The Immeasurable Things: Environment

A few weeks ago, I started what will become a series of posts on the type of things that make up the “Immeasurable Things That Make a Measurable Difference”, those behaviors and beliefs that while we cannot measure them, they make a measurable difference in the quality of our careers and our lives and dare I say it, the world!  One of those behaviors is the structuring of our environment.  I believe we operate in three environments the physical, mental and emotional.

The Chinese have a field of study devoted to the art of environment, “Feng Shui” which is a system, (according to Wikipedia ) that balances the energies of heaven and earth such that the occupants of the space optimize their Qi [spirit or energy]). I think we have all felt it when we walk into a home or an office and it just “feels” right. We feel calm and energized, we feel as if we can accomplish things. 

I spend a lot of time in Business Offices and Call Centers, where people have little cubes that are their offices. When these cubes are of the right height, the right colors and well kept, (not leaning over, dirty or torn for example) the staff seems to be able to perform at productive levels.  When the staff is stuck in a trailer with no cube walls, dirty floor and loud Air conditioning …well there is a different level of performance.

Then there is our mental environment. Our mental state makes a big difference in the way we act and perceive the world. When we foster positive mental attitudes, we are able to work through challenging and good times to achieve remarkable things.  As leaders, are there things we can do to help foster our staff’s attitude? Is that something we should be concerned with?

I remember one company I worked for, upon hire, I had a 90-day training program before they would let me sell for them. It required that I spend 30 – days collecting bills and working through the assistant collection manager-training program. (This taught me a lot about the business I was going to be selling at an intimate level). At the same time, I had to read several books and listen to tape series on things like “How to Dress for Success”, and the “Power of Enthusiasm”. In addition, I spent a couple of weeks at “corporate” learning how they would support me and the client in the field. At the end of this time when I hit the streets, I had CONFIDENCE! I knew our company’s capabilities; I knew what we did, how we did it and what we could do for the client. Every sales person and manager in the company had been through the same program, we had a shared experience and attitude.

While the physical environment is important and our mental environment is critical, there is another environment to consider, our Emotional Environment.  (Talk about hard to measure).

If you think back to the organizations that you felt most connected to; I will bet it was really a connection to your manager. If you look closely, it was or is an emotional connection. Studies from the field of positive psychology demonstrate that when we make and help our teams make emotional connections with each other we see productivity and innovation improve. Why is that?

I think it has to do with Trust. When I think of the leaders that I have been most connected to, as bosses, in associations and clubs or in school there was a common trait; I knew that they cared about me as me. It was not just about what I could do for them, (Although there was no doubt that there were expectations). I knew they had my back and that I could stretch into performance.  I remember one time shipping a truckload of foil backed insulation instead of paper-backed insulation to a customer (at a cost of $15,000) by mistake. Jeff and I examined the order and what happened; and then went back to work. Jeff had my back and in three years that I worked with the company, I continued to stretch through three different roles.

–   Have you been aware of the three environments that affect your organization?
–   What have you done to influence these environments (We influence them consciously or unconsciously)
–   What steps will you take this week
–   For those of us that are self-employed, what can we do to help ourselves?

Take Good Care

2 Comments:

  1. John,

    This is such roots-level, basic-truth, commonsense wisdom–and all too rare in business writing these days.

    You are right. Solid, powerful trust comes from knowing someone’s got your back; you’ve got a friend; people give a damn; pick your own phrase, it’s all about being in a place with personal relationships. And those relationships, as you cleanly point out, come to a great extent from shared experiences.

    An organization can design shared experiences like that; or, as has become too often the case, they can outsource the entire process into modules where no one particularly cares about you, or shares your experience.

    Should it really be surprising how we get to low-trust environments?

    Thanks for a dose of clean, clear truth.

  2. Hi John,

    I think the physical environment is very important and have seen numerous examples in my own career. I actually blogged about this a while back. You can read it at http://ecilearning.blogspot.com/2010/04/lets-get-physical-with-apologies-to.html .

    As for trust, the impact of trust is huge. Knowing someone had your back allowed you to do some things differently than they had always been done. It was simple innovation, but you knew you could try different things because one mistake would not end your career. Over the years I learned that it was equally important to know that someone had my bosses back as well. If he/she felt protected it instilled a sense of trust that ran deep in the organization. If you believed your boss was out there hanging on his/her own, then things were not quite as secure.

    Building trust in an organization is not easy. And it must be done deliberately. At the same time, I’ve never heard of a company that ran a “trust building campaign” that was successful. Trust is actually a by-product of other factors in an organization.

    Thanks for posting this…

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