What really happened?

A regional manager recently lamented that she had forgotten a significant expense on the department’s annual budget. As a result, her business would miss plan by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and other divisions would have to make up the shortfall. She was distraught by her error. How could she have done this?  She had an acute, analytical mind, and her reputation was stellar for being reliable in paying attention to the details in her department. Her confidence began to slip as her insecurities soared. She worried that there would be a permanent write up on her 10-year employment record.

Companies frequently address situations like this one as an employee performance issue.  But simplifying problems down to individual performance rarely creates sustainable results. A recent study posted in Harvard Business Review revealed 90% of performance appraisals are painful and don’t work. They produce an extremely low percentage of higher performers. It is often because the issue being addressed is often misdiagnosed. It’s too easy – and inaccurate – to point the finger at a person’s performance. If organizations had the right model to help them to reveal the true source of the problem, they would find a gold mine of opportunities for paradigm shifts.

The challenge in dissecting shortfalls is finding a framework that provokes insights. The models are many. Theory X focuses on individual behavior, while Theory Y stresses psychological understanding. Theories in Systems Management looks at process and technology, and Cultural Management explores the dynamics in a company.  Through my years of leading and consulting, one model proves to enlighten leaders every time: the Integral Model.

Created by the philosopher, Ken Wilber, the Integral Model integrates all of human wisdom into a comprehensive framework, forcing us to address the whole picture. Not a modest claim.  Integral Theory is based on four quadrants. Pick any situation, and one can gain insights into it’s hidden treasures by applying the Integral quadrants. The top half of the quadrant represents what happens to the individual, while the bottom half represents the group. The left side represents the internal perspective, and the right side holds the experience from the objective view.

In managing people, we typically address the employee’s abilities and behaviors, represented in the Upper Left “I” quadrant. This is why supervisors are often led to performance conversations. It is the most identifiable quadrant. They also tend to address the Upper Right “It” quadrant – the employee’s knowledge, training and work quality. Too quickly we consider the issue addressed, resolved, and move on. Had we done that with the regional manager, we would have missed out on the real story.

It is in looking at the lower two quadrants that we do our learning in this case study. When the manager set aside his self-criticism and scrutinized  the company systems – represented in the Lower Right  –  he evaluated the company’s budgeting process. Their software was outdated, the finance department was slow to communicate deadlines, and the general experience was chaotic at best.  For the first time, he saw clearly that the systems did not support success.

Nor was management supported by the company culture, as represented in the Lower Left quadrant. The fast-paced environment overloaded its leaders, making the goal of 100% accuracy nearly impossible.

With this new enlightenment, the company installed a new  software system, and the finance team dedicated a member to focus on budgets. The manager’s morale was improved and his confidence returned.  Sure, the other departments still had to make up the inevitable shortfall, but who doesn’t like a good challenge? It was a proposition that was supported by knowledge. Thanks to the Integral Model, the company knew exactly what had happened.

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