By Beth Hood, Founder and Director, Verosa
For many of us, the post-Covid19 world represents a number of challenges as we seek to adapt to the constructs of the so called ‘new normal’. But what of the opportunities that might be afforded us as we come to the work place anew? What can our breaking away from routine as we knew it help us to see, and how might we capitalise on those insights?
In this article, we look at the theory and practice of seeing through fresh eyes and ask, how might this be of benefit to individuals and organisations as we move into the next phase of our organisation’s history?
Think back to an essay for school or college, or an important report you were writing for the board. You may have spent months writing it. You have checked and double checked it and played around with it until it was absolutely right – the best it could be. And what did you did then? You asked your roommate/ partner/ colleague to read it through. A pair of fresh eyes. An opportunity to spot those little errors that might make the difference between making your point and undermining it. Invariably, no matter how diligently you had checked and re-checked the piece, your friend would always be able to spot, a speller here, a typo there, an awkward phrase or repeated use of the same word. Perhaps even a hole in our data or argument.
Intellectually speaking, we know that having a fresh pair of eyes is a valuable asset. It’s why copy editors exist, and consultants and auditors. Every year, organisations pay millions to people who have absolutely no understanding of the inner workings of their businesses, to come in and critique it. They are tasked with spotting mistakes, duplication of effort, risks in process and opportunities to do things in a new and improved way.
These outsiders don’t carry the baggage of knowing ‘how things are done round here’ and free of this knowledge they can look critically for ways to make things better.
So, how does this relate to the current global pandemic? Well, for so many of us, the past 3 months have represented a hiatus in BAU. Business in fact, has been anything but usual. And now, as we slowly edge our way back to whatever organisational rhythms come next, we have a unique opportunity to be our own copy editor, our own objective consultant and to take a look through fresh and critical eyes at our own organisations.
Think back to a time when you were the new boy or girl. Did you see things others could not? Do you remember wondering why things were done in a certain way, or why particularly unhelpful habits and strategies had gone unchallenged? The truth is, that the more entrenched we are within a system, the harder it is to view that system critically. We become invested in the ‘way things are done’ and complicit in shaping the culture we are part of. Our enduring involvement with an organisation means we cannot help but co-create what happens there. And after a while, we stop seeing the metaphorical ‘typos’ and ‘spellers’ in the people and systems around us – and indeed within ourselves
What’s more, not only do we stop being able to see it, we become adept at re-framing anything that challenges our world view. As Matthew Syed explains in his excellent book, Black Box Thinking, when we are faced with facts that contradict our beliefs on how things are done best, we experience psychological cognitive dissonance. In order to get past this most uncomfortable experience, our brains conspire to reframe reality to such an extent, that we genuinely cannot see the errors in our ways and systems.
Sadly, it is often the brightest and the most talented who fall victim to this process. The higher the stakes and bigger our ego’s investment in the status quo, the more defences we put up against any facts that jar with our understanding.
Coaches often talk about ‘holding up a mirror’ for their clients and indeed, an important part of the coaching contract is for client and coach to agree how much the client wishes to be challenged on their thinking. Often a third party, who comes without agenda and the political investment in a situation can spot incongruence and self-delusion in their clients’ thinking, which if skilled, they will gently bring to their client’s attention and help them make sense of.
But this is a time-limited offering. If you’ve ever worked with contractors and consultants, you may be familiar with the concept of ‘going native’. This is the metaphorical point at which those paid ‘outsiders’ fail to be able to take an objective viewpoint, so much part of the systemic furniture have they become.
Research suggests that the gift of ‘fresh eyes’ lasts only around 6 weeks, after which time, the little things we picked up on, the questions we had in our minds are lost and we have committed ourselves to assimilating with the culture of which we are now a part.
So, as you look forward to a ‘new term’ at work, perhaps after weeks away from the office, perhaps in light of some difficult decisions about jobs and budgets, product lines and growth, take a moment to become your own consultant and ask yourself this:
- What do we need to stop doing around here?
- What should we continue to do around here?
- What should we start doing?
And save yourself those expensive consultant fees into the bargain!