This year I came out.
Lots of people knew I was that way inclined and in front of them I didn’t have to hide, but I wasn’t totally out.
To some people I pretended and in some circumstances I pretended. There was an atmosphere in my workplace of “don’t ask, don’t tell“, so as long as I wasn’t blatant about it, that I didn’t flaunt it, then I was left alone.
However, this year I decided to be authentic and totally above board so I came out, and surprise surprise, nobody cared.
Yes, I am a systems thinker.
People aren’t comfortable coming out for a bunch of reasons, but pointing at something that doesn’t work when everyone around you thinks it does won’t make people think you’re cool and clever, just confusing.
As they can’t see the mental model you have in your head, they can only hear the words you say out loud. Words like “targets don’t work” make little sense from a command and control perspective. When coupled with loads of other ideas that are topsy turvy, people can only, sensibly, think you’re being deliberately contrary. An impenetrable trouble-maker. It’s not safe to be a lone nut.
Numbers of people are safe, because numbers are normal. People look around to see what’s normal. When a fire starts in a crowded public place, people don’t run for the exits, they look around to see what other people are doing. When they see what “normal” looks like, then they know what to do.
That’s the problem with lone nuts, we aren’t by definition normal.
How to make normal?
Slip it in, in numbers, everywhere, nicely.
Today a nice young man came to my organisation to give a presentation about targets and the outcomes based approach making services worse, he was saying it with referenced academic articles, in a persuasive well structured Powerpoint, as an outsider invited inside. This sort of talk usually would get him chucked out of a performance management team. He was saying this and people were listening, attentively even.
This isn’t new knowledge. This is knowledge gained from large surveys and in-depth studies. At the other end, the job end, people have known for ages that outcomes and targets don’t work in organisations.
Thing is, people can only listen from within their own current mental model. Showing people rationally the weaknesses in a particular aspect of work might help people start to be curious, but it won’t truly help people learn as first they have to recognise and unlearn the underlying mental model that gave birth to it. This requires the sort of change and learning that you can’t get in a meeting room, it requires normative change. Learning in the work, following a simple yet hard series of steps, that I have found , works.
But the session wasn’t done with that in mind, that takes months and the world doesn’t change with a Powerpoint.
But that doesn’t matter, what it did do very well was present possible change of the usual management wallpaper as a normal and non-threatening thing. This allows more people to try and work out what is normal by looking around them, and seeing that other people are acting in a questioning way and not being thought odd.
There’s your normal, there’s your numbers.
If you work in the public sector and want to normalise questioning the usual way of monitoring outcomes using OBA, payment by results or whatever bollocks is being hawked around your area of work, then here’s something you might want to go to, or send a manager on.
Remember, there’s safety in numbers.