When you want better business results through people, where do you start? What’s current, and what situations mean that one approach is more suitable than others?  Last week, three meetings with three expert practitioners happened to be dotted into my agenda. Like me, all three take a specialist angle to improving the effectiveness of people at work. One works with inner transformation, one with values, one with behaviours, and I work with team alignment. What I heard in these separate conversations inspired me to compile a visual framework about ‘how people work’ (above) and organize this interview-style summary article.

The contributors:

  1. Ilja van Roon guides people through transformational inner work.
  2. Jackie Le Fevre, founder of the Magma Effect, which focuses on values.
  3. Robert den Broeder, Organizational Behavior Management Consultant with Trigono.
  4. I use a team alignment process called Mirror Mirror.

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Ilja on his work with inner transformation:

Do you have any comments on the framework ‘how people work’? I appreciate the breadth and depth of the framework, in the sense that it covers both the consciousness and unconscious mind and includes tangible behaviours as well as intangible values and beliefs.

What is at the heart of your approach to people effectiveness? The notion that people have an inner core, which is the source of their real talents, needs, desires and qualities, and a defense system, which automatically protects them from emotional threats.

The defense system is primed in early childhood and perfected in later decades, and people tend to use it so much that we come to identify with it rather than with our core. My approach targets the reasons for using this defense system by healing childhood wounds and awakening latent parts of our consciousness. As a result, people can let their guard down and begin to live from their core, which leads to more maturity, intimacy, presence, self-care, inner safety, empathy and fierceness when needed.

Why do people use it and what challenges does it best help with? People are open to this approach when they realize that the emotional and mental strategies – encoded in the defense system – that got them this far, are the very ones holding them back or even hurting them deeply. The type of hurt differs per person, so I don’t focus on any one type of challenge, per se. Some clients struggle with addiction and depression, others are stuck in abusive relationships and some have a crippling issue with a spouse, boss or child. When people have reached a point where they desire to live a fundamentally different live and when they are fed up with their hurt, they open up to this approach.

What makes it effective? If we only use the left side of the brain – when analysing and talking about a problem – we tend not to achieve sustainable change. Cognitive knowledge of why we avoid intimacy, ignore our needs or act in self-destructive ways, doesn’t change the fact that we do even when we don’t want to. If, however, we also call on the right side of the brain and tap into our unconscious mind – e.g. through body work, feeling work, trance and imagery – we can connect to the origin of our issues and resolve them at their foundation. This approach of mine engages both sides of the brain, which means people can go deeper, further and achieve change that is sustainable in a challenging world.

Jackie on her work with values:

Do you have any comments on the framework ‘how people work’? Understanding that aspects of human biology go back literally millions of years, and at both a hardware and software level our brains are not tailored for the 21st century I think is core to designing realistic and pragmatic solutions.

What is at the heart of your approach to people effectiveness? Each day, each person essentially sets out to do the best they can to make progress on things that matter. So, it should be easy to have everyone pulling in the same direction, right?

Wrong!  If the company has not been clear with its people about what matters and why; or the people in a group – be that a team, or a department at a particular location – have had experiences which prompt them to hold other things as more important, then there will be a disconnect between the corporate body and the people. So, at the heart of the values-based approach is a way of articulating, in emotionally rich vocabulary, what matters most to us all. Common ground which aligns shared beliefs and values is a powerful launch pad.

Why do people use it and what challenges does it best help with? Values are neither good nor bad. This gives working with values a neutral aspect which can effectively work around or through unhappiness generated by other approaches that put people into boxes or types thereby accentuating difference rather than finding alignment. If people want to take a step back, to restate or reconnect with their sense of what makes work feel worthwhile and meaningful then a values focus can do that.

What makes it effective?  Values are universal: we all have them. Groups socialise to values that are shared at some level by their members. So, when we work with values we are working with something which already exists, already has impacts and has a dynamic relationship with the things we believe, the decisions we take and the outcomes that follow.  Bringing something real up out of the unconscious to a place where we can see it, hold and mould it, is enlightening and enabling – it makes the most of what it is to be human.

Robert on his work with behaviours:

Do you have any comments on the framework ‘how people work’? For me, the distinction between conscious and unconscious behaviour is irrelevant. You see the behaviour because of reinforcement. Even unconscious behaviours require reinforcement. As soon as the causal relationship between behaviour and reinforcer breaks, people respond consciously almost immediately. For instance, when you drive a car. Many actions are automatic: you don’t think about it for a second. Why? Because the behaviour produces desired and expected results every time. But what happens if someone hits your car while you are driving? Are you still responding unconsciously? I seriously doubt that.

Defense mechanisms, personality, mental models, values and beliefs are so called ‘constructs’. It is hard to prove a causal relationship between a construct and operant behaviour. For example: you may have the value that you are against violence. But what will you do if you see someone being beat-up, or an animal is being mistreated? Will you act according to your value, or personality? My view is: you assess the possible outcome of your action. When you believe the outcome is positive in some way, you will probably act. When you are sure something bad will happen to you, chances are you will not act. So, consequences drive behaviour, not mechanisms, personality mental models and values.

What is at the heart of your approach to people effectiveness? At the heart is the concept of ‘performance’ which is defined as: the results and the operant behaviours required to produce these results. Step one is to make the desired results as clear as possible. Step two is to define the behaviours that cause / produce exactly these results. Producing the results using the correct behaviours should lead to positive reinforcement. It’s the reinforcement mechanism that keeps performance going and improving. When you run into performance problems – e.g. the results decrease over time – you can analyse the situation and see if any desired behaviours fail to be reinforced. Or if there are any undesired behaviours that are inadvertently reinforced. Then adjust accordingly.

Why do people use it and what challenges does it best help with? We use it because it works! Thousands of studies show that the approach works in all kinds of industries and trades. The approach helps with two sorts of challenges. First, challenges where the required results are unclear, and people are unable to achieve the desired results. Second, it works with motivational challenges, where people choose to behave differently than expected or required.

What makes it effective? Working with positive consequences makes it effective. Behaviours produce all kinds of so called ‘behavioural consequences’. These consequences determine whether the behaviour will continue or stop. When behaviour consistently produces positive results for the performer, the chances are the behaviour that produced these results will be shown more often. On the other hand: when the behaviour fails to produce the desired consequences or produces undesired consequences (from the performers perspective) then the behaviour will stop sooner or later.

And my responses based on work with team alignment:

Do you have any comments on the framework ‘how people work’?  I think it summarises where the current thinking on this today and find it very helpful. Thanks to Jackie, Ilja and Robert for inputs.

What is at the heart of your approach to people effectiveness? People don’t achieve great results, teams do. And in complex situations, what often gets in the way of great strategy execution is unclarity and misalignment – purely because naturally, the way people see things can diverge over time.

Misunderstandings, assumptions, interpretations, information gaps, biases: un-managed, these can lead to conflicting decisions and actions, poor performance, frustration, and wasted time and money.  I’ve experienced first-hand how teams can wallow around in an unnecessary confusion that easily goes unnoticed, and where the action to take a step back and sort it out is not taken. Conversely, when a team is operating from a shared current reality, they are, as the term in the social sciences literature goes, ‘socially aligned’.  Social alignment has three core components:

  • a compatible understanding about anything significant to achieving the team goals (shared cognition)
  • ways to action that understanding (shared participation)
  • a personal reason to be in the team to start with (purpose).

Mirror Mirror is a proprietary organizational effectiveness process that accelerates social alignment in teams, quickly and effectively.

Why do people use it and what challenges does it best help with? Mirror Mirror is best for new teams, virtual teams, teams in change, and struggling teams. It helps them get the shared and actionable clarity they need to adopt change, implement strategy, innovate, and improve performance.

What makes it effective?  Three basic reasons:

  • People take on full ownership when they are not told what to do differently by external parties who judge them. Mirror Mirror is an entirely facilitated process.
  • The extent to which learning is applicable relates to how closely it can be linked to the context of the learning participant. The Mirror Mirror process is entirely anchored in the whole team context. It doesn’t mention or talk about anything in the framework image – the process is designed to increase awareness in context, so they can open up to new possibilities.
  • When people become more conscious of their own views, assumptions, and mental models, they have more flexibility to adapt them for the better. And when people can share their thinking with others in an open and respectful environment, they can build a better social alignment – the basis of more effective team decisions and actions. Mirror Mirror is fundamentally about broadening the team’s shared current reality. It captures the way people see things as data so that is accessible, measurable and repeatable.