Grass Roots Emerging?

by tomjaap on

Our world is being shaped by a powerful few

We are living in extraordinary times that are represented by global crisis on the one hand and soaring stock market on the other. It can be difficult to reconcile the tragedy caused by extraordinary extreme weather events witnessed around the world with the exhibition of pleasure demonstrated by the people ringing the New York stock exchange opening bell. The more I dig into the different scenarios it becomes clearer that we are very much at the mercy of a few very large and powerful organisations. Their influence on government policy is always to achieve an outcome that is in their own best interest.

Almost all climate scientists are convinced that the influence of human endeavour is mainly responsible for global warming and adverse climate change. They also recognise that the trend is potentially dangerous for the future survival of humankind. These powerful organisations drive forward with actions that potentially exacerbate the climate situation. In many instances it is about power, profit, and providing a satisfactory return to their supporters or shareholders. This is achieved often by them taking action that has truly adverse consequences on the environment and people. Yet they get away with the adverse outcomes they cause by having very deep pockets that enable them to hire or control the best defence lawyers, political advisers, and media.

An important part of their strategy is to get credible experts to deny that global warming is actually happening. One of their key messages is that changes in climate have being going on for centuries and as the world is a well-designed eco-system it will eventually correct itself over time. The missing piece is their answer to “over what time scale” and will this be in enough time to avert a global catastrophe.

I raise the global warming issue as an example of the fact that powerful forces are resisting any action that interferes with their political or business interests. In direct contrast to the above I am thrilled by the extraordinary achievements made by what are called ‘ordinary’ people.

Extraordinary results from ‘ordinary people’

I am frequently asked about my views on management and I refer the questioner to my ‘bottomupleadership’ blog. This has subsequently involved me in several very interesting conversations about my views. I have not been surprised that the general view they express has been about the vital need for strong management control to ensure that desired results are achieved. Although I sensed that some of my ideas were being reluctantly accepted, those with a hierarchical mindset find it very difficult to take on board the possibility that ‘ordinary’ people have the capability to successfully accomplish assignments without the need for close supervision.

Yet if they were to look around the world they would find a growing amount of evidence on what ‘ordinary’ people can achieve as illustrated by the following three examples:

  1. CNN have just completed a campaign that invited viewers to select one of 10 CNN Heroes to be the winner. This interesting part is that all 10 are described as ‘ordinary people’ who have accomplished extraordinary outcomes.
  2. TV3 in New Zealand invited viewers to recommend ‘good sorts’ who are people doing voluntary work in their communities. Once again they are often referred to as being ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things.
  3. Many people who watch the Undercover Boss series from the UK, US, and Australia are amazed at how many ‘ordinary’ employees are doing quite extraordinary things that their bosses were totally unaware of.

What these three examples provide is the confidence we can have in the ability of ‘ordinary’ people to achieve quite extraordinary outcomes without the supposed incentive of receiving financial rewards. They will certainly receive a lot of satisfaction from the appreciation expressed by those they help although this is not what appears to drive them. In many instances the people have a passion or mission that drives them to do the things they do and to some very high standards without being supervised. However, the one aspect that does make a real difference to their efforts is the enthusiastic support they tend to generate from those who associate with the work that they are doing.

Supporting empowerment

When we read about a person’s success there is almost always a background story about the support they have received from a spouse, partner, colleague, or friend. I have observed how genuine support can make a significantly measureable difference to what a person can achieve. The key to how effective support makes a difference is in the way that it is often unconditional and given in a non-judgmental manner. To see how someone, who was judged by their manager to be “not up to the job”, emerge as a top performer was amazing. This person became aware of her capability through the feedback she received from colleagues. Believing in herself coupled with effective support from colleagues made all the difference in helping to build her confidence to truly make a difference.

I recognise that her manager probably believed in her assessment, however, it appeared that she may have adopted too narrow a perspective that failed to identify the employee’s potential. Unfortunately for many employees this scenario is far too common and results in capable people being missed out of the opportunities that they should have been given.

Assessing employee effectiveness

The biggest issue I have with what goes on in organisations is the influence top management and in particular HR has on the assessment process. For example, over a period of years I developed a range of behavioural assessment tools. During the process of developing and testing I became very aware that they needed to be used with care because they are all subject to a degree of respondent bias. I do not know of any self-answered psychometric or behavioural assessment tools that can accurately define a person’s capability. What that they do is to provide some potentially useful insights that can be thoughtfully explored to determine their relevance to assessing the person’s performance.

Another factor is the general disconnect between the different levels of management and supervision in organisations. This means that information on employee performance is subject to a whole range of potentially biased perspectives that are often not founded on fact. This can be observed in how 360º performance reviews are carried out, as in many cases they are still anonymous. Receiving feedback from a colleague who is unwilling or not given the opportunity to disclose who they are is at best questionable. There is always the potential for misguided information to emerge from third party feedback. This particular problem can easily be dealt with when there is the opportunity to explore the feedback with the respondent.

Making a difference

As the subject of performance assessment is very important in terms of how it can eliminate capable employees
from available job opportunities I will identify in more detail in my next blog what is going on in many organisations and what can be done to improve the situation and release the talent that is urgently needed. In the meantime invest some time in exploring how business operates when the main driving force is profit. Read newspapers, listen to radio and TV to hear what is said and how
business deals with situations in which profits are threatened. I am certain that some clear strategies will emerge that I will touch on in my next blog

If you have any comments on this blog I would appreciate hearing from you by either contacting me by email at or leaving a comment on the blog.

Best wishes



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