Organisational Change Management Volume 2

14. Defensive Routines and Behaviours (Flathead Society)

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. "Flathead society" behaviour inhibits change and prevents responsiveness to new opportunities. The concept of the "flathead society" is linked with defensive routines and behaviours, such as

- impression management

- protecting public face

- organisational defensive routines

- blame culture

- skilled incompetence

- survival behaviours

- cocooning

- silencing

- defensive pessimism

- uncritical obedience

If these defensive routines are occurring, a culture of learned helplessness can emerge which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy

"...a situation where a false definition in the beginning evokes a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come true..."

Robert Merton as quoted by Malcom Gladwell, 2008

. "Reasonable reasons or excuses" are associated with defensive routines. This approach involves relying on excuses to rationalize what happened or didn't happen. No matter what you say, it ends up sounding like, "My dog ate my homework". Some excuses in this category:

i) "unders" (under-staffed, under-financed, under-stocked, etc)

ii) "overs" (over-worked, over-leveraged, over-priced, etc)

iii) "bads" (bad vendors, bad PR, bad boss, bad client, bad morale, bad debts, bad advice - tax, legal, etc)

iv) "nos" (no budget controls, no business plan, no contingency plan, etc)

v) "changes" (competition changed, market changed, economy changed, etc)

vi) "personals" (flat tyre, broken alarm clock. lost calendar, leaky pen, tooth/stomach/head ache, etc)

vii) "moderns" (server crashed, computer virus, corrupted files, spyware, spam, jammed ink jet, bad mobile service, courier lost package, GPS/Palm Pilot/Blackberry malfunction, etc)

None of these is a reason for coming up short. They are all just organisational facts of life. Organisations are always under or over-staffed; finances are tight, or should be in a well-run organisation; prices are higher than some competitors, lower than others; expenses need to be controlled, inventory managed, clients retained, advice re-assessed, PR improved, morale boosted, etc. Competition is a given; markets change; economies go up and down and up again.
Modern excuses are just digital versions of old ones, ie

"...My chariot driver got lost or my GPS was wrong ‐ same excuse, different century, both weak..."

James Dale (The Obvious) as quoted by Wayne Manfield, 2007

Those things can and should be addressed. Otherwise, they're excuses for failure ‐ unacceptable excuses.

Real reasons: sometimes setbacks do occur; they don't occur often and there are only 3 types:

i) priority - Sometimes we have to make choices. You have a shortage of goods and have to choose to satisfy one client over another. Do you attend the meeting with the boss or the one with the client? (meet the client and the boss should understand.) Do you cut profit to win a contract, or price realistically and lose the contract? Do you choose a family need or a business need? (you know which ones really matter!!!!)

ii) marketplace realities - There are instances - a few - in which meaningful changes do affect business. Competition opts to lose money on contracts to gain market share. The economy goes into actual recession and everyone suffers. The government alters the business environment - interest rates, tax rulings, or new laws. New legislation can cost organisations millions to fill out compliance documents to prevent fraudulent business practices.

iii) disaster - death and natural catastrophe. These happen, rarely, but they do happen. And they require no explanation.

Importance of childhood experiences

. Many of these defensive routines and behaviours are learned as a child and are carried on into adulthood, ie

"...As children, we initially developed a psychology of approval where we seek to protect ourselves against the vulnerability of our helplessness. This need for approval is an effective strategy for having our needs met as children. The problem is that many people carry this psychology into their adult lives. This approval seeking mindset creates feelings of dependency and worst, this need for approval fuels a narcissism and resentment that can over-ride our most powerful strengths, abilities and creative become fully independent you need to overcome the approval seeking mindset that fuels our insecurities and self-doubts, and accept personal responsibility for who we are, watch we become and what we want. Prior to that decision, many people do three things: criticize, complaint and hold others responsible for their problems..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

Optimists vs Pessimists

. When things go wrong, address what went wrong, candidly and swiftly. The people who do best don't use excuses; they overcome problems. These people are classified as optimists who tend to have an explanatory style that explains their problems and challenges as transient, controllable and specific. On the other hand, pessimistic people tend to believe that their problems last forever, undermine everything they do and are uncontrollable. There are 3 critical dimensions to your explanatory style: permanence, persuasiveness and personalisation

i) permanence (a pessimist believes that the causes of the negative events are permanent, while the optimist believes that the negative events are only temporary.

Optimists picture

"...success and happiness as a normal state and see negative events as temporary glitches on the path to inevitable progress..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

ii) persuasiveness (optimists view negative events as isolated phenomena that are insulated from other areas of their lives - this enables them to bounce back from problems will quickly; in contrast, a pessimist allows problems to become universal and impact on all aspects of their lives)

iii) personalization (pessimist tend to personalize a negative situation and become very introspective about it by focusing on its downside; when optimists confront misfortune or bad news, they do not personalize it)

In summary

" the face of misfortune or bad news pessimists focus on the negative and assume its permanency (it will never change), consider its influence pervasive (it's going to affect everything I do) and take it personally (it is my own fault). By doing this they give up and become paralyzed; whereas, when your explanation takes the opposite form you become energized. In this way your explanatory style is a crucial factor in determining whether you are a positive or negative person..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

. Fortunately, even though your explanatory ways can become a habit of the time, you can learn to change this mindset. How you interpret an event is under your control - it is a matter of choice.

. Furthermore, neurophysiology explains how our view of the world is shaped by selecting information collected by us. Over time we have learned to pay attention to certain phenomena and to ignore other things. In other words, just as our physical behaviour becomes habitual over the time, so do our emotional responses. These habits can be modified and relearned

External locus of control

. Defensive routines can be explained by the locus of control theory. This theory distinguishes between people who believe that they control their own destiny (internals) and those who think they are victims of circumstance (externals)

. People who display defensive routines are classified as externals. There is some evidence that the proportion of people with an external locus has grown, ie

"...the proportion of people with an external locus of control has grown by 30 percent in the past 30 years..."

Stephen Bevan as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2007a

Furthermore, different handling management styles need to be utilised to handle people who are classified as "externals", compared with the "internals". For example, people who are externals, and thus less resilient, need more compassion than internals; the latter will respond to more self-determination including accurate feedback on their performance.

. Defensive routines can be explained by the locus of control theory. This theory distinguishes between people who believe that they control their own destiny (internals) and those who think they are victims of circumstance (externals)

. Impression management refers to those behaviours that individuals use to protect the way they are perceived by "significant others" (such as their superiors, peers, colleagues, staff, etc), and to protect their own self-image. In direct dealings with significant others, typical impression management consists of smiling, eye contact, opinion conformity and doing favours. This is commonly referred to as "sucking up". Their lives are structured by the question ‐ what will others think?

. At times an organisation needs to present a public face to influence a wider constituency, including media and interest groups. Protecting your public face depends on being able to provide accounts of incidents that minimise their apparent severity. Executives will attempt to hide behind self-serving accounts of any incident by

- denying that they were involved

- by admitting only limited responsibility

- by trying to down-play the un-desirability of the incident.

. Organisational defensive routines are those sets of survival behaviours that individuals or groups use to over-protect themselves. Symptoms of these routines are

- blaming others

- low encouragement of inquiry

- decreased confidence in colleagues

- prevalence of biting humour

- high level of cynicism

- low internal commitment to decisions

- much "horse-trading"

- covert empire-building

- dominance of silo mentality

- political coalition-building

- bad mouthing

- secret manoeuvring among management

. Aspects of the organisational culture that display survival routines are:

- an obsession with action - managers and staff are rewarded for activity rather than for analysis, reflection and innovative practices

- process fixation - much attention is focused on improving processes at the local level without ever clarifying how these processes contribute to organisation-wide outcomes

Survival routines stop people from learning new actions by inhibiting open discussion, stifling learning and preventing change

. Everyone is so busy avoiding conflict and taking care of themselves that they wreak havoc with the organisation. People pretend to be candid and straightforward, but they aren't. No one exposes the assumptions behind their reasons, even to themselves, and consequently, mental models go un-examined and un-challenged. Furthermore, this type of behaviour can become so routine that "sufferers" do not realise that is going on. This is sometimes called "skilled incompetence"

. Learned helplessness, or victim syndrome, involves

"...attributing failure to lack of ability, task difficulty, or bad luck and believing that successes do not reflect effort or ability..."

James Warn, 2001

Where learned helplessness is found, staff members are unlikely to increase their efforts and apply new strategies in the face of difficult problems because they believe that the causes of their failure (and success) are beyond their control.

Learned helplessness is associated with a blame culture, ie it is always somebody else's fault, and there is a pervasive reluctance to try anything different or new as it might not work. Furthermore, the focus is on the risk that if it does not work, then you will be blamed.

"...Over focus on measurement, performance evaluations, and other control systems inadvertently breeds stories of blame. As flawed human beings we understandably avoid constant surveillance. Despite good intentions, constant monitoring breeds anxiety and stories of blame..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

Changing a blame culture requires strong direction from the top. Furthermore, staff must actively ask questions, discuss errors, engage in experimentation and reflection, and seek external feedback.

To handle learned helplessness, managers must create an environment that allows honest, frank and regular communications so that no one is punished, embarrassed or rejected by speaking out. Mistakes are analysed for how improvements might be made, and feedback (positive and negative) is considered helpful rather than critical. This develops a shared sense of supportiveness, respect and trust among the team members and is sometimes described as "psychological safety". It allows team members to take more risks and make errors so that learning is possible.

. Cocooning involves staff members protecting themselves from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world

. Silencing involves staff members keeping own and/or others' opinions quiet. For example, a supervisor suppresses a staff member's differing opinion by conveying the idea that the advice is unwelcome. Furthermore, people "silence" themselves as they truly believe that is what is best for themselves, their relationships and the organization. They act as though there is no difference of opinion, yet there is. This situation results in people becoming self-protective in relationships, and the climate in the particular relationship disintegrates to one characterized by distrust and fear, making it more than likely that silencing will continue. Furthermore, the organisational damage can include broken relationships, diminished creativity, impaired learning and poor decision-making.

. Defensive pessimism involves people who are temperamentally angst-ridden. They typically begin a project by assuming that things will go badly. These people work through their anxiety by carefully preparing to fend off the expected botches and bad luck. Generally, they are detail-oriented and occupy positions which involve major responsibilities but little formal power, such as PAs and nurses. Their knack of picking what might go wrong is ideal for "covering their boss's behind." Surveys have shown that there are more female defensive pessimists than males. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that when they are cajoled into "don't-worry-be-happy mode", their performance declines. They are prone to distort things in a negative way, especially when assessing themselves.

Defensive pessimists are different from "strategic optimists" who are upbeat about everything!!!! In fact, they live in a world of mild illusions and often over-estimate their ability to control things. They are full of happiness-abetting self-esteem and attribute their success to skill, and their failure to bad luck

. Uncritical obedience involves manipulating followers who never question the leader's decisions. To achieve this, the leader relies on an ability to perceive others' vulnerability and longings, ie to know what people want. Usually these "cult" leaders are very skilled at convincing followers that the leaders' ideas are, in fact, those of their followers. Once the followers own the idea, it is very difficult to extricate themselves from the message. Furthermore, cult leaders make it hard for followers to leave by setting up an interlocking system of influence and control that keeps followers obedient and prevents independent thought. The only difference between a cult leader and a conventional leader may be in intent!!!!!!!

. Developing confidence is a way to overcome defensive routines and improve performance

"...Self-confidence leads to self-realisation and successful achievement..."

Norman Vincent Peale as quoted by Catherine Fox, 2005

Sometimes lack of confidence is linked with shyness, ie overly sensitive to criticism, avoid social interaction and become isolated. Sometimes physical manifestations occur that include sweating, shaking, nausea and dizziness. Shyness can be linked with negative thinking patterns, ie the self is seen as inadequate and others are seen as critical

But shyness should not be confused with introversion. Introversion refers to the people who get energy from themselves rather than from interacting with other people

Some ways to build self-confidence include

- smile and make eye contact when meeting people

- carry yourself with an open posture

- look for common interests to stimulate conversation

- be comfortable giving compliments and receiving them

- make your work visible by drawing people's attention to it, not aggressively but assertively

- collaborate with co-workers and learn to make small-talk

- rather than eating lunch at your desk, get out and eat with others

- if nervous of speaking in meetings, practise hard in front of the mirror

- when you find yourself having negative thoughts, challenge them, ie why do I think that?


"...Confidence is a bit like art - we may not know much about what makes it but we know it when we see it..."

Mike Hanley, 2005a

"...We do know that confidence is crucial. We know that confidence underlies an enormous range of the behaviours that we want people to adopt at work. If people are not confident they will try to stay within the comfort zone, but we want more than that from people these days..."

Sharon Parker as quoted by Mike Hanley, 2005a

"...Confidence brings: resilience to bounce back from defeat to victory - in business, in sports, in professions, in politics, or in life..."

Moss Kanter as quoted by Mike Hanley, 2005a

Ways to develop confidence

- start small, ie people gain confidence by experiencing success, so start with the little tasks first and then stretch them. Organisationally, this involves building staff members up slowly to give them confidence to do the next thing and the next thing

- role-modelling, ie watching someone else successfully do something helps people to have confidence in themselves

- practising, ie the more you do something, the more adept you become at it (enacted mastery)

- verbal persuasion, ie if you tell people they are good in the right way, they will believe you and have their confidence enhanced. Need to replace "negative" thoughts patterns with "positive" ones. On the other hand, if there is a lot of blame and finger-pointing, the confidence spiral works in reverse


"...disfunctional individuals, teams and companies share specific behaviours, in particular a tendency to deny issues, apportion blame, limit communications, avoid accountability, and look for short-term remedies to underlying problems..."

Mike Hanley, 2005a

Furthermore there are some stepping stones on the path to building confidence

- honest communications

- cultivated collaboration

- initiative and innovation

. Confidence, resilience and luck are linked. Ways to maximise luck include

- maximise chance opportunities (this includes networking, adopting a relaxed attitude to life and being open to new experiences)

- listen to lucky hunches (this includes trusting intuition and clearing your mind of other thoughts)

- expect good fortune (includes being positive about the future and persisting in the face of failure)

- turn bad luck to good (includes developing ways to thrive on ill fortune by recognizing that opportunities arise from disasters)

NB Luck plays an important role in everything we do. Thus we need to find ways to handle and manage it. This involves preparedness and creating a culture that can adapt to the unexpected. These things are always going to happen but what separates different managers is their response

(sources: Peter Senge et al, 1999; James Warn, 2001; Joseph Boyett et al, 1998; Russell Howcroft, 2003; David Stipp, 2003; Annette Simmons, 2002; AFRBoss, 2004a; Catherine Fox, 2005; Luke Collins, 2005; Mike Hanley, 2005a; Robert Winston, 2003; Fiona Smith, 2007a; Wayne Manfield, 2007; Martyn Newman, 2007; Brent Schlender, 2015)


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