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Serious About Work


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




So many interviewers make this issue the primary goal in determining the suitability of candidates. The post-interview summary often sounds like this: “Likeable, easy going, good skills, but talks in the first person singular too much to be a team player.” Or, “He has a spotty work experience.” Is it because he’s not serious about his work?

When in talks with employees, do you have the view that they are doing all they can do to achieve “agreed upon” goals? If not, what do you conclude? Is he taking responsibility for the “complete task” that’s missing?

Enterprise organizations need the best from stakeholders every day. When disengaged—54 percent of employees—the meaning and the joy in work are hard to find. Uninvested employees are indifferent about the work they do and the value of it to them. It’s a common concern since roughly 85 percent of the workforce dislikes their jobs.

Least-resistance oriented, most people find their lowest level of contribution—just enough to get by. It’s a condition just short of complacency for most, though some move quickly to actively disengage—17 percent of the workforce. Armed with this information, how do we determine whom among candidates is serious about his work? The trick may be in developing a good sense of what it feels and sounds like to be actively engaged in meaningful work; the goal of all serious workers. Consider the answers to the following question:

Describe what it means to be serious about your work.

Candidate A: “I’m very serious about my work. I always studied hard when in college, and arrived at work promptly at my first job. I work hard and do everything that is asked of me. I know that this job, like most others, is not 9-5, and I always give 110 percent. I take my work very seriously.”

Candidate B: “To be serious about work means growing a greater sense of the whole than just an understanding of the task at hand. I think it requires that I take responsibility for the success of the team, the individual team players, and the goals of the organization. I think when people do that, they enjoy their work more and are able to make a more valuable contribution to the organization. Encouraging those around me to do their best makes me better and conditions the work with real purpose. I think that is what it means to be serious about your work.”

Which of these candidates has demonstrated an understanding of the meaning in being serious about one’s work? Candidate A’s answer is more common than B’s answer by 10:1. Surprised? Yet, the only modeling apparent in the answers above is in candidate B’s words. Clearly, the candidate is prepared by the thinking that preceded them.

The opportunity in the work we do is prepared in us. If it truly is not in your organization, if the culture is predatory in nature, then move on. But in most organizations, it is not opportunity that’s missing but the willingness to invest fully in the work we do. To make a difference is easy; just give of yourself by an internal standard, not the one by which others measure themselves. Go beyond the task to complete the job. Few do; a difference maker in successful individual effort. Everyone is gifted, but some don’t open the package.


April 20, 2018 |

Lucky or Good


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




Most of us are familiar with the now famous line from the movie “Dirty Harry” in which Clint Eastwood’s character asks of his nemesis, “Feeling lucky? Go ahead, make my day!” Simple enough — Harry was itching for a fight (as was his wont), ready to do the deed and fully prepared to pull the trigger and fulfill his death wish. But what was Harry really asking as he posited the notion kindling in the mind of his adversary?

The Patriots were an exceptional team for most of the season. Their opponents were unprepared for a team that could execute so well and with the resolve and confidence uncommon to most. Then the tables turned. The Patriots played poorly in the last 5 games of the regular season and playoffs, including the Super Bowl. What happened? Simply, they were unprepared for teams that rose to the level of their play, teams that devised ways to penetrate their system and break it down.

Were the Patriots lucky to have gone 18-0? Were the Giants lucky to have beaten an undefeated (presumably unbeatable) team? How do we know? Let’s examine the tenets of luck to answer the question.

The Model of Luck

Luck is defined as “the arbitrary distribution of events or outcomes, something that seems to happen by chance rather than as a logical consequence.” It is clear by this definition that “luck” is a circumstantial mechanism, and one that owes its magniloquence to a propitious ordering of the stars. We know the feeling. We walk out of a difficult meeting and onto the street and there on the sidewalk is a $50 bill just waiting to brighten our day. We call this “dumb luck.” There’s not much that we had to do with it; we just happened to be where the $50 bill was at that precise moment, and we saw it before another.

Perhaps, in the moments or hours that follow we will hold on to the feeling of euphoria that good fortune improvises. It may even raise our level of contribution to greater heights than we have known before or might have been achieved had not good fortune met with us on the sidewalk.

But there is another kind of luck, the one that so many businesses refer to when they begin an initiative that the market takes to. The iPod may be an example. The response to it was nothing short of spectacular. On the other hand, how did Apple, Inc. arrive at this extraordinary success? Remember the Newton—innovative, but bulky, slow, and with the brain of a mouse (no pun intended)? Then there is its progenitor, Steven Jobs—he, impugned of ignominy despite his founding of this creative and genius computer products company. Next, Inc. was next (no less creative), a failure, then, Pixar, a success. And a return home finally, just for the fun of it at $1 a year.

The iPod is an MP3 player like so many. Was it that good, or was it luck? Was it that different from all the rest? How? Luck, again? The iPhone is the same script. And then, the MacPro Air and the iPad Air. Just another computer, right? Just more luck? Or “not”!

It is said that luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity. The math looks like this:

Preparation + Opportunity = Luck

If luck is where preparation meets opportunity and it is something we can influence, why don’t we work harder at creating it? Perhaps, it’s because we haven’t spent a moment to study it, to learn what it really is.

Being Good

Some say “I’d rather be lucky than good.” It means that if someone wants to toss us the keys to the kingdom, we’ll gladly catch them in the air. But then, why do we go to school, honor the so-called Protestant ethic of hard work, suffer through the failure of 92% of the businesses that start each year? We go to school, work hard, and suffer loss to prepare ourselves for success. We know that we learn from doing, that we can’t know success until we fail, and that giving up sacrifices opportunity. So we persevere, preparing ourselves in excellence, in the hope that we get lucky. Excellence, we have learned from Thomas Edison, is formed of 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration. Excellence, we are told, comes from an average of 10,000 hours of practice before realized. Ask a concert pianist. Being “good,” as it turns out may produce more luck than happenchance.

Inspiration (2%) + Perspiration (98%) = Success

Luck is often made of the following:

  • Limited Crisis—when things could have been worse, but aren’t.
  • Circumstances—good ones that just worked out that way.
  • Unexpected Help—someone says, “Boy, you look like you could use some help. What can I do for you?”

Good is often made of these:

  • Training—skills and knowledge acquired over time and from intensive study.
  • Preparation—a disciplined approach to things.
  • Readiness—the competence that is obtained from the previous two.
  • Willingness—that quality of resourcefulness that won’t quit, even when all around you do.
  • Pride—that sense of the value in oneself that drives excellence.
  • Quality—the notion that doing things well produces better, less costly results.


Being good may be the banner ad of the ego, but it contributes one very important thing to an ultimate outcome; it allows us to have influence over it. In doing so, we construct a model of behavior that is more repeatable, more controllable, and more successful than that which relies on chance alone. Being good may require something more of us than a hopeful attitude (a good thing), and it may be just the elixir that separates us from the crowd and raises the odds in our favor. Being “good” may be just the “preparation” that produces “luck.”


April 13, 2018 |



ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




If we can do little without the “follow through” of discipline (last week’s column), integrity may be the foundation for everything we hope to achieve. Some may see the priorities in virtue differently—kindness may be the “politically correct” leader on the list of them. Oddly, none of the lists of virtues name this one as above. Justice may be the closest, but “integrity” is what underlies all virtue.

A simple rule of business is that organizations make promises to their customers and stakeholders and then proceed to deliver on them. Business is little more, and it need not be. But just what does integrity mean, and what does it look like in the workplace?

Integrity is the internally consistent framework of principles that is reflected in one’s behavior or actions*. When everything we do is derived from the same set of principles or core values, we are exhibiting “integrity.” Thus, those with a heightened sense of what’s “politically correct”—perhaps the issue of an alter-cultural and quasi-moral religiosity—find themselves outside this model of integrity. “Him/her” and “waitperson” are examples.

Integrity is revealed in behavior from moment to moment, but it is honed over years of character building. We have it or we don’t, and it looks like the following:

  • Accepting responsibility
  • Keeping one’s word
  • Keeping the vigil in the little things
  • Being honest
  • Standing up for what’s right
  • Maintaining honor and virtue
  • Being morally upright
  • Making “right” choices, not just “the right” choices
  • Finding solutions, not fault

Though it is common to hear someone pronouncing his integrity (people who make a point of outlining their virtues usually are bereft of them), integrity either is or is not evident in one’s behavior. If our foundation is one of integrity, our decisions, demeanor (low anxiety), and style will reveal it. Telling another that we “have it” is just so much conversation. Consequently, the view that we can operate without it by suggesting that “it’s just business” is no more than an excuse for corrupt character.

In a conversation some years ago a friend told me that he was planning to build and occupy a new facility for his very successful company. After congratulating him I remembered that he had just taken occupancy of the building he was in, and I asked if he was planning to occupy both. “No,” he replied. How then, I asked, would he exit from the long-term lease he had with the landlord? “I’ll get my lawyers to find something wrong with the lease and break it,” he said.

We were good friends, so I felt comfortable (and compelled) to tell him what I thought of his solution. My final words to him were, “If you entered the lease in good faith,” (he was in the commercial real estate business and knew the principle well) “why not negotiate good terms for a buyout of the lease?” I left it at that.

Whether making good on a simple promise to deliver a report when agreed to, or moving to multi-million dollar digs, the principles of right behavior remain the same—integrity first. Anything less is called “situational ethics.”

Action Theory

Though a noun, integrity is very much a product of action theory, that is, behavior caused by an agent in a particular set of circumstances. The fruits of integrity are revealed in actions. Thus, integrity is better understood (and distinguished from its kissing cousin “honesty”) by the behavior it elicits. To be clear, honesty requires integrity; integrity produces honesty—they are more action verbs in this context.

The agents in honesty (most behaviors) are desires and beliefs. Perhaps, this is why most organizations include a document of their values and beliefs in employee manuals. A simple example is my desire to be refreshed on a hot day and the belief that the lake of cool liquid in front of me is water, leading to the bodily behavior of submerging myself for a swim.

In simple theory, the desire and belief jointly cause the action. Some have added intent as basic to beliefs and desires. This is perhaps why, when asking a child to decide his own punishment (for an offense both he and his parents agree upon), he typically metes out more stringent terms than his parents would have devised. His underlying sense of integrity and intention to do right and please his parents overcompensates for his behavior with more rigorous punishment.

On balance, the theories suggest that a desire (plus a belief) about the means of satisfying that desire are always what is behind an action. The aim of agents (in acting out behavior) is to maximize the satisfaction of their desires. This idea of prospective rationality underlies much of economics and other social sciences within the framework of rational choice or action theory, a structural foundation for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior.

Integrity has its price—failed commitments, premature loan demands, handshake agreements between friends, etc. are common to our experience. However, if we are to first believe, then integrity always has a greater value, whatever the price. In our efforts to succeed (at any cost), we would do well to be reminded of the words of Albert Einstein, “Try not to become a person of success, but rather, a person of value.”

* Wikipedia

April 6, 2018 |



ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



In a world so full of information and activity, is it any wonder that our greatest battle may be in fighting distraction? We know by experience that concentration is required if we are to accomplish our goals — personal and professional. But in spite of this, we are too easily turned away from the important things by the sheer force of distraction common to a busy life.

In the words of a Zen master, When walking, walk. When eating, eat.

Many organizations have found “quality” to be a defining ethic. A “quality approach” to all things, they have discovered, delivers the results they seek. Ask, “Is what I’m doing at the moment the best use of my time, and am I serving quality in my approach?” It is only in the concentration we give to our principles that our practice has any hope of reflecting them.

To accomplish such results, we must find the locus of concentration, the characteristic behavior that focuses our energies on one thing at a time, no more than what science reveals the brain can achieve.

Two Types

Concentration may be divided in two — short-term concentration, that which is a focus on the moment — and long-term concentration, a focus on future moments. Both are important. Both are critical to achieving our goals. Both are critical to the fulfillment we seek. But few are good at both or even one. The reason? It is not something we honor, not something we encourage in our children, in our education of them, in each other. We are far more likely to judge results than the flawed process that produces them. Consequently, we have developed a kind of bicameralism over right principles. We know them, but have difficulty adhering to them, more content to judge the outcome as less than optimal. Our focus, it would seem, is misplaced.

The ability to pay close attention to things of the moment, undistracted is a skill that can produce twice the output of others. Perhaps, even more. And, the results are likely to be twice as good, as well. Why? Because it is distractions that sap our time and that derail our best intentions. The interruption of co-workers, crisis issues, road noise, an unregulated cell phone, nearby conversations, the inconveniences of an undisciplined inner focus, are examples of the “little” things that turn our attentions.

It’s in consideration of the things that cost us our focus that we are reminded of the old saw, “The measure of a man is the size of the thing that undoes him.” The fact is, the average person is unable to stick with a task for 10 minutes before losing himself to his own disquieting mental chatter.

Long-term concentration is a focus on a future goal that could be weeks, months or years away. It could be a college degree, a health or fitness goal, saving for a home, planning a vacation, investing for our children’s college education, etc. This requires an ability to commit to and stay committed to a goal over the long haul. This kind of concentration requires that we know securely “why” we are applying ourselves to such an outcome. When we are unable to explain — logically and emotionally — why we want to achieve a certain goal we’ve set, we are not likely to reach it. In fact, research suggests that the success rate is virtually zero. While our motivation may be little more than a matter of mental focus, we need to know where we are going and why if we hope to get there. Great accomplishments are made of these.

Such accomplishments are the results of small things — thought patterns, beliefs, and attitudes. Some are fortunate to have had the training that produces these attributes early in life. Others struggle through a lifetime in search of it. The good news is that “concentration” is available to all by a few simple measures.

Focus Tools

  • Know where you’re going. A point in every direction is no point at all.
  • Know why you are doing what you are doing. Know the purpose in things. Form a model of a “purpose driven life.”
  • Know who you are and how you’re going to get to where you’re going. Shakespeare had it right: We must endeavor to know ourselves, to know our emotional, intellectual, and physical responses, before we can hope to achieve planned goals — the definition of success.
  • Live slow! It’s what produces the best results. We train, in school, in the workplace, long and hard to prepare for the achievement ahead. Why then do we return so quickly to expedience as the vade mecum of our McDonald’s society? Read more slowly, savor the words, their meaning together. Look up when walking — there’s a world around you that you haven’t noticed. Be patient with yourself and others. Give yourself the luxury of focus.

When you notice someone who is good at these things, honor them with a question about how they have achieved them. Watch them run circles around others, and study how they do it. Ask them how they deal with the endless stream of thoughts in their heads and still concentrate, about how they are able to narrow their focus gaining the increased productivity that obtains.

Do that and you’ll find that they mentally shut it out. They don’t have to shut their doors. They literally don’t have distracting thoughts while they are supposed to be concentrating on something else. Outside sounds and physical feelings don’t enter their conscious thoughts. Bright lights don’t bother them, extreme cold and heat don’t affect them, humidity isn’t a bother. In fact, when you have developed your mental skills to focus your mind, such extraordinary control over your environment is available to you.

The ability to do anything better and faster and for longer periods of time, while finding contentment in doing it, can be yours. Focus allows us to go many hours without sleep and with little diminished awareness. In fact, awareness increases dramatically when in a high state of focus.

If you want to gain the ability to concentrate so completely in the moment, you can’t be disturbed by anything — or if you would like to be able to stick with a project or a dream for years — begin the focus techniques above and enjoy the results.

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success — this is focus.

March 30, 2018 |

Finding Joy in the Workplace


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




A while ago, I heard a story from a friend who was invited to tour a new apartment building built by a friend of his. His friend, a brick and mortar contractor, had begun an effort to invest in and build his own properties. This was his first and he was excited to share it. My friend was shown all models of the apartments within and was duly impressed with the view of the river from most, as well as the apartment layouts. When he was shown the studio, a new concept for a 20-year-old in college, he was openly critical of the smallness of the unit and its layout — an all-in-one room with only a folding door to cordon off the small kitchen. “No one will want to live in this space, he opined.” His contractor friend responded acerbically to the arrogance of the comment with, “I’m betting my money that they will.”

The lesson in this story may be to remind us of the value in the organizations we serve and the extraordinary investment made in the growth and development of people and business; perhaps, even an appreciation for the contribution of individuals who make up the whole. It is, in fact, quite common to find fault with our organizations instead of a model for improving and growing them. Too often, we are confronted with the value in them only after we have decided that there is a “better” place to work.

In down-cycles, such as the one from which we are now emerging, every element of organizations is being measured more carefully. The venerable yardstick, PEL, finds new meaning at such times as increased PRODUCTIVITY, EFFICIENCY and LOWER COSTS squeeze opportunity from operations. Belt-tightening is the common phrase, but the practice of PEL is an everyday rigor that produces benefits under all economic conditions.

But, what can we do as individuals formed into organizations and on whom the success of them (and us) depends so mightily? The Four “Be”s below are the stuff that minimally contributes both to a productive attitude and productive ends.

(P) Be Prepared — We are, none of us, the product of luck. As was discussed in this column some weeks ago, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Luck, we learned, is something we can influence, no less than by our preparation. Attitude too prepares us for the “luck” that comes our way. When we approach things with opportunity in mind, it is opportunity we usually see.

We go to school, work hard, and suffer loss to prepare ourselves for success. We know that we learn from doing, that we can’t know success until we fail, and that giving up sacrifices opportunity. So we persevere, preparing ourselves in excellence, in the hope that we get lucky. But attitudinal preparation is a practice less easy to technique than the knowledge and skills we gather through formal training. I don’t remember seeing an “attitude” course in college. Yet, though most people are hired for their knowledge and skills, they fail by an underdeveloped attitude and poor habits.

(R) Be Resourceful — If we learn one thing in life and in college more than any other, it is resourcefulness. Yet, so many in the workplace find “fault” more easily than “solutions.” It is what distinguishes them more than anything else they do, even the good that they do. Why? Because it exhibits a poor attitude, a self-defeating approach to things, and the thing good organizations value least.

When joined with others it is best to learn how to get the most out of the combined resource you have become. When faced with a task, think about how to “get the job done” in the face of unforeseen obstacles. This is more than just task completion, and it is as apparent for its contribution to the whole as the expected outcome itself. Good teams are made of this.

(R) Be Responsible — No one answers the question, “Is there room for improvement?” with the word “No.” We all believe in the idea that anything can be improved — it’s a quick partnership. Yet, when it comes to accepting responsibility for less than optimal results, we are loath to find comity in them.

Despite the fact that we relate best when the contribution we make to another is apparent and received, another’s need is usually more apparent than our own, and usually more palatable. We are coded for error — the human condition is legend for its frailty. We make mistakes and we fix them. Our condition is also well equipped to adapt well to change. Plus, we learn most from failure. So, why do we shun it, indeed steadfastly refuse to accept it, for the silver lining in it? See “failure as feedback” and this behavior may melt away, becoming an asset instead of a liability.

(Y) Be Yourself — Our roles in organizations may change our apparent response mechanisms. Usually, this allows the opportunity to grow a better approach to things —more thoughtful, friendly, and productive. It also provides a narrower focus on the things that define you best, those things that make you more relatable and more able to join with others for productive ends — what organizations do.

If you can PRRY yourself from the patterns of corruptible behaviors, you’ll find joy in your circumstances, even at work. If your joy is (first) in the money you make, know that you are different from most, who rank it seventh as attractions to the workplace.

Finally, have courage. Those who write on the bathroom walls as they’re leaving a company what they would not confront while an employee need to find theirs. It is legend that the cures arise from the effort to clear misunderstandings — the basis for most disagreements. Disgruntled people need to find another way, and it is not in the sympathy of others for their plight. In pursuit of understanding, too often psychology finds excuses for human behavior.

March 23, 2018 |

Risking Conflict


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Most disagreements are the result of misunderstanding. There, I’ve said it. It’s that simple. All that is left, one would assume, is to clear the misunderstanding.

“Our ‘opponents’ are our co-creators, for they have something to give which we have not. The basis of all cooperative activity is integrated diversity…. What people often mean by getting rid of conflict is getting rid of diversity, and it is of the utmost importance that these should not be considered the same. We may wish to abolish conflict, but we cannot get rid of diversity. We must face life as it is and understand that diversity is its most essential feature… Fear of difference is dread of life itself. It is possible to conceive conflict as not necessarily a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process by which socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned.”

Mary Parker Follett, among the first to advocate conflict resolution and democratic principles in the workplace, penned this note just after World War I. Her observations are no less “truth” today. Technological advancements have enabled huge changes in personal mobility, global transportation and communications that daily bring us face-to-face with a diverse world. Economic globalization is already a common reality for business, and the world-wide-web has made it possible to access the secrets of an entire universe. As rapidly, diversity is disappearing in a world that no longer requires getting on a plane to discover it, but only the pole vaulting of a keyboard and telephone keypad with one’s fingers. Diversity is not only a precious resource, but also a significant source — “not merely of conflict, but learning, personal and organizational development, evolutionary adaptation, and life itself.”

The issue in embracing diversity is fear in its elemental form — we fear that something we think is ours alone is at risk of being taken from us. But as we get closer to each other, increasingly interdependent, we must confront the senseless and destructive intolerance of diversity. Complex by nature, conflict arising from cultural and personality differences, divergent belief systems, competing self-interests or bellicose demands for attention, wealth and resources, is really a simple matter.

We can play it safe, retreat from dialogue, and move against our opponents based on a fear of differences, a desire to suppress them and a need to satisfy our own selfish interests — or we can take a risk, engage in dialogue and move toward the other, celebrating our differences toward collaboratively satisfying each other’s underlying interests. It allows us to understand, discuss and learn from our differences and to recognize that conflicts offer a unique opportunity for success. Taking a risky approach to conflict resolution grows that understanding as well as new skills and solutions not thought possible before. If only for these reasons, conflict is a valuable personal and organizational opportunity and a powerful source of learning, development and growth.

Two Kinds of Conflict

Short of psychological illness, conflict arises from two fronts — interpersonal and systemic. Both are organizational issues. Interpersonal conflict is mostly the result of simple miscommunications or misunderstandings that in turn derive from unrealistic expectations, unintended consequences and exaggerated personal differences. Nearly all can be prevented, mitigated and successfully resolved if confronted, and with a willing attitude.

Organizations also generate chronic systemic conflicts that are deeper and far more difficult to resolve. Intractable because the issues they raise are complex, requiring far-reaching solutions, systemic conflicts are risky, stubborn and obstacles to organizational learning, growth and adaptation — seldom appearing as random and unnecessary disputes.

Systemic conflicts expose the hidden fault lines in relationships — between people and functions — and are indicators of internal weakness and instability. They signal both the burgeoning need to change and a resistance to doing so.

Conversely, they are the sound of waiting opportunity — the subcutaneous invitation to satisfy unimagined needs. They expose contradictory cultural messages, the absence of clear vision and the need for shared values, committed leadership, collaboration and teamwork. They signal the moment in which something isn’t working for someone and the nascent opportunity to fix or get by it.

Systemic conflicts are chronic in organizations with hierarchical layers and peer-level, bureaucratic departments competing with each other for resources. Lost in the fray is the idea of interdependent parts of an organizational whole with many goals in common. Higher levels of unity and effectiveness obtain only after beginning collaborative dialogue, negotiated differences, and when risking conflict resolution as a solution.

Feedback, coaching, mentoring, assessment and supportive confrontation can all be used to help resolve workplace conflicts. But to be successful, they require that we take risks, asking both sides to accept full responsibility for the conflict. Without this each will blame the other for what is actually within his control — a key element of the process.

When we accept responsibility for what we have contributed to the conflict, others are encouraged to do the same. When both parties accept responsibility, impasse begins to disappear. Here are some risky questions that can assist conflicting parties in accepting responsibility for their actions:

The How To

In beginning a conversation to resolve a conflict, accept first that the issue of “who is right or wrong” is, in principle, indeterminate — both by a mediator or the other parties. Workable solutions have to be discovered, then crafted to make them acceptable to both sides, through dialogue and consensus. Some tips:

  • Understand the nature of the conflict — Discovering the true meaning of the conflict for each party leads to settlement, awareness, acceptance and resolution of the underlying causes of the conflict.
  • From the heart — Listening actively, openly, empathetically and with the heart, can deliver you to the center of the conflict where enlightenment and resolution converge.
  • Look behind the issues — Beneath the issues in conflict lie hidden fears, desires, interests, emotions, histories and motivations that reveal what’s really wrong. When they come to light they become a source of liberation and transformation.
  • Divide what matters from what’s in the way — Losing is winning if it turns us around. Shift the focus from competition to collaboration to satisfy mutual needs.
  • Be creative and commit — Creative problem solving helps, but lasting resolution requires work in the face of uncertainty and enigma, paradox and contradiction, which are part of every conflict.


March 16, 2018 |

The Catalyst


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



The work of a manager is said to consist of planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling. The role is usually that of the doer in organizations, leaving the vision and ideation to leaders. Clearly, good managers are also leaders, but the distinction applies, especially to the catalysts in organizations.

A catalyst is defined as a substance that increases the rate of chemical reaction without itself undergoing change, or somebody or something that makes a change happen (in someone or something) or brings about an event.

Among the most common chemical catalysts are enzymes, whose “activation” energy is responsible for causing change in a process or other chemicals and compounds by it—a kind of organic synthesis. As with humans, catalysts that increase the rate of reaction are called positive catalysts or, simply, catalysts, while those who decrease the rate of reaction are negative catalysts or inhibitors.

Consultants and coaches, for instance, are such catalysts, causing something to happen without change to them. Their positive “activation” energy causes catalysis, or the effect of making something happen that would not have happened without them. To be sure, catalysts in organizations have a way of getting involved just enough to spur others to achievement, to their credit, while remaining in the background.

They are influencers, but not authority figures, under most circumstances. Increasingly, consultants (as catalysts) are moving from the so-called doctor model to the partner model. The doctor model positions the client as suffering from a disease or ailment and needing expert advice to cure it. This approach has a number of failings, not least the tendency to make the client an expatriate in his own affairs. The partner plays the role of a friend, philosopher and guide. As such, he is more involved in the business and can act as a provocative thinking member of the client’s team and help avoid likely problems.

A good catalyst is always thinking about how to bring people and processes together to multiply their effect. They are the collectors and connectors of people, the “deal makers,” the “banners and buttons” types who see hidden gains in the obvious and whose desire is to help. When there is a catalyst present, things start to happen by the natural tendencies of the role. And, like most good managers, after gathering the necessary elements for a reaction to occur, the catalyst gets out of the way.

Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, in their book, The Starfish and the Spider, describe the catalyst as one of the keys to decentralization that is integral to any open system. In their preferential model, the starfish represents the quintessential open system, where decentralization of the key elements of organization act both to guarantee continuance and to provide necessary succession of those key elements. It is the reason that such social networks and websites as Facebook and Wikepedia can continue without hierarchy or the authority of anyone in command.

In their view, the absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization has given way to a model of decentralization that had lain dormant for millennia. Much like the starfish, the catalyst figures prominently as one of the five legs of organizations necessary to achieve decentralization.

To succeed, the catalyst must have tools. He may be the progenitor of good things, but he cannot lead the implementation. This must be accomplished by others, independent of formal leadership. That is, the catalyst causes a reaction, and workers must then exercise their self-leadership to make the changes necessary to achievement.

The Catalyst’s Tools

Genuine interest and investment in people and things—To the catalyst, all information is lined with opportunity. In it, and the people who carry it, are nuggets that have been hidden in plain view, things that most just do not see. When we are genuinely interested and invested in others, the information they have starts to flow. A catalyst combines it with information he has gathered from others to form an idea that brings people and ideas together for productive gain. But we must see real value in others and meet them where they are. It’s never about the catalyst.

Cataloging of people and experiences—When was the last time you looked for a felt pad to deaden the sound of a door closing? You knew you put it somewhere, but where? Catalysts depend on their ability to collect people and experiences and map their contributions to form opportunities for all. They move easily along these interconnected highways, creating new connections and forming fresh opportunities with them.

A sincere desire to helpWhat is the first question to ask another at a networking meeting? “How can I help you?” We are social creatures, quick to form with others who demonstrate sincere interest in us, in our abilities, in joining to make something happen. Things happen on byways—two-way streets. We participate because we benefit from membership in something. It’s what Maslow called “belonging,” the third level on his hierarchy of needs.

Emotional connections first—Most catalysts are clever people, but they tend to lead with emotions; it’s what forms real bonds between people. It’s also what helps form decentralized organizations, that sense of belonging to something larger than the individuals tending it. A shepherd loves his flock, and they are devoted to him—but is a servant above all.

Trust and tolerance for the unknownThings happen best when from any direction. A basketball team depends most for its success on different members stepping up at various times in a game or season. The team is often led by surprising contributions. Not knowing something is better than knowing everything. In the latter there is no opportunity for growth.

Getting out of the way—After putting the key pieces of a venture together, the catalyst steps aside and ultimately leaves.

March 9, 2018 |
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