibit ‘bystander behavior.’ Elements of that personal leadership include ownership of one’s role, inclusive thinking and action, adaptability and being able to deal with uncertainty and pressure, autonomy, and hyper-collaboration.
In teams where these circumstances are fostered, toxic behavior is recognized early, innovation and creativity are enhanced, and differences are utilized. Thus, the pattern of self-reinforcing negative dynamics can be broken. Here De Joode also mentions the concept of ‘exculpating’: by jointly taking responsibility for these kinds of patterns instead of pointing the finger at each other or the manager, the cause can be addressed instead of treating the symptoms. This leads to better results in the organization and a much better atmosphere and commitment in the team.
An example of such a pattern: ‘Everyone knows the situation of the demanding team leader who demands action and does not allow whining. Team members feel pressured by this, but do not dare to speak out. They do not support each other, because then they no longer belong. They echo the team leader, creating a team of minions who achieve few results. As a result, the team leader becomes even more demanding, and the team loses even more of its strength. Intervene in time where the team balance is disturbed, invest in getting to know yourself and each other, especially under pressure. Help employees develop personal leadership,’ De Joode and Lina advise.
Vitality and dealing with pressure
If the pressure does rise, you can do something about it, as became clear in the session on vitality. Senior Consultant Ruben Simons and Business Psychologist Rosa Westerhuis demonstrated how to release inner pressure. If this does not happen sufficiently, the pressure accumulates and hinders someone’s functioning. ‘Pressure has an enormous impact, also on the organization,’ Simons said. ‘More than a million working people suffer from burnout symptoms, which causes them to on average be out of the system for nine months. The annual cost to employers as a result is 2.8 billion euros.’ There is no generic approach, Westerhuis said. Everyone experiences pressure differently, from feelings of loneliness and brooding to insecurity and physical reactions. The good news is that inner pressure is manageable, by using seven coping styles. The first is the active approach: studying the causes and listing them. Another approach is to seek distraction, such as in sports, so that the problem is less manifest. Wait-and-see is the third approach. Seeking social support is style number four. Another approach is focusing on the problems. Then there is blowing off steam, which is often visible as irritation or loud behavior. Finally, there are those who convince themselves that everything will be fine.
According to Simons and Westerhuis, there is no preferred or wrong style. All styles have advantages and disadvantages. For example, studying the problem can provide clarity but also lead to procrastination. Seeking social support can turn into complaining, avoidance behavior can help distance oneself but also lead to a head in the sand situation. The coping strategies styles can be learned so it can be used before the pressure becomes unbearable. Effectiveness depends on engaging both internal and external resources. Recognizing the impact of events is the most important internal resource, according to Simons and Westerhuis. ‘In addition, a person can build on confidence in his or her own abilities, optimism, and resilience. External resources lie in the social sphere, especially the home front. External resources also include the manager affording attention and time, the team, and the organization.’
The power of people analytics
At the organizational level, psychology comes to the rescue, Jesse van der Plas, Director Advisory & Online and Richard Osinga, Product Manager, explained. People analytics based on psychological insight are invaluable for leadership development. ‘People analytics are bias-free,’ said Jesse van der Plas. ‘It provides objective insight into talent and identify talent that would otherwise go undiscovered. It maps leadership potential and support management development and succession. It also supports the balanced composition of teams and the functioning of teams.’
To illustrate, Osinga and Van der Plas introduced a fictional lumberyard where numerous innovative ideas had been developed but none of it got off the ground. A team analysis marked the psychological processes in this force field. For example, one department was brimming with ideas, but implementation remained stalled. In another department, the manager could not get the team on board; it simmered with conflicts and discussions did not resolve anything. At the same time, a new CFO had to be appointed who had to fulfil a strong commercial role. The participants were asked whether the current population of employees sufficiently matched the desired strategic direction by looking at interactive dashboards themselves.
‘People analytics help make human talent tangible by making it objectively measurable,’ Van der Plas said. ‘It enables the organization to quantify talent and leadership policies and relate them to kpi’s for organizational change.’
Closing the event was Roxanne ‘Rocky’ Hehakaija, former professional soccer star and Founder and Director of Favela Street. Favela Street is a personal development program that trains young people to become role models with an intensive program using street soccer as a means of connection. Using her own life story as example, she demonstrates how significant your influence can be and what it can mean to have a role model: ‘Be aware of the impact of your behavior on another person,’ she alerted the attendees. ‘The challenge is how you can empower the other person with your words and behavior. Even though you may be a small cog in the wheel, you are always contributing to the whole.’ Rocky challenged attendees through stimulating exercises to allow themselves to be vulnerable and experience for themselves the power of getting to know each other on another level. Hehakaija calls it: ‘Do not think like a dot but think like a comma.’
The powerful methodology and approach developed by Favela Street can be easily translated at the organizational level. Therefore, Favela Street/The Game of Your Life and LTP have decided to jointly offer this unique concept in the form of a leadership program, combining the street and psychological insights. With a new approach that does not look at the other but rather at oneself and emphasizes radical curiosity and anticipation, clear results are achieved on strengthening inclusiveness and psychological safety.
This article was published in Management Scope 10 2023.