Conformity numbs people minds, causes disengagement and in the process severely affects staffs’ productivity.
John Brack’s 1955 painting, “Collins St, 5p.m.” epitomizes this colourless world we trap ourselves in. Conforming to the edicts of how we are supposed to be in the workforce, he depicts endless streams of people swarming out of the colourless workplace in their colourless coats under an equally colourless sky. The scary thing is that you can still observe this scene he painted, daily within the streets of Melbourne and cities all over the world sixty-three years later!
What does conformity do to a society?
What does conformity do to you?
The tragedy is that when our lives are colourless it can stifle creativity. You lose the uniqueness that each person brings to his life and the talents and strengths they bring to the workplace.
So, what type of conformity are we talking about?
It is reasonable that every company/ business needs policies and procedures to help cohesiveness, safety and smooth running of the business machine. The important thing is though that we do not murder creativity in the process.
The Oxford dictionary describes this conformity as “behaviour in accordance with socially accepted conventions”
Three of the best ways to stifle creativity and lower productivity through disengagement is:
Conformity to Tradition – “This is how we have always done it!”
“If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking” General George Pattern
Tradition provides certainty but when it is rigid, it stifles creativity and innovation and puts a business on the endangered list. It becomes a liability to the growth of the business and the people who work there. Sometimes, tradition gets caught up in the leader’s own fear of change. They lack the understanding of how innovation can work alongside of traditional values. They are blinded by conformity, unable to envision the bigger picture of what is possible in an ever-changing world.
A business needs to be reviewing its vision at the end of every year. Visions need passion to bring them into reality. Unfortunately unstoked passion starts to die in the humdrum of everyday life. The willingness to expand or even change a Vision can bring up a lot of fear in individuals that cling to certainty for safety and security. When people are given an opportunity to have input is sets up the possibility of “Letting go of the fear of losing something and looking at the possibility of integrating something more powerful.”
Get your people involved
Asking for input of “what went well and where to now” from every one of your employees and asking the brave question – “is there a tradition in this company that may be holding us back.” Is a strategic move because it gives everyone the opportunity to feel a part of the answer and prepares people for the possibility of change. Of course, in a large company it needs to be done department by department and it can be done anonymously if people are nervous of a backlash if they speak out.
This is in no way suggesting that you toss out all your traditions that the business was built on and start afresh.
It is a nudge to:
- Review as to why the tradition had started and is it still applicable in today’s world?
- Renew it if it is solid and applicable to the vision of where the business is heading.
- Re-language it so that is familiar to the current day, invigorating new processes whilst keeping the fundamental structure
- Remove it. After reviewing it, is it time to create some new traditions around certain areas of your business
After all the great company, you worked for, did not start from a tradition, it created the tradition. Your business or company was born from a vision of how to do it better despite what the status quo thinks. Henry Ford pushed against public opinion without any real knowledge of business. He built an enduring legacy by not conforming to how traditional transport happened. He was a visionary who was in love with what he did. This gave him the backbone to keep moving forward despite the nay sayers.
I truly love horses but I prefer to get to the airport within an hour not an all-day trek
Conforming to the Ego of the Leader
“Arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence. Not a pretty cocktail of personality traits in the best of situations. No sirree. Not a pretty cocktail in an office-mate and not a pretty cocktail in a head of state. In fact, in a leader, it’s a lethal cocktail.” Graydon Carter
We all know them, we call them the attention seekers and they are everywhere. But what happens when it is upper management or even the CEO that makes every decision based on their own need for recognition? Disaster is what happens! In their own insecurity they have caused dissension in the ranks, murdered creativity and fostered disengagement?
In their need to hug the limelight of adulation, they forgot that it took a team to pull it together. This type of behaviour leaves people disenchanted and resentful. After all, in the work place aren’t they fed a diet of “Team work makes the dream work”ad nauseam. Not giving credit where credit is due and sharing in the triumphs is ego at its destructive best. The other danger of ego is that some leaders do not feel comfortable when left of field innovation and change is presented by others.
Leaders are catalysts for continual improvement.
A true Leader is a person that has the skills to take people on a journey of discovery of their own brilliance. A skilled leader builds people’s confidence by listening and asking better questions. An inquisitive Leader is comfortable with learning from others because they know and are secure with the fact that they don’t have to know everything. A true Leader understands that their skill is to inspire their people to use their natural talents, listens to their thoughts and applaud their abilities. The natural Leader knows instinctively that to create teams it requires valuing people.
I have found time and time again that when the ego of the leader is ruling, the ship’s progress grinds to a halt and people become disenchanted and disengaged. Over many years of working with disengaged people I have found that some of the most innovative ideas come from the ones that are the most disgruntled.
“Why!” you ask. Because their mind is filled with how it could be so much better and have even come up with innovative solutions on how to implement that change. They know at a soul level how they need to perform in a workplace. What they don’t know we will discuss in the next conformity soul killer.
Conforming for fear of losing your job
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
Humans are driven by the need for security. That is why most people operate from a need to control. Control life, relationships, routines and holding on to outdated beliefs. This need for survival is instinctual in every creature on the face of the earth. It is so powerful that it will override any other desire.
Wow! That’s a big statement but it is the crux of Behavioural science – Nature verses Nurture. Man is born with a basic nature with individual drivers, emotional needs and intrinsic values which often gives way to the conditioning beliefs that has been nurtured in early life. Our tribal nature naturally looks for certainty and protection from the fierce forces of the outside, dangerous world.
What this does is that is causes people to lose hope in exchange for the feeling of security. In the process, it murders the soul of its ability to feel inspired and able to take the risk of moving into uncertainty where such things as, lateral thought, innovation and genius reside.
How this affects the company is that even when people are encouraged to become a part of the solutions they can still disengage. They can retreat back into the conformity of their familiar beliefs. The result is that they fail to contribute and then disengage with feelings of being undervalued.
So, what is missing here?
You may have done everything you can to create an environment that is conducive to well-being and productivity. You have mustered every bit of inspiration to present the Vision of where the business is going. Enthusiastically delivered the mission statement and how it will be achieved. Waxed lyrically about the values that hold it all together.
What on earth more can you do? Throw more money. More pats on the back. Arrange kum by yah moments. Tragically despite your efforts all of this will not sustain engagement if the person in question, does not know why they are in the workforce in the first place. The answer to this is at a much deeper level than just survival needs.
The Key to stopping the need to conform and open up the channels to perform!
When a person has their own personal Vision, Mission and Values statement and sees work as the vehicle for achieving it – now that is when things get moving!
Get your people to think about – “I come to work because I want to …….” and when they answer ask them this simple word “Why?”
Get them to chase their answer about 4 levels. Ask “Why” after each answer. By the 4th level you will get an answer that is much closer to the truth of why they come to work.
When they realize that work is only a vehicle to create the opportunities to live their vision I can assure you their world will start to colour. Their brain will re-engage because it has a purpose. Joy will start to filter into their world. Then everybody prospers on all levels. You will have emotionally strong people. Staff will willingly exchange their time and expertise. The reward for your staff won’t just be money. They will feel a deep satisfaction that they have a purpose and they feel fulfilled. The result for the business will be sustainable growth into a prosperous future.