Monthly Archives: December 2009

Beneath the Sound of Silence

I just read an article by Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison and Frances J. Milliken entitled “Sounds of Silence.”  It is an informative article about active-internal communication, questioning and conflict.  I think the topic is very straightforward and as you read it I think you will agree with it 100% unless you are the self-conscious boss who never listens to his employees.  Employees and bosses alike have tough times seeing the importance of asking questions beneficial to the company because of fear of backlash from the boss or as I just said the boss is self-conscious and he does not like his ways being “threatened.”  That silence in the workplace is very damaging and it is bound to fail.  Employees are often silenced or they feel threatened and they never question anything.  The silencing manager and the threatening company will eventually figure out things can run smoother and by that time it is too late.  Things run more efficiently when internal communication is allowed and encouraged from the bottom-up.

Having good internal communication is very good and productive in the right environment.  I think it is hard to implement it in an active organization.  As I read along I wondered what would happen it I told my employees, “We want and need your input.”  After some more thought, I realized we had talked about this in my class on a couple of occasions.  We talked about the comparison between the Japanese and American auto industry.  The Japanese companies are very efficient and they encourage all of their employees to give input to management.  It works very well because every suggestion is taken seriously and they implement a lot of them.  The Japanese employee’s and their customers’ suggestions are pivotal to their success.  To try and match the Japanese efficiency and productivity, the American companies tried to implement this and it failed miserably.  Most of the employee’s suggestions were kicked to the curb or they were stolen by supervisors and managers and given as their own.  The employees therefore quit giving suggestions and now the American auto industry is broken.  I think there was no way that would have been successful with their current management system and team.  The employees were almost forced to give their input and it was either stolen or shot down without appreciation.

I think that comparison is very effective when talking about this, but we still do not know how to implement it correctly.  Morrison and Milliken offer a great way to implement a trusting, don’t kill the messenger environment, fire the old untrustworthy manager and hire someone with a proven record of being open and trustworthy.  It is a lot easier creating an open and trusting environment from scratch rather than trying to implement it into an active system.  The old manager would have to change himself before he could ever think of changing the minds of the employees.  The damage the old manager has created is often too great to just change the old manager’s ways and start over with a smile and open arms.  It would not work, so you have to start over.  There are so many negative remnants of the old system that the employees will not believe it and it will be difficult to gain their trust and break the sound of silence, but good news, the new manager will come in and she will change everything.

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ACT if you dare

I just read “Changing others through changing ourselves: The transformation of human systems” written by Robert E. Quinn, Gretchen M. Spreitzer and Matthew V. Brown in the Journal of Management Inquiry.  It was about the adaptive change theory (ACT)and it is all about changing yourself before ever thinking about changing anyone else.  The theory is based on putting yourself in jeopardy or making yourself vulnerable for the benefit of others, specifically in this case, your employees.  The theory was very interesting because of the way Quinn et al. explained it using Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus, but when it was all said and done I did not like it.  After I finished it I had to refer to my Bret L. Simmons’ powerpoint presentation to figure out what I read.

I had a lot of mixed emotions as I read it.  I started to really get into it when Quinn started to describe the 10 principles of ACT and when I finished that section I was eager to read the application of it.  The application was a huge disappointment.  I thought it was ridiculous.  The only way these people practiced ACT was by accident, soul searching or a life-changing event.  They had no practical applications, at least in my opinion.

After reading this, I know ACT is a great theory and that is it, good luck with the rest. The real life implications are something I would never want endure or want my boss to endure.  The suicide example was mind-blowing.  It was about a manager whose former employee committed suicide after being laid off and the manager was a better man because of it.  Of course he was treated better at work because everyone felt bad for him.  If I was his boss, I would give him whatever he wanted, or if I worked for him I would do everything he said.  That was a horrible event and it would change anyone, at least anyone with a conscience.  He would have never changed it was not for that event.  He never wants that to happen again so he is going to be the best boss in the world.

The next thing that bothered me was how Quinn et al. referenced everything to how someone will be able to endure “the painful adjustments and put themselves in jeopardy (Pg. 149).”  He explained it by describing the non-violent efforts of Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and how they were able to influence people to change.  I thought it was a too extreme to compare a chief executive to those three who gave their lives for what they believed in.

Thinking about ACT in a critical business sense, I do not see ACT as a tool for creating effective followers, only sheep and yes people.  Quinn et al. says it clearly, “[ACT] implies a dependence that is of the nature of a growth-oriented identification with the leader (pg. 154).”  But then in the very next principle, Quinn et al. says the leader is at the same time pushing the follower to a breaking point and encouraging the follower to question and challenge.  Those are two extremes and it would be almost impossible to do both.  I do not see Erin’s mother pushing her daughter to the breaking point and making her dependent of her at the same time.  I especially do not see the suicide guy doing that or any of the other examples doing it either.

The only good thing about this article was the end of it when Quinn et al. discredited it.  It was written to evoke thought and that is what it did for me.

I think the idea of ACT is good, change yourself and inspire others to change with you.  After reading the article I did not see the transition, but after reading Simmons’ presentation I am more convinced.  Simmons’ wrote, ACT “requires a shift away from self-interested behavior to purposeful behavior.  [The] leader strives for inclusion, openness, and development and minimizes the need for hierarchy.”  The ACT leader is no longer a hypocrite and she wants win-win decision making through internal communication and questioning.  The leader has made the painful change and now she has to develop goals which ¨must be a vision for the common good if others are expected to make painful changes.”

Even though I did not like the article at all, I still think I learned something and I encourage you to read it and see what you think.  I have class tonight and I am looking forward to the discussion to see if anyone felt the same way I did.  No one ever does, at least if they do, they do not speak up, like me.