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Doing indispensable when you seek appreciation

05 March 2014

Doing indispensable when you seek appreciation

“There is something beautiful in you seeking freedom.” Bryant McGill

Could it be? I have a feeling that confusion between appreciation and being indispensable occurs in many disguised ways. I’ve heard it three times this week, and when the cycle of finding the source has been found the vision is the same. Doing indispensable when what you seek is appreciation could be commonplace.

I was working with a group of executives this week and found an interesting blend of cross-contaminating behaviours. I was called in to assist with a productivity issue. My aim was first to seek to understand and then to be understood. These workshops are often the most fascinating and transforming as the group goes through a hero’s journey of transformation. As we hit our first threshold in the discussion I saw the group heading for the dark night of the soul.  On one side I had a group of managers seeking appreciation, and yet their behaviour was driven by actions that they hoped would make them indispensable. On the other side I had a group of managers oblivious to the efforts of the group who were rotating between wanting to be appreciated with their behaviour mixed up in talk of being indispensable. By the third example, it had to be surfaced. Let me explain how this unfolded. First manager says, “I intuit what will make it impossible for my manager to second guess my abilities, and this is what I do in my job.”  Second manager says, “I do the tasks that I know no one else can do as well as I do because I want to feel secure.” Third manager said, “I hope my boss thinks I am indispensable.”

What was so interesting about each of these statements was that it was obvious that each person was feeling overwhelmed by stress and exhaustion. We needed some resources and thankfully we found some surprising answers.

Indispensable is defined as absolutely necessary and essential. Appreciated is defined as recognising the value, and full worth of something or someone. That these two attributes became enmeshed in a working environment is both interesting and revealing.

Why would you want to be indispensable? Well, what I found with this group was that the main reasons were for job security and fear of loss. The group shared situations, feelings and conditions that they wanted to move away from. When asking why someone would want to be appreciated I found many more exciting reasons like for job satisfaction, to feel good, to feel worthwhile, to have confidence, it makes me feel healthier, when I know where I stand I feel great, I’m motivated to be a leader.

In this group session I needed to discover what was going on within the organisation and management team that had led to the indispensable verses appreciated equation. Historically I found that the organisation was rewarding the very behaviours that were stressing staff out. The company had been through many redundancies and changes in management and role responsibilities since the GFC. What’s interesting is that on 17 January 2014, News Limited reported that the GFC “killed” 250,000 jobs in Australia. Given that in January 2014, the labour force in Australia as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics was 11,459,000 this means that each employed person had a one in 45 chance of losing his or her job. For every 45 white collar contacts on LinkedIn, chances are one person was a GFC job loss victim. In some industries like Banking and Finance where I just happened to be working when this issue came up the statistic were much higher.

How is it possible to turn this around because surely the team here were expressing that their stress was dire and their work performance was being driven by survival and not by the values, ethics and attitudes that each of them knew in their heart would result in a much more productive, fun and harmonious work environment? One way to do this is to use a process of personal values elicitation, followed by creating your values hierarchy. Look objectively at this and own it. This is the very best of who you are. Have the courage to share your discovery with colleagues who will assist you in changing attitudes in the workplace. A moment of powerful realisation hits when people see the commonality of their values.

Of course there can be aspects of being so direct with a group that can create a sense that this process may not be easy. There are people who will shy away from revealing what they are really feeling and this is normal, needing support and honouring the individual.

The moment of transformation in this group was revealed when they realised that the simplicity of appreciation was being wound up in a game of trying to be indispensable.  Evaluating the personal cost of this was ground-breaking. No one deserves to be stressed to the point of acting out in ways that are not character defining just in order to protect their employment and what this group realised was just how this was bringing out the worst and not the best in the group. With this realisation now in place and with careful management and training strategies that support individual performance and job satisfaction I am so looking forward to seeing this group fly.  They are now telling themselves they can. What’s even better is that they created the feeling by their courage and willingness to face something quite unusual.

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