Our Role in FAKE News

Our role in fake news


What do WE, the users, do about fake news? About manipulated and made up information, even slightly biased information, wherever it comes from?! The media are asking themselves what to do about it – how to report what comes from one side or the other regardless of the facts. It is a media challenge, yes. But it is a challenge to any USER of information. The old Pogo retort applies: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”


Yes, we can and must demand that the administration, the opposition, the media all share responsibility for educating the public – us. But we have to take it farther – and look into our own gullibility. In the end, we are the consumers. We are the customers. Just as we demand product quality, so we must demand better information quality – and know it when we see (and don’t) see it.


Sadly, as advertisers know, information consumers are more likely to notice and remember information that activates the emotional parts of our brains. Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, says that references to care or harm, fairness or cheating, loyalty or betrayal, authority or subversion, sanctity or degradation, liberty or oppression resonate at deep levels in us – and they can capture our brains in ways that facts don’t. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won a Nobel prize in economics (Thinking, Fast and Slow), exposes how irrational our decisions usually are. Linguists like George Lakoff (Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate) show us how our brains are captured by predictable emotional appeals and ways of presenting information. And brain scientists are watching – through fMRI lenses – what our brains are doing when we are riled up, hooked, fed information in various distorted ways.


Advertisers even have a name for the deliberate distortion of information in order to get what they want: behavior design (formerly called….”captology!”)


Information selectivity and distortion are predictable and, because information is always filtered in some way, inevitable. But deliberate manipulation will only become more common. It’s up to us to sharpen our ability to detect it – whether it is selective information, misinformation, disinformation, or full blown propaganda (listed in order of least to most flagrant distortion).


I will be writing more about how you can take on your power so that you see through what is presented to you. It is not easy for any of us – for it means pulling ourselves off automatic, working through fears and various messaging allures, and turning on our conscious brains. It means questioning, challenging, and demanding something different from those who control the various information “bully pulpits” around us.


Information is increasingly the most sought after currency of power. We must learn how to evaluate and use it to ensure we remain free in these times when so many with special interests would take this important aspect of freedom away from us.


I will be writing more in future blogs, about how we consumers of information can recognize and deal with the half truths, distortion and manipulation that surround us in increasingly clever ways, every day.


Pat McLagan is an award-winning adult educator and an experienced change advisor to individuals and organizations in the US and globally. She is author of The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders and Change Is Everybody’s Business. Her new book, on learning 4.0 for today’s nonstop world will be released by the ATD Press, in May, 2017.






Beware: The Shadow Side of Power


Shadow side of power



With the US Presidential Inaugural looming, many have grave concerns about how leadership and power will be exercised in the next four years. How will the new president and the leaders he appoints use the massive power and reach of the US Executive office.


Power is a highly charged resource with great potential for good or ill. We hope and expect that leaders will use their institutional power with self-awareness and emotional intelligence – that they will be vigilant and the face of flattery and manipulation. We expect them to realize that from others’ perspectives, when they speak, they roar.  When they walk down the halls, they shake the earth.  When they look at something, their glances are like lasers, and their opinions like magnets in a roomful of metal filings. This is because formal leaders carry both their own personal power and the power of their role – call it Power2. Power2 is high impact power. But Power2 also wakes up potent shadow forces in any leader’s personality. It’s not a question of IF but WHEN and HOW these shadow forces will make their presence known.


The following are seven ways the shadow side of power shows up when it has free reign. Any person in power will be tempted by all of them at some point. They range from lack of use (#1), to misuse (#’s 2, 3, 4, 5), to abuse (#’s 6, 7).


  • 1. Ignorance of the potential energy in a powerful role.  Think of Star Wars’ force saber or Harry Potter’s wand. Formal leadership roles come with sabers and wands that, in the hands of unaware leaders, can be misused or not fully leveraged. The first step into the shadow side occurs when leaders remain unaware of, and therefore dangerous in the use of, the power that comes with their role. The antidote to ignorance is awareness.


2. Myopia. Leaders are paid to make decisions that create impact over time – sometimes over a long period of time. However, there are many pressures to do whatever is expedient, often whatever will get the best publicity and the most adulation.  When this happens, the shadow side takes over – trading off the future for gratification today. The antidote to myopia is trifocal perspective – where decisions consider medium and long term, as well as short term, implications and stakeholders.


3. Reductionism. The decisions that formal leaders must make are usually the difficult ones that require complicated tradeoffs. It’s easy to default to an overly simple solution or single point of view, when multiple perspectives are what’s really needed. It can become “my way or the highway” – another default to the shadow. The antidote to reductionism is diversity of thought.


4. Abdication. When difficult problems arise, it’s easy to cite bureaucracy or to look for scapegoats.  For example, people on the front lines or in other institutions are often blamed for problems that are really due to leadership mistakes and even hubris. There can be strong shadow pressure within leaders to take the easy way out, avoiding ownership in these situations. Trust and credibility suffer. The antidote to abdication is accountability.


5. Cowardice. People in power need the courage to use it. They may easily give in to pressures when they are convinced a strategy or program is right but they fear loss of face or privilege if they keep on course. Alternately, they may stubbornly adhere to programs and commitments that are proven ill-conceived or wrong or not feasible.  The shadow easily steps into either breach. Important change commitments yield to image-saving retreat or compromise. And bad decisions and programs continue because the leader doesn’t want to admit to failure or the need for a better way. The antidote to cowardice is courage.


6. Abuse of rank. It is easy for Power2 to become a personal entitlement to special privileges or to flattery; a license to bully, operate in a dictatorial or power-over way, or distort information to serve personal purposes. This side of the shadow is very, very seductive and dangerous. Extreme narcissism may also be at work – “I am better than everybody else.” The antidote is respect and humility.


7. Corruption. Formal leaders can divert resources and agendas of entire institutions toward their own agendas or gain. When behavior crosses the line ethically, morally, or legally – jeopardizing the institution, its stakeholders, and the future — it is corruption. People who study ethical leadership conclude that if a person is in power long enough, s/he will become corrupt (possibly the best argument for term limits). Every leader needs to be vigilant, ready to detect this shadow force that may be lurking in the depths of his or her personality. It is another reason why self-awareness and a mature and humble, as well as competent approach to leadership are vital. The antidote to corruption is stewardship.


Power inevitably tests those who wield it.  The new leaders will be constantly pulled toward the shadow side. I wish for them the humility, stewardship capability, and emotional intelligence to to wisely use the mantle of power that they are now taking on.


Read more in The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for LeadersIt is a short story patterned after Dante’s Inferno that explores how easy it is for institutional leaders to use, misuse, and abuse power. It is also an invitation to use Power2 toward better outcomes for us all.


Pat McLagan advises leaders and organizations on development and change matters. www.patmclagan.com







Leadership and the Bully Pulpit


Which of the current national/global leaders in the news are you most like? Least like? In this time of high emotion and controversy, your reactions say a lot about you as a leader.


With the news spotlight on national and international leaders, it’s a good time for every leader to think again about what it means to be in a formal leadership role.


On the global stage, terrorism is calling every kind of leader out of the woodwork – an emigration that has been underway full steam in the US as it ramps up for Decision 2016. A full parade of the powerful and would-be powerful, surrounded by a traumatized public, is vying for the global bully pulpit. It reminds us that leadership is not for the feint of heart!


With this in mind, here are some things to think about as you look at the array of people rising to the top in the various crowdsourcing processes that are underway. I won’t list individuals by name – you know who they are. Instead I suggest that as a leader you answer a few questions that relate to how you are shaping your and, because they will emulate you, the next generation’s concept of leader.


• Think about the leaders and wannabe leaders in the news today — anywhere in the world. Which of them have qualities you would like to develop in yourself? What are these?


• Whose leadership stories will you retell in the future — to people you lead and to future leaders. Think of the stories you will tell as part of your legacy to shape their character and capabilities. What leaders do you want your children to be like?


• What qualities are you seeing in leaders and would-be leaders that press your buttons, arouse your emotions, make you want to fight and argue. Dig deeply and you may find at least some connection to your own history and feelings – to qualities and tendencies you don’t like in yourself or remind you of others who have shaped your life. Most of us can find at least some truth in the cartoon-character, Pogo’s, insight: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” When we have over-the-top reactions to others it often points to something we are marginalizing in ourselves. This even applies to “positive” traits (e.g., “she is too assertive” says an introvert).


• For the leaders you most admire and support, play out “what if” for their proposals. Project the consequences into the future and think about three scenarios: the high road (great results, a better future), low road (things get a lot worse) and something in between. Do the same for some of the proposals that you do not agree with. This will help lift you out of the present first order reactions to think about the bigger, longer term picture — a primary responsibility of people in a leadership role.


What global leaders are doing and saying in the midst of today’s crises is defining leadership in general. There is a rub-off phenomenon. Something like the McEnroe effect on budding tennis talent in the 70’s: when John threw his racquet and went into a rant, so did many kids in tennis class the next day. What high profile leaders do and say affects how leadership itself is viewed. So be conscious about what this means for how you will progress in your leadership journey.


See The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders for more thoughts related to being a conscious leader.

Four Missing Pieces from Today’s Change Management Agendas

NUGGET : It’s not enough to add change management steps to project plans and programs. Ensuring change success requires other more powerful and sometimes subtle actions. Here are four.



Change management is becoming a differentiating capability in organizations today. There are more accessible and useful tools and training – stakeholder analyses, better planning and project/program management tools, readiness assessments, communication formats. Change management modules are regularly being built into big technology and other strategic programs. Good stuff, but often they don’t fit the change challenge and may even divert valuable energy because they overly bureaucratize what sometimes needs to be a dynamic and learning-driven process.

Four major elements are missing from many change management approaches today. When these elements are present, the change management toolkits that are popular today will find themselves in the hands of people who can actually achieve something with them:

1. First, it’s important to realize that there is a deeper transformational change occurring as organizations reconfigure themselves to more flexible performance networks. The real performance community is the entire value network — from the customer back through the entire value chain, and from product/service inception out to the customer. The view of the organization as a pyramid and silos may be the main reason why changes are so hard to make.
2. Second, it’s imperative for everybody to see change as a normal process – not as something that will end “so we can get back to business as usual.” It IS business as usual. We need to help everyone in the performance network to see that change is everybody’s business. When individuals adopt that view, then they must also develop skills and mindsets to deal with change dynamics.
3. Third, it is vital to put a lot more energy into developing a new kind of in-process change management capability . It is one thing to integrate “change” into plans, to structure communications, to implement all the change methods we find in change management toolkits. But a great deal of change management support occurs while the change is in process. Change leaders (and this means executives, too) must tune into what is happening while the change is being implemented, and then know whether or not — and how — to respond.
4. Fourth, most organizations need to become much better at the front end – before the change is launched. This means noticing the problems and opportunities that signal the need for change and then deciding when and how — and even whether — to respond. A lot of this responsibility falls squarely on top leaders’ shoulders. Change failures can often be traced to the fact that the changes should not have been introduced in the first place or were solutions to the wrong problems.


I fear that most change management approaches are still narrowly focused on “getting people to comply” – and that popular change management methods and tools collude in this view. In the meantime, successful change requires us to embrace a new worldview and mindset that puts more emphasis on fundamental change, better decisions about what to change, and implementation approaches that are increasingly learning- as well as behavior-control-oriented. Only then will the various tools for supporting change be put to appropriate use and will we begin to see change success rates rise.


NUGGET : It’s not enough to add change management steps to project plans and programs. Ensuring change success requires other more powerful and sometimes subtle actions. Here are four.

What If…

NUGGET : Bring your management process into the networked age. Assess your performance management process’ contributions to alignment, culture and your organization’s change process.


Imagine that you want to find a better way to help people work toward common goals in turbulent times. A way of managing that’s great for the business and the people in it. And imagine that you introduce this approach in a way that actually jazzes the organization – wakes it up to the New World of Work – stimulates the transformation that you know has to happen “sooner” (for there will be no “later”).

Then, rather than patch up that old performance management process, redesigning the forms for the umpteenth time and tweaking the rating and ranking system that people either love or hate (depending on where they sit or how well they can play the game) make the big decision. Say resolutely, “Enough of this! We need discipline, yes, but what does this mean in a performance environment where we need both focus AND flexibility, supportive, strong leadership AND self-management/collaboration?”

After four decades in the change management business, it still mystifies me that companies stick with management practices that have more negative than positive effects – practices that people game. Why continue approaches that discourage the collaboration, transparency, and innovation that are vital to success in this rapidly changing world of work?

The first part of the answer is to say: “When you are in a hole, stop digging!”

Then, step back and think about what’s important and why. Here are two actions you can take. First, take a deep breath and think about the people side of your enterprise. Give it the design thinking it deserves, for all the money and assets of the business are nothing without the people who put them to work. To help you in this process, email me (pat@patmclagan.com) to request a copy of “Innovating Performance Management.” Send it to whomever you want in your organization. Use it to start a new conversation about “where to from here.”

Second, think about the impact of your current performance management practices on the business and its people. Take this short survey (8 questions) about your people management practices to help you think about what is happening and where to go from here.” In a few weeks I will summarize the survey results across all (anonymous) respondents and we’ll see what you all say.

NUGGET : Bring your management process into the networked age. Assess your performance management process’ contributions to alignment, culture and your organization’s change process.

The Often Lonely and Murky World of the Change Agent


It’s difficult and often lonely to be somebody who is spearheading new processes, systems, views of the organization and people’s roles in it.

If you know what I mean by this statement, then you are, like me, a change agent – a business or government leader, and academic or professional who develops leaders, a person who is passionate about creating a better institution and society. You want to influence what is happening around you – to consciously create the future — rather than abdicate to the status quo or accept change as an inevitable and evolving process that will occur with or without you. As a change agent, you are impatient with the natural pace and direction of some of the events and changes around you. You foresee problems if your organization stays on current paths, and you want to use your intelligence to ensure the success of individuals, groups and society. I understand these intentions.

My goal in this article is to recognize and acknowledge the difficulty of change work – and to say, “keep on going!”

As change leaders, we embark on journeys of deliberate change. We set development and life goals for ourselves. We strategize to make our organizations more agile, cost-effective, innovative, relevant, vibrant. We envision, develop plans for, and mobilize resources in order to create the societies that we desire. Our inevitably anthropocentric view sometimes deceives us into believing that we can be in control. But when we discover that we are dealing with often chaotic and complex forces in ourselves (emotions, shadows) and around us in our institutions or in the world at large (politics, values differences, culture clashes, evil), we are tempted to give up or to slip into an existential crisis. We are sometimes demoralized and feel defeated.

As a change agent, I have experienced all of these intentions and reactions – and have worked with and watched change leaders inside organizations as they struggle with the challenges of orchestrating deliberate change. I’ve witnessed great courage, walked with and observed clients as they push and pull, retreat, recalibrate, pour increasing amounts of money and energy into their causes, make mistakes, learn, and even give up. The military describe the situations we often find ourselves in as the “fog of war,” the fray that strategists conceptualize but where people in the trenches must ultimately improvise – hopefully with the mission in mind. I have experienced this fog while in the midst of many change programs. So, probably, have you.

Then, there is the time factor. Inevitably, even the small changes – the personal habits, the simple behavior changes, the adoptions of new tools and processes – take longer than we expected. Our changes run into problems from all sides, or they simply don’t have enough oomph to compete with the status quo. What we thought could occur according to an initial plan takes twice as long, is far more expensive, and somehow doesn’t meet other expectations.

Should we continue to fight an uphill battle in the fog of change, or just accept that deliberate change is antithetical to the way the world works – thus its 70+% failure rate?

I think we are meant to be powerful players in our own evolution and that of our institutions and society. I believe that our consciousness and intelligence has emerged so that we can play that role. However, I think our mental models and expectations related to deliberate change are often insufficient and sometimes flawed.

Most big changes are messy and take time to unfold. Their path is not linear even though there are patterns that we can work with if we are able to recognize them. Also, it is often impossible to know which action or cluster of actions create tipping points, what failed experiments are actually critical for learning, or which changes are due to deliberate interventions and which would have occurred (or occurred faster) without us. The shift to a more inclusive society, the transition from authoritarian to more participative enterprise or society, the creation of really global organizations, the development of self-aware leaders, the elimination of deeply entrenched destructive behavior patterns – changes like these are not one-night or even one-year programs. And the paths we launch at the outset are almost never the ones we ultimately walk.

Leaders of complex organizational and social changes are often compared to medieval cathedral builders. The story goes: successive generations of builders devoted their lives to advancing a vision of the cathedral and its ultimate spiritual function even though they would never see the completed building. The analogy doesn’t work for me, though, because it assumes there is a fixed end state – a definable pot at the end of the rainbow. In my experience few successful transformational changes actually end up where we initially planned.

It is true that some of the transformational change goals that we are working toward today won’t be fully realized in our lifetime. But is that what’s important? Is it possible that we sometimes engage in deliberate change work NOT to achieve an initial goal, but rather to be an intelligent force influencing a larger process that is unfolding toward end points that we can’t imagine.

But what about goals and visions? Plans? Optimism in the face of complexity? If change is inevitable and if many of the investments we make in changes take us to other destinations than those we had in mind, should we bother? Change agents are inevitably bruised and bloodied in the battles. We have to stay on high alert, face into resistance, admit to failures, stay committed during long desert walks, and be sure that others take ownership and get credit and recognition so that their energy can carry things past the tipping point. Sometimes in the process, the change agent leaves, is rejected, self-immolates, loses steam before anyone sets foot in a “promised land.”

For some of us the challenges of change only increase our commitment to our role. We keep taking on change roles in spite of the loneliness and the murky atmosphere that sometimes surrounds every complex change. While it may not always be possible to attribute changes to the work we do, I’m convinced that this role we play is a vital one for the future of our institutions, societies and the planet itself. But we must learn how to better perform the role and support ourselves psychically given the complexity of change dynamics around us.

Why commit to such an often difficult role? Because the future calls on us to bring its possibilities to life rather than to accept that the past is in charge and limits us.

In future blogs I will offer some mental frameworks and tools that I find helpful when dealing with deliberate and transformative change. While they will not turn large system change into a cakewalk or provide the step-by-step formula we all yearn for, I think you will find them helpful as you navigate your change agent role, whether in a small group, organization, or society at large.

For over four decades, Pat McLagan has advised on complex changes in major US and global business and government organizations. She is a best selling author of many books and articles, including
Change Is Everybody’s Business – available in 9 languages. www.patmclagan.com

I’d love your thoughts – in the comment section below, or to me personally at pat@patmclagan.com
Also, I invite you to please share this article with others in your network.

© 2015. Patricia A McLagan

Change Management as Risk Mitigation™

NUGGET : Treat Change Management as Risk Mitigation.


Most strategies and plans require many changes in how your enterprise works. For this reason, and because the enterprise is a social as well as a technical entity, changes contain major inherent risks of failure. Change management, if it is put on the table at all, often is an add-on in the form of communication or training programs meant to manage peoples’ resistance or to convince them to get on board.

The result? We hear these statistics over and over again: 60-70% failure of change initiatives – in the form of cost overruns, quality problems, continually revised schedules, and abandoned programs. Many changes meant to be transformational often are coopted into existing practices or abandoned entirely. Goals that were once challenging and inspiring erode to shadows of themselves.

If we considered the potential for failure or the actual costs of implementation, we might decide that some changes are actually not worth pursuing. But this realization should happen before a change is launched, not after massive investments show it is not viable or adequately value adding.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be bold, just that when we view a new strategy or program — from its inception — as a change, we think about it differently. We also more realistically evaluate the investment that the change will require. I often use the analogy of turning water to steam to illustrate this point. If we want the water to boil, we have to apply enough heat. Turning the stove dial to 2 won’t do it. If we aren’t willing to put in the energy that the change requires, we will only waste resources and create a lot of frustration that will make future changes even more difficult.

Any complex change must be set up FROM THE BEGINNING as a change. This affects who is involved, how the project/program/strategy is conceptualized and designed, and how much flex, learning, and extra resource will be required.

Leaders are getting better at articulating strategic goals, but often forget that targeting an accomplishment is not the same as doing it. And the fact that there are sophisticated project plans and increasing amounts of data and analytics only perpetuates the myth that it is possible to easily and rationally map and implement the vision so succinctly depicted in Power Point slides.

60-70% failure in change is simply not acceptable. It’s time to see change as a key dynamic that permeates everything involved in conceptualizing and implementing strategies, programs, projects. It’s time to treat change management as the RISK MITIGATION process and core organization capability that it really is and must be.

Pat McLagan has facilitated planning sessions, coached internal change leaders, trained and supported executives and other leaders, and helped strategize changes across industries for over 3 decades.

NUGGET : Treat Change Management as Risk Mitigation

I’d love your thoughts – in the comment section below, or to me personally at pat@patmclagan.com
Also, I invite you to please share this article with others in your network.

More on The Way Forward Transforming Performance Management, Part 5

NUGGET : Performance management? Start over with these 4 additional strategies!


This is the fifth article in the Transforming Performance Management series. The first presented a case for taking a new approach. The second and third examined why it is so hard to make changes. In the last article, I suggested four important steps toward a new approach: 1) use different approaches for managing stability and change, 2) redraw the organization to show work flows vs. decision structure, 3) embrace open system values, and 4) bring self-management to the fore. Here I add four more changes that can launch a new era in how we align people and work. This continues to build a scenario in which leaders and team members take primary responsibility for the management processes and HR helps to prepare the culture and people for their roles.

5. Zero-base formal leadership. Leadership is everybody’s business, of course, but some people are paid to lead – to be sure the organization and networks are well designed, have direction and resources, and are supported to perform. It’s a matter of HOW, not WHETHER this formal role exists and is exercised. It’s time (overdue, I think) to redefine management/leadership work for today’s complex, rapidly changing, and networked world.

6. Release HR from ongoing management responsibilities. There is important work for HR to do in this changing world of work. First, organizations desperately need help to create an open, networked, change-oriented culture that operates “on the edge” – open to change while maintaining an excellent and reliable core. Second, institutional leaders AND the people they lead all need support to shift their mindsets, practices and use of power so that everyone participates fully as members of a multi-directional network vs. a box in a cascade. And third, global and agile strategies require better ways of finding, using, and developing talent. HR needs to disentangle from day to day performance management (which is the responsibility of formal leaders and individuals themselves) so that they can focus their vital support role on these bigger design challenges.

7. Raise all ships with Process-LITE. Process has gotten a bad rap, but let’s not throw the good out with the bad. Today’s organizations need a crisscross web of process-LITE: software, guidelines, and routines that everyone uses so that they accomplish more together than they could individually. There is a secret to good process: it has to add value, be continually energized, and not become calcified. It has to unleash thinking and communication rather than replace it. And it has to be something that everyone uses and has the skills and information to use.

8. Change the relationship between performance and rewards. Work quality in an agile environment requires feedback, learning, initiative, and quick recovery from failure. These are generally retarded by the traditional hard link of individual performance with pay and other high value personal outcomes like promotion. For these and other reasons, it is important to change the relationship between performance and rewards. Taking steps 1-7 above will make it possible to move to a new reward paradigm.

The relationship between performance and rewards is a hot topic and one that I will focus on in a future article on this site.

NUGGET : Performance management? Start over with these 4 additional strategies!

I’d love your thoughts – in the comment section below, or to me personally at pat@patmclagan.com

Also, I invite you to please share this article with others in your network.

The Way Forward: Transforming Performance Management, Part 4

NUGGET : Performance management? Start over with these strategies!


It’s time to stop patching legacy performance management* practices. (See “Performance Management: It’s Time for Something New,” “Why it is So Hard to Make Changes,” and “More About Why It is So Hard To Make Changes,” for reasons.) It’s time to move in a new direction with a designer’s mind and a lot of tenacity. Here are the first four of eight recommendations that can launch a new era in how we align people and work (manage performance). In the new scenario leaders and team members take primary responsibility for the management processes and HR helps to prepare the culture, processes, and people for their roles.

1. Manage for both stability and change.The balance of routine and change work is shifting. While it still makes sense for some work to follow specific routines or to be put into a production line, change and innovation require new management approaches. So, while it may continue to make sense to have defined roles and responsibilities – and goals related to these — people need different tools for managing innovations and cross-boundary work. Methods range from crowdsourcing to innovative workflow maps, to gaming, to communities of practice, to agile techniques, to creative use of social networks. More will emerge. I think the best change management will happen where everyone is fluent in many methods and uses what will work for them and the situation at hand.

* “Management” means “the boss” to many people today. But management is more broadly the process of getting things done. Formal leaders, technology, individuals themselves “manage.” We need to revitalize and modernize this important concept. The main point is that one management process cannot support both routine and change work – and several processes will operate in parallel.

2. Change the drawing of the organization! Stuck in the back of people’s minds is a pyramid and cascading boxes view of the organization. But as a metaphor for how things actually get done, a value stream or network visual is the more accurate mental image. If you want change to happen, change this mental model. Redraw the organization as a living, not static ecosystem that includes the customer and suppliers – the entire value network. Everyone will probably be part of several performance networks, so the ultimate mental model for each individual will be unique: his/her personal network diagram will be different depending on the multiple work streams and organization structures he/she is part of. But start by providing a picture of the larger work streams and networks so that people can locate themselves within them. The pyramid, functional, P&L, or other views of the organization may be in the background describing how you organize resources, and providing individuals with a home base. But, but don’t mistake this view of the firm for how work actually gets done.

3. Embrace open system values. The values of a smart-everywhere organization or network are pretty clear and increasingly well researched for they are the values of an open, complex human system. They include respect, transparency, continuous learning, pervasive accountability, and roles that specialize but also align and contribute for the whole. The challenge is for EVERYBODY to live — and hold each other accountable for living — these values. This requires a new level of consciousness and awareness from everyone.

4. Bring Self-Management to the fore. Every day, everyone at work — from the sweeper to the top executive — makes tradeoffs and decides what to focus on, what to challenge, and what to avoid. In other words, they self-manage. But are the tradeoffs the best or do they focus primarily on self-interest and self-protection? How often do people defer to and act to please the boss? Authoritarianism and dependency are everyone’s inheritance. It’s time to break the pattern. Expect everybody to develop as self-managers. But don’t expect them to continually fight traditional managers for the right to think and act. Rather, expect formal leaders to act NOW to help everyone develop and apply the mindset and skills for full participation. There is no alternative. Fortunately, the natural progression of every person’s development is toward more self-reliance and interdependence. The authoritarian and paternalistic heritage may have retarded this progression, but the evolutionary drive is there in everyone.

I’ll take a breath here, ask you to think about these first four recommendations, and invite you to stay tuned to the next article, Part 5 in this Performance Management series. It will offer four more ways to redesign how performance is aligned for the changing world of work.

NUGGET : Performance management? Start over with these strategies!

I’d love your thoughts – in the comment section below, or to me personally at pat@patmclagan.com
Also, I invite you to please share this article with others in your network.

More About Why It Is So Hard to Make REAL Changes: Transforming Performance Management, Part 3

NUGGET : Power traps, defaulting to HR, and some inherent useful qualities in traditional performance management keep us from moving to a better way of aligning people and work.


In my first article in this series about Performance Management, I started to build a case for changing the way work performance is “managed.” In the last article, I suggested three big reasons why it is so difficult to make real breakthroughs. I put some of the failure to change at the feet of 1) boss-subordinate mindsets, 2) the tenacious top-down view of workflows, and 3) faulty views of control. I’d like to add three more reasons to the list and then, in the next blog, to suggest where to from here.

So, three more reasons why it is difficult to change how we manage and work today:

Power traps
Defaulting to HR
Traditional performance management does add some value

Reason 4: People fall into power traps.There are power differences in organizations and across networks. No matter how much we try to gloss over this fact or to imagine a world where everyone has equal say over everything, power and role differences will likely always be true – and are actually nature’s way of getting big things done. Sadly, though, human beings do odd things with power differences. People with more institutional power sometimes abuse it or are uncomfortable using it, and people with less power manipulate for position or play games (e.g., set low goals so they can exceed them, fail to take risks out of fear, pander to the boss). These behaviors – many of them driven by unconscious psychological forces — are worse in low trust environments where there is little two-way communication, limited transparency, people who are ill-prepared for leadership roles, etc.

The performance management system is especially vulnerable to these distortions because it contains the KEY ACTIVITIES that are very important for people’s social and organizational positioning (goal setting, feedback, role decisions, etc.) Linking individual performance goals and feedback directly to promotion, pay, and recognition makes “clean” interactions even more difficult. We make matters even worse by calling the performance management process “the appraisal system.” YIKES! This tells people that the reason we set goals and talk about performance is to justify pay, reward and other personnel decisions. This relates to the next barrier to change.

Reason 5: Defaulting to HR. It’s happened subtly over decades, but in many organizations performance management has been delegated to the HR/Personnel function. Everyone benefits in some way that leads to a kind of collusion to let HR own it. Line management – uncomfortable in the “god” role of determining roles and direction, and giving feedback – can abdicate saying, “HR made me do it.” Individuals, rather than having to deal with all the messiness of real accountability can focus instead on making annual goal setting and 1,2,3-times-a-year feedback sessions work in their favor. In the meantime, the HR staff gets information to support compensation and personnel decisions and is in a better position to minimize the legal liabilities related to how people are treated. This is collusion by all parties. HR, with the best of intentions, is left holding the bag.

Reason 6: Traditional performance management does add some value. We often wonder, why things are the way they are? Evolution’s answer is “because they developed that way and solved or delayed a problem.” So what are the useful features and lessons from today’s common performance management practices that we can take into the future? I think there are several:

• Important alignment activities of the organization must not be left to chance. This is especially true as organizations get larger. Goals and feedback – fraught as they are with potential human distortions – require a process discipline of some kind. We search and search for the right blend of unleashing change and getting efficiencies from ongoing routines.

• Performance and reward must be linked in some way. This is a lesson from evolution. We know that when people are treated the same regardless of their contributions and hard work, bad things happen: good people leave, morale and results suffer. We search for ways to stimulate risk and diversity and tolerate failure while also targeting success and results.

• Reliable and effective management processes can be a competitive advantage for any organization. Good management (including self-management) process ensures that everyone works in a high quality performance environment. A structure of some kind for performance management helps ensure that basic leadership and self-management practices occur across the board.

In this and the previous blog, I have offered 6 reasons why it is difficult to move to a new performance management paradigm. The next two articles I will suggest how to move forward in this important area.

NUGGET : Power traps, defaulting to HR, and some inherent useful qualities in traditional performance management keep us from moving to a better way of aligning people and work.

I’d love your thoughts – in the comment section below, or to me personally at pat@patmclagan.com
Also, I invite you to please share this article with others in your network.