The Oil in Your Organization's Engine (part 1)
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
Relational and emotional health is the oil in your organizational engine. We all know what happens when you run a car with dirty oil (or no oil!). Performance is impeded and eventually it breaks down.
When organizational oil needs changing, the engine begins to wear out. Here’s an example of what this looks like…
Consider an organization - we’ll call it “Anycompany, Inc.” Zoom into to a random cubicle in the office where we find an employee named Fred who has been with the company for seven years.
Fred is working on a project, but he needs something from Donna who works in another department. Without Donna’s help, Fred cannot continue with what he is doing – he’s stuck.
The problem is that the last several times Fred asked Donna for help, she became irritated and only gave him half the information he needed.
Since Fred does not like conflict, he feels anxious about having to talk to Donna. To distract from his anxiety, he decides to check his Twitter feed. Forty-five minutes of Twitter later, he realizes that it’s lunch time – a convenient excuse to procrastinate his encounter with Donna a little longer.
When he returns from lunch, Fred knows he must get past this issue and finish his project. But, maybe there’s another way to get it done and leave Donna out of it. He goes to see his friend Dan in another department. Dan has also had interactions with Donna and gives Fred an understanding look. Being a good friend, they try to get the answer Fred needs.
An hour later, they are ready to admit defeat. Dan apologizes but says he needs get back to his work. Fred understands and thanks him. As he’s walking back to his office, Fred gets another idea. He goes to see his supervisor Kim.
Kim used to be Fred’s co-worker, but she recently was promoted to supervisor when the previous supervisor left unexpectedly. Fred really likes her and was happy for her.
As they speak, Kim is sympathetic. She knows that Donna can be difficult to deal with sometimes. But, as a new supervisor, Kim hadn’t received any leadership training. She did her best to advise Fred, suggesting that he try to sit down with Donna and work things out. Fred said he tried that once and it didn’t go well.
Sadly, despite the fact that Fred and Donna are very competent at their jobs, neither had ever developed sufficient conflict resolution or teamwork skills to actually be able to sit down together and come up with a solution on their own. Kim didn’t have the leadership training to realize this or do anything about it.
Fred leaves Kim’s office a little discouraged.
Meanwhile, one floor down, Donna is dealing with her own frustration. She feels like she is overloaded with work. What’s worse is that much of this work takes a lot of focus for several hours at a time, and people keep interrupting her out of the blue for things she thinks they should be able to get on their own. It’s impacting her productivity. Consequently, she sometimes reacts with frustration when people – like Fred – drop in on her unexpectedly needing something. She feels alone and thinks her boss does not support her.
The next day, Fred and Donna both call in sick. They call it a “sanity day” because they are frustrated. But it has become more serious than that…
Donna has started to have panic attacks at work. She doesn’t dare tell anyone because she’s concerned that she will be thought of as unstable (or worse!). Consequently, she is becoming even more avoidant of the very people who count on her for the things they need. Because of this overwhelming desire to escape, she has recently started spending more of her time in the office searching the job boards.
Fred has been taking his work frustration home with him. His feelings of helplessness at work have caused him to become more controlling and harsher with his wife. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the self-awareness to see the connection, and his wife has started threatening to leave him. With these difficulties at home, he is understandably having trouble focusing at work.
On the floor above Fred, the executives are busy steering the organization forward. They take their responsibilities seriously and have a sincere desire to keep the company financially sound and growing. Their employees, shareholders, and customers are counting on them. Unfortunately, none of them are aware of the situation with Fred and Donna.
These executives regularly check their employee engagement monitoring dashboard. Things look reasonably good, most of the time. The trouble is that neither Fred nor Donna are completely honest when they update the “Anycompany Inc” employee engagement tool. They believe the company executives would find out how they answered and would not look favorably on them if they were completely honest. Therefore, they don’t reveal the depth of their concern about the company, their co-workers, and their own lives.
Neither Fred nor Donna would seriously consider approaching these executives. They don’t believe it would do any good, and it might even reflect negatively on them. This may not be true of the executive team, but it’s how Fred and Donna feel. Therefore, they continue to suffer in silence – getting increasingly unhealthy, and less and less efficient.
Even more concerning, Fred and Donna are not the only ones. There are similar stories throughout many other parts of the organization – many other Fred’s and Donna’s.
Anycompany Inc.’s human system needs oil. Consequently, it is running well below its potential and is breaking down.
What the Fred’s and Donna’s in this organization are suffering is a human tragedy. But this lack of oil is also having a negative financial impact on the company.
But there is hope for Anycompany Inc. When oil was applied to the organization, things began to turnaround.
Founder and President, Remedium Solutions LLC