Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Values, lived not laminated!

I was talking yesterday about how people at work, after the honeymoon period, change. And that sadly, they tend to change for the worse.

When leaders pick up on the fact that the organisation or their department isn't functioning as it should be, they often decide to implement a culture change programme or develop their team, don't they?

And during such offsites, leaders and their teams agree, commit to and publish a vision and list of values that they expect themselves to display and expect the same of everyone else. Examples of these values include a sense of urgency, honesty, integrity, a "can-do" attitude, respect, a customer-first mentality, trust, openness, passion, professionalism and a willingness to seek and implement change.

Such leaders agree to not only live by these values but also to reward and encourage them both within their own department and between departments.

Values, lived not laminated!

The problem is that this rarely, if ever, happens and people continue to play politics. Decisions continue to be made by team members lobbying, bullying or avoiding each other in order to achieve their own objectives. And negative behaviours such as customer indifference or disparagement, inertia, distrust, blaming, passive-aggressive resistance, interdepartmental non-cooperation, time-wasting and subversive entrenchment of the status quo, result in a culture of non-cooperation, characterised more by negative behaviours than positive ones.

When a new employee joins the company they soon learn the difference between the laminated positive values, attitudes and behaviours and those in practice. And if they want to be accepted by their colleagues, they begin to conform to those in practice.

There's generally a mix of people who want to adopt the desired laminated organisational values and those who, through gam-playing and company politics, define and reinforce those in practice.

In my experience of organisations, you can divide people into the following three categories:

1. One-third who already possess the desired values, attitudes and behaviours and therefore fit the culture

2. One-third who are willing and able to change to fit the culture

3. One-third who do not fit and do not want to change and live the organisational values

It's a shame that after much time, expense and effort this breakdown typically remain the same both before and after a change programme or team building event.

Eventually, the negativity of the one-third who don't live the values, weakens the resolve of the motivated two-thirds until they eventually leave physically or worse, psychologically.

As I say in my first book:

"It's not the people who have left the organisation that we should worry about, it's the people who have "left" but are still there!"

Many really good people become half a person at work. They know it. And they hate it. But they feel powerless to do anything about it.

More tomorrow...

The importance of being authentic at work, as well as at home, rather than becoming half a person

I had a very enjoyable interview about Stay or Leave? on Wednesday on the mid morning show with Jenny Kendall-Tobias for BBC Guernsey. During it, we were talking about the importance of being yourself, rather than what everyone else wants you to be. And that rather than do this, we often go along with everyone else rather than stick our head above the parapet, for fear of the flak that might result. And I was saying that this happens both at home and at work.

So I thought I'd pursue this line of thinking today in my blog.

The Nature of Company Politics

I am sure you're well aware of all the game-playing, withholding, non-cooperative, snide, them and us, aggressive, sabotaging, negative, blaming, win/lose behaviours that go on in hundreds of interactions everyday in your organisation - the company politics. And of the negative effects this is having on your productivity, performance and morale.

Those who indulge in such office politics do so in order to achieve their personal agenda at the expense of others in the organisation. In the process, they demoralise the motivated and sabotage the organiation’s success. Given their limited numbers, like one or two bad apples souring the whole barrel, they are disproportionately powerful.

Personal agendas are usually called ‘ hidden agendas’, even though they are rarely, if ever, hidden! Everyone knows certain colleagues who consistently act out of their personal agendas and how this influences the tone, content and outcome of discussions, meetings and task accomplishment.

Yet, when we fail to get an honest opinion, cooperative response or a straight answer from a so-called colleague, rather than deal with the personal agenda, we prefer to avoid confrontation and instead express our anger, frustration and powerlessness in ‘ corridor meetings’ with friends.

Both the company politics and the unwillingness to confront it results in an organisation culture characterised by:

· Low morale

· Internal competition

· Mistrust

· Lack of communication

· Senior executive non-cooperation

· Interdepartmental conflict

· Inaccessibility of the CEO

· Lack of strong, cohesive leadership

· Feelings of powerlessness

You may have participated in traditional attempts to change organisational cultures or team dynamics by empowering people. They rely on developing a supportive, communicative and cooperative environment where you feel safe to use your creative potential in the pursuit of organisational goals. Though successful in the short-term, this approach generally results in the organisation or team reverting back to their old culture in the long term reaffirming your original sense of powerlessness.

My alternative approach is to help people to take personal responsibility for consistently confronting company politics in a hostile environment. This approach not only encourages people to recognise that they have the power to change their environment by choosing to take risks but also challenges them to consider their own part in the difficulties they’re having.

As in my approach to personal relationships, in organisation too, it empowers by showing people that they are their own jailer. Even though the quality of their working lives and freedom to reach their optimum performance is severely limited by the pressures inside the organisation, people are not merely victims of circumstances beyond their control. They are responsible for the consequences not only of what they do but also what they fail to do. For example, what they may do is blame others for not creating a safe environment and what they may fail to do is act themselves.

My belief is that organisation development programmes need to reverse the process. First company politics needs to be confronted and eliminated or its effects severely constrained even when the environment is unsupportive, uncommunicative and uncooperative. It is this which will then lead to the creation of a safe environment, long-term change and increased productivity, revenue and profit.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Controversy over Daily Mail article - Divorce

Hi Everyone,

The article in the Daily Mail yesterday ( ) managed to spark a lot of comments about whether or not people 'should' leave a marriage for religious or other ethical and moral reason.

And I wanted to make it clear that the book is entitled Stay or Leave? and in it, I don't advocate either.

What I do advocate is that everyone does what is right for themselves - with compassion and integrity. You cannot live your life for everyone else, if it's making you stressed, ill and into half a person. Instead, I suggest that instead of living an unhappy lie, you take the risk of being authentic within the relationship and encourage your partner to do the same.

But if neither being what everyone else wants you to be, nor being yourself works, then surely it is clear to everyone that it is time for a change.

With regards to 'shoulds' 'oughts' and 'musts' around the religious and moral aspects of taking the decision to leave, as far as I understand it, in Christianity, "Marriages are very special before the Lord, but the people in marriage are even more special...We must not view the divorce of a bad marriage as an end of something good..It's the end of something that went bad and the BEGINNING of something new."

"In Judaism, marriage is viewed as a contractual bond commanded by God...The Talmud argues that a man should love his wife as much as he loves himself and honour her more than he honours himself. Similarly, a husband was expected to discuss with his wife any worldly matters that might arise in his life. Tough love was frowned upon; the Talmud forbids a husband from being overbearing to his household, and domestic abuse by him was also condemned. It was said of a wife that God counts her tears.." And "..greatest praise...was given to a wife who fulfils the wishes of her husband." If these contractual obligations are not fulfilled, then a divorce is given.(
Similarly, in Islam "Marriage, as prescribed by Allaah, is the lawful union of a man and woman based on mutual consent.. Islam discourages divorce by either party, but...does make provisions for divorce by either party." (

I'm no religious scholar - clearly, some will say! - and no doubt there are many interpretations of what I've written above. But from what I've read, it is clear to me that no one wants two people to spend a miserable life together for the sake of form.

"It is possible to stay married and be doing the "right thing" for too long". (

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Daily Mail Exclusive Extract of Stay or Leave TODAY

Hi Everyone,

Just to let you know, there's a brilliant, exclusive, two page extract of Stay or Leave? in The Daily Mail today.

Here's the link if you'd like to read about my Six steps to resolving your relationship indecision:

Hope you enjoy it and if you'd like to discuss it with me, make a comment or ask a question, please feel free to do so here or on my website at:

Look forward to hearing from you...


Saturday, 7 January 2012

Divorce & Celebrity Culture vs Everyday Culture

I've been asked a number of times this week, why it is that celebrity's like Katy Perry and Russell Brand and Sinead O'Conner (albeit that she's back with her husband now) seem to find taking the decision to separate and divorce far quicker than others. I've tried to answer this here.

Will either decision really end in catastrophe?

In my experience, deciding to make a change or what I call "Crossing Rubicons" is inevitably stressful for many people, because we don’t know what we’ll need to deal with on the other side.

But we make it worse for ourselves. We avoid crossing our Rubicons because of what I call "Catastrophic Fantasies".

Our catastrophic fantasies are catastrophic because we always think the worst (“If I leave him or her I will never meet anyone again”, ‘I can’t cope with doing everything myself’) and fantasies because they rarely happen. Chances are, if you take the risk, you will meet someone else and be far happier; you can and will cope on your own and very likely enjoy the peace and simplicity of it all!

One major Catastrophic Fantasy that blocks many people is the fear of hurting people or invoking their disapproval. Consequently, they hold themselves back rather than take the risk of being honest.

I was watching the film 'While you were sleeping' yesterday and in it, there's a perfect example of this. Bill Pullman's character, Jack would like to start his own business making furniture but fears telling his father because he thinks his father will be devastated. He tells Sandra Bullock's character, Lucy, that the business used to be called 'Callaghan & Sons' before his brother, Peter, went to law school. Then it changed to 'Callaghan & Son' and if he left, it would just be 'Callaghan's' and he doesn't want to hurt his father in this way.

Eventually, Lucy persuades him to pluck up the courage and tell is dad. And all his father was concerned about on hearing the news was that he hadn't told him sooner because he could have sold the business for twice the value and gone on a cruise with Jack's mother!

Can you imagine what a waste of life he'd have had if he'd avoided crossing his Rubicon of telling his dad for fear that it would kill him, only to find years later that his dad would actually have loved it if Jack start his own business thereby freed him to sell his own and enjoy the proceeds.

Some of you may well have seen the film and recognised that this is how we hold ourselves back in life. With catastrophic fantasies like "I can't tell him or her or them because it'll kill them."

A client of mine, let's call him David, could not tell his parents that he wanted to marry a woman of a different religion, Jessica, for fear that it would ‘kill them’ and that they’d reject him forever. Instead, he chose to live secretly with Jessica, only his friends knowing. He denied Jessica and himself children, as that would have been too much of a lie to live with, creating great tension. Every so often, David was tempted to tell his parents, but the stress at the thought of their reaction always prevented him. Until, finally after his mother’s death and when he was well into his 50’s he owned up to his father.

His father’s reaction both stunned and devastated him and Jessica. His father was thrilled that he had found someone to love and said that his mother would have been thrilled too. All she worried about and prayed for was that her son would find a good woman who loved him and could have his children – her grandchildren – for him. What a waste of life. All because he imagined catastrophe.

This is a gross example of how the fear created by catastrophic fantasies stops people being authentic and crossing their Rubicons. People spend days, weeks, nights worrying when most of the time their worries are unfounded. How many times have you suffered a tense evening and disturbed night worrying about what will happen the next day, at home or at work, and in the event, nothing bad happened? In the words of Mark Twain:

‘I have known many great troubles but most of them rarely happened’1

Overcoming catastrophic fantasies and either leaving for pastures new or staying yet demand new ground rules can be dangerous. But the model of ‘Crossing Rubicon’s’ reminds us that so too can continuing to live an inauthentic, unfulfilled life.

The reason why celebrities may find it easier to separate or divorce is that within their environment, people are more likely to accept separation divorce as the norm. And so celebrities do not suffer, in this particular area of their life, with the catastrophic fantasies that most people do: Will I be a hero or a villain? Will I be better off or worse off? Will I be popular or ostracised?

Jack shows us that unless you take the risk of telling people what's on your mind, chances are all you'll get it more of the same. And of more of the same is wasting your life, or making you ill, then really you have no choice but to cross your Rubicon, see what's on the other side and deal with that. Either way is stressful, but the stress you'll suffer by making a change - as Jack shows us in While you were sleeping - gives you a chance of a meaningful, more satisfying and fulfilled life.

Constant arguments or passive/passive aggressive avoidance doesn't resolve anything

I realise that we don't know what's really happening between Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis but the newspapers say that they have been constantly arguing of late. And I thought I'd blog about how hard it is to resolve differences in a rational and compassionate way, once a couple fall into bad habits of behaviour.

"Stop succumbing to an unspoken contract

If we consistently fail to resolve differences within our relationship, then we are not just wasting our time – we are wasting our life.

It is a tragedy that we neither give up and leave nor skilfully resolve our differences and stay.

Instead, we stay and endlessly argue or silently seethe, while continually threatening to, or thinking about, splitting up. We end up living together with an unspoken, implicit contract – an expectation that we:

  • Don’t say what we mean
  • Don’t do what we say
  • Don’t respect each other
  • Don’t listen to each other
  • Raise opinions and issues with a counsellor, friends or family rather than with each other
  • Don’t show spontaneous affection
  • Blame each other for feelings and behaviour
  • Don’t make time for each other
  • Take silence as agreement
  • Play games and manipulate
  • Don't trust each other
  • Resist change
  • Make shallow agreements
  • Don’t stick to commitments

Whether you stay or go, if you’re to live the life you want to lead, you’re going to have to do things differently. So you’ll need to agree an explicit contract whereby you agree to allow each other to be authentic.

You need to experiment with new behaviour and be who you want to be, telling each other what’s on your minds in a calm and rational way; saying what you mean, listening to each other, raising opinions and issues as and when they arise and not with friends after the event, making real decisions and sticking to commitments." (Developed extract from Stay or Leave?)

This is not easy, I know, but there are techniques that you can use to help you control such feelings as anxiety, anger or fear and to listen compassionately and with integrity so that you can developed and agree an explicit contract between you that defines what you can expect of each within the relationship that will allow you both feel able to be yourselves and love the person for who they are - as, most likely, you did when you first fell in love.

Friday, 6 January 2012

IRISH INDEPENDENT Katy Perry, Russell Brand, Sinead O'Connor

Hello Everyone,

I want to let you know that Deirdre Reynolds, Features Writer and Broadcaster, wrote a great feature about the book in the Irish Independent yesterday. You can read it at this link:

Basically it was around the relatively quick filing for divorce of Katy Perry and Russell Brand as well as the separation and then reconciliation between Sinead O'Connor and Barry Herridge.

It discusses how celebrity culture can make leaving easier because it's more common and therefore less frowned upon. Which implies that those of us who are not in this environment and remain in unsatisfying, demoralising and damaging relationships may be doing so because we think we have to live our lives for everyone else - we do't want to upset our parents, uproot our children or hurt our partner who are not living in a celebrity culture - ad so we feel trapped and blame these people for it.

Whereas, of course, we are choosing to put these people's needs and values before our own and could therefore equally choose to be more selfish.

So we are in fact free to do what ever we like with our lives, it's our choice and therefore we have to recognise that we can't blame anyone else for our situation.

We alone are responsible for our predicament in life....