I Need a New Attitude

by Ron Potter
Image Source: Steve Snodgrass, Creative Commons

Image Source: Steve Snodgrass, Creative Commons

Control Attitude

I don’t know if this is blogworthy or not but last summer I found myself in desperate need of a new attitude. I’d been in the hospital for over a week and was facing probably another week. My patience had worn thin, I didn’t tolerate the foibles of people like I had earlier this week and I could hardly tolerate the thought of the upcoming recovery time from the next surgery. In short, I was finding it hard to find much hope in my future.
One cause for this despair was my total loss of control. There was hardly a thing in my environment that I had any control over at the moment. Not much motivation exists when there is no control.
We’ve talked about the issues for years with my leadership team. I’m usually working with the executives and leaders of the organization.

Muddle in the Middle

These leaders often have more control of their working lives than the rest of the organization. It almost always shows up in culture surveys with what has been labeled “The muddle in the middle.” Culture survey results almost always look better at the top and bottom of the organization with the worst results in the middle (management) level of the company. We usually attribute that to control. The top is more in control of their daily lives and environments and the bottom don’t expect much control. (However, as you’ll see later they’ll perform substantially better when granted even a small bit of control) It’s the middle that feels less in control and therefore provides lower scores about the culture.
In my book Trust Me I write about an experiment conducted decades ago that speaks very directly to this issue.

Individuals were given a very difficult assignment to accomplish. It was going to take a lot of concentration, mental gymnastics, and problem solving skills over several hours of effort.
Each person was placed in a sound proof both with all the tools they needed and asked to solve the problem the best they could. But as soon as they settled into the booth, the controllers began to pump in as much disrupting sound and calamity as they could. The participant’s goal was to do the best they could.
However, while the second control group was given identical conditions, they were also given a button on their desks that would shut off all the distracting sounds for several minutes and they could push the button a certain number of times during the exam.
Once all of the exams were scored, it was obvious that the group with the shut off button had substantially outscored the group without the button. But… no one had pushed the button. Just having a sense of control over their environment allowed them to perform at a much higher level than the group with no control.

Control = Productivity

Try giving your people as much control over their environment as you can afford (and that’s likely a lot more than you’re willing). The more people can control how, where, and when they work the more productive they’ll be.

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