Working Without a Net: How to Survive and Thrive in Today's High Risk Business World

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9780130262394: Working Without a Net: How to Survive and Thrive in Today's High Risk Business World

An information-intensive world guarantees us constantly accelerating rates of change and unrelenting professional and personal vulnerability. Rather than face the high risk environment of today's business world, too many corporate leaders still like to delude themselves that they are still living in a low-risk world. This book sets out to remove the reader's panic and confusion about what it takes to become successful in the competitive environment of the '90s, and to reveal the secrets of making quick, effective decisions.

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About the Author:

Morris R. Shechtman is an internationally known change management consultant and Chairman of The Shechtman Institute. His clients include Arthur Andersen, ConAgra, Northwestern Mutual Life, and the Young President's Organization (YPO). Mr. Shechtman has brought about remarkable gains in individual and collective productivity by teaching managers how to become agents of personal growth and development.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

AN ALTERNATIVE TO WORKING AND LIVING IN A FANTASY WORLD

Denial is crippling American business.

Companies can lose phenomenal sums of money for months and deny that anything is amiss, until losses are too large to be ignored. Then they swing the downsizing meat cleaver in a futile attempt to cut their losses. This has happened at General Motors, at most of the airlines, at IBM -- the list goes on and on. When asked why they didn't do anything about their mounting losses earlier, these companies respond, "We were waiting for it to turn around," or "We can't do much about it because we can't get the labor force to cooperate." These excuses are nothing more than denials that the situation is bad and must be changed.

Denial also takes place on an individual level. Some chronically unemployed people would find jobs quickly if they would stop pretending that their industry is still alive and well or that they can find work in the city in which they've always lived. The decline of certain industries mandates that people consider other types of employers; when jobs dry up in a city or town, it is time to look for work elsewhere. Yet how many people even now are denying what is plainly obvious?

Denial isn't limited to the chronically unemployed. It can be seen in CEOs as well as junior-level executives. Managers, for instance, frequently tolerate behavior in subordinates that can only be described as bizarre; they see their people having serious problems, yet they fail to take action that will force people to resolve problems. A client recently told me that one of her employees didn't show up at work for a week because, the employee said, her husband and kids were killed in a car accident. My client did some checking and learned that the woman had been divorced years ago and didn't have any kids. It turns out that this was only one of many stories this person made up when she missed work.

I asked my client what she was doing about this person. "Nothing," she told me, "except we did tell her that her behavior was kind of strange."

Why did she deny that her employee was acting a few bricks shy of a load? Because she, like many managers, didn't want to confront her subordinate. She was afraid of conflict and assumed it would destroy the relationship. She also seemed to be afraid of the self-examination such a confrontation might produce, about what it might reveal about her own life.

Many people today feel beaten down by the rapid pace of change in their personal and professional lives, yet rather than attempt to deal with change, they deny it. This decision to avoid the reality of change is the catalyst for this book. During my consulting work, I've been astonished and dismayed observing the toll denial has taken on the business world and on ourselves.

KEEPING THE SAFETY NETS IN PLACE

What feeds this denial is a compulsion to reproduce the familiar in our lives. People are afraid of conflict and change, of things that are new or different. They maintain their familiar cocoons at all costs -- even at the cost of their jobs, their families and even their lives. An employee who was verbally abused as a child finds a boss whose refrain to that employee is, "I really should get rid of you, but at least you work cheap."

This drive to reproduce the familiar is much stronger than the drive to produce what is healthy. It is why some people stay in relationships where they're emotionally or physically abused -- the abuse might not be healthy, but it is familiar.

Here's another example of how the familiar is reproduced in organizations. Certain managers surround themselves with inept or marginal subordinates. These managers complain about their subordinates daily, moaning about how difficult they are to deal with. Yet despite all this moaning and groaning, managers maintain the status quo. What they're really doing is maintaining their early family structure. Employees take the place of siblings and mom and dad -- they've duplicated that same dysfunctional family unit. "Joe is always getting in these silly, unproductive competitions with Jim," one manager might say, simultaneously describing arguments between two subordinates and his family's sibling rivalry. This manager isn't overly concerned if his people work productively, only that they provide him with a certain level of emotional familiarity. In the past, managers like this kept their jobs for year after year because the business culture maintained safety nets. For example, denial is a big safety net for a poor performer, like this manager. His boss denied the problem or made more excuses, so the manager wasn't held accountable for performance. Confronting this manager about his group's productivity would be stressful. Firing him would make other managers uncomfortable. Everyone looked the other way.

WHY IT DOESN'T WORK ANYMORE

Denial has been part of human nature since there have been humans. People have stumbled through their personal and professional lives, replaying old tapes, always seeking the familiar. Somehow, we've gotten this far.

However, forces are reshaping the way humans live and work together. We are at the threshold of a time in which we can no longer survive in a state of denial. The rapid rate of social, cultural, political, and economic change in the world today has created what I call the high risk culture. In this culture our businesses and our lives are in a constant state of flux, and there is no room for safety nets. To succeed in such a culture, we must learn to work with change, not deny it. And with our safety nets gone and our external props kicked away, we must learn to work together in new ways while we find sources of stability within ourselves.

The time has come to insist on peak productivity, from ourselves and from our employers, employees, and coworkers. Any business trying to succeed in a high risk culture is like a troupe of circus acrobats -- every individual must be counted on to do his or her part to keep the act in motion. If the performers don't interconnect, the results can be fatal -- especially when there's only air separating the performers from the ground.

A GREAT CAPACITY FOR CHANGE

The high risk culture seems to be a frightening place, but it doesn't have to be. This book's theme is highly optimistic: People and organizations are capable of great change. The information, tools, and exercises provided here are designed to facilitate those changes. Contrary to a common distortion of Freudian thinking, people aren't set in stone at the age of five. To change and grow is possible for anyone, as long as he or she is ambitious and can sustain the discomfort that is part of the process.

Learning to work without a net makes discomfort tolerable. Working without a net doesn't mean taking crazy risks. It means becoming less reliant on traditional symbols of security such as one particular job (that you've done for years but offers no growth or challenge) or a town (where you've lived all your life simply because it's familiar). In effect, we exchange our external nets for internal ones. Internal security nets are portable. When we take a new job or take on a new challenge, our inner strengths travel with us. That internal security gives us the confidence to evolve and grow without panic or remorse.

BENEFITS OF WORKING WITHOUT A NET

Up to this point, I've introduced some elements of the theory behind this book. But this is not a theoretical or an academic book. Its concepts can be and have been applied successfully by thousands of individuals and organizations. Although there are numerous applications, let's focus on some of the more critical ones:

* Job marketability. No matter what happens -- from acquisitions to downturns -- you'll realize that you can make the transition to whatever the new reality becomes. Developing that portable sense of security will be explained in detail. Just as important, you will learn the two skills that will greatly increase your value to organizations: decision-making and relationship-building. Instead of presenting yourself to prospective employers as someone looking for a job, you can demonstrate that you possess the skills to increase the organization's profits in a high-risk culture.

* Hiring. Managers will be able to differentiate between growth-oriented and comfort-oriented people in the hiring process. With the former, a lengthy internship or training period is unnecessary. Growth-oriented people have a very fast learning curve and are much less likely to leave a high-risk organization (thus reducing turnover). By helping you identify growth-oriented people, I'll help you avoid hiring people with value systems that are mismatched to the organization.

* Competitive advantage. Many of my clients use the high-risk approach to adapt to changes in the economy and marketplace faster than competitors. They can react swiftly and decisively to new trends, and they don't panic and assume a crisis mentality when a sudden shift occurs. The ability to respond quickly and effectively to change is critical for success in a high-risk culture.

* Personal payoff. Relationship-building skills aren't limited to work environments. The skills offered here will be useful in establishing stronger relationships with spouses, children, and other important people. How to build a truly reciprocal relationship early on and avoid divorce or codependent relationships down the road will be discussed. I'll also help readers capitalize on the connection between personal and professional relationships -- the realization that poor personal relationships affect professional performance negatively (and vice versa) and that restructuring one area of life positively affects the other.

HOW I KNOW WHAT I KNOW

The concepts presented in this book are a result of many experiences in three different careers. I'd like to give you a sense of a few of those experiences and how they came to shape my philosophy.

Years ago, as a university professor, I watched students go through class after class without any understanding of the process with which they were involved. Without any real-life experience, their orientation was toward comfort: a drive to get to a place where there is a cessation of demands. Most of them never had the chance to put information to use in any meaningful way outside of a classroom. Any information that made them uncomfortable -- that demanded growth from them -- was tuned out. Most of them turned in mediocre performances as a result of this drive toward comfort. Success was possible only for those students who had sufficient life experience to endure the discomfort that comes with growth.

Later, as a psychotherapist, I encountered patients searching for direction and a way of viewing the world. People would come in with problems related to change, desperate to know if a course of action should be pursued, whether it was right or wrong. Patients would relate the counterproductive things they had done, the result of reproducing destructive, familiar patterns in their lives. They wanted and needed a sorting mechanism so they could evaluate their actions within a coherent context.

The sorting mechanism that was most helpful to them was a clear value orientation. When they understood their core beliefs, my patients had a way to judge what was stupid, destructive behavior and what was not. Unfortunately, therapists are trained to be value neutral and simply tell patients to "take a look at that." After patients take a look, they have no idea what to do next.

From these experiences, I realized that people are hungry for values; that they flounder without values to guide their behavior. A value-based life, it seemed to me, would be a highly productive, satisfying one. It would provide the internal sense of security necessary to deal with a rapidly changing world.

As a business consultant, I discovered that organizations also lack values. They don't possess core belief systems (a collection of values). They manage their companies based on what works at the moment and what keeps them in familiar territory; they are prey for trends and fads. As a result, they ride the rollercoaster cycle of good results and bad results, puzzled by their inconsistency.

For instance, most organizations rarely define the role of management beyond processing paper and "watching" people. Although management may say it wants to foster growth among its employees, its actions often belie that statement. To truly foster growth, management must act as a change agent, and if it doesn't take on this role, it's being paid too much. When this value of growth is missing from organizations, the majority of employees plateau in their careers; there is no impetus from management for them to achieve new and more challenging objectives.

When management acts as a change agent, it confronts accountability issues. Think about how many times a boss tells subordinates, "You're grown-ups here, not children. I expect you to be accountable for the tasks you've been assigned." He or she expects them to be accountable to themselves, which is impossible. Accountability doesn't exist outside of relationships. You have to be accountable to someone else. Management must assign someone for a subordinate to be accountable to; that's the only way the subordinate will grow. An apt analogy is to a family. We don't throw our kids out on the street at an early age and expect them to grow (emotionally and intellectually) on their own; we don't give them complete freedom and no limits. We manage our relationships with kids. Why should we abdicate our responsibility to manage employee relationships?

What are your values? Your company's values? To help you determine your values and see how they fit within the high risk culture, take the time to complete the Value Clarification Instrument on pages 10-12. Save the answer sheet for later. In Chapter 9, I'll help you evaluate your responses and understand where you reside on the risk continuum. I'd like you to complete this exercise now rather than later because the information in the following chapters might influence your answers.

A CARING APPROACH

Managing relationships frequently involves what some people might perceive to be difficult situations. Conflict and confrontation are part of the process, and many executives try to avoid these seemingly unpleasant encounters. But conflict and confrontation don't have to involve hostility or personal attacks. Pointing out the flaws in someone's work performance or discussing a personal issue that is causing an employee to be consistently late for work doesn't require a patronizing lecture or a shouting match. When conflict and confrontation are part of a caring approach, managers don't have problems using these tools to help their people grow.

In fact, an uncaring approach avoids conflict and confrontation. What else would you call ignoring someone's barely passable work or counterproductive behavior? The message sent by such apathy is, "I don't really care enough to help you be more than mediocre."

The more we care, the more we should demand. Granted, it is easy for people to mistake our motivation when we demand growth. When we say, "Look, you've established one type of c...

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