Print This Post Print This Post

I have been researching for a while the not-that-easy topic of ‘cognitive mental frames’ or ‘mental models’ that take over our organizational life, so this is a conversation that will go for a while on and off.

I really believe that people in organizations perform on shared ‘moral ecologies’ and that most of these have been learnt and copied from the environment. There are powerful belief systems that determine our mundane day to day behaviours.

For example, there is the mental frame of old-fashioned social sciences concept of  ‘agency’. That means, I am in charge of my destiny, I am not governed by the systems and structures, I may have to deal with them but, ultimately, I can do things, be responsible for my actions and, ultimately, accountable for my own professional and personal development. I am an agent, my own one.

In the opposite extreme there is ‘victimhood’. That means, the system (the company) oppresses me, I don’t have space to grow and develop, I am not in control of my life, the company will need to take care of me (including development, but it may not do it) and, ultimately, I have zero space. I am victim (whether this is articulated or not)

These beliefs systems are opposite. You can’t sit in both at the same time.

I think of victimhood as incredibly self-reinforcing and perpetuating. There is a fine line between real victims and those who have occupied the victim space without being one. In fact I would call the later a state of victimism,  the land pseudo-victims.

My hypothesis is that, some disengaged organizations ( as in poor employee engagement scores), have a lot to do with having appropriated a culture of victimhood. This is not a popular statement, and not going to be liked by many, because it sounds like disregarding specific organizational problems that may impact negatively in the moral of employees. But, putting aside flagrant negative and high impact real issues (long hours, underpaid, or, say, bullying), there is not a good explanation why in many ‘reasonably ok’ organizations, with no obvious oppression, there are entire sub-populations that seem to have lost agency completely. Hopelessness there does not seem to correlate well with any particular middle of the  ground issue spotted in surveys. There is a halo effect in disengagement that cannot be explained by survey scores on individual items. When you are disengaged, lots of issues seem to come together. If this is so, trying to deal with the specific low-score items misses the point.

More to come. But, to give an  example on how mental models have their own language, creating their own ecosystem of beliefs, consider this. In the macro social arena, we often use the term ‘lifting people out of poverty’ which clearly implies that these people need to be lifted, cannot do it by themselves (this is what we say), they are victims in need of rescuing. So the consequence is that we need to throw money to people and organizations who do the ‘air lifting’ for them,  perpetuating the loss of agency.

This trivial example shows that the adoption of a simple, common, widespread language can perpetuate a mental frame (view of the world, in fact), and that a good intention (out of poverty) delivers bad outcomes.

I wonder if our ‘engagement model’ in business organizations, with its own dialect,  is also perpetuating the problem, stuck on scores up and down, but missing the fact that an alternative mental model, such agency (or lack of) with all the consequences on how to boost it, how to make employees ‘agents’, is a better way out to improvement. The how may  be a conversation for another day.

It may sound like a simple semantic change, but think of the ‘lifting out of poverty model’ and what it potentially does. It is impossible to ignore the power of the collective mental frames  (‘engage’, ‘not engaged’)

Is our organizational language in 2019 fit for purpose?

(Alternative title: Victimhood and the organization: another way to look at disengagement)


Keep up with the Daily Thoughts

Twitter Email

Would you like to comment?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To search my website, please use the form below.

  Daily Thoughts

September 27th, 2023

Redefining Talent Wealth

The war on talent McKinsey consultants started it with a book of the same title. By focusing on what it […]

September 8th, 2023

What I Learnt From The Monks: A Little Anthropology Of Leadership And Space On One Page

My friends, monks of a Benedictine monastery in the Highlands, Scotland, spend most of the time in silence. I mean, […]

August 23rd, 2023

Can We Rescue DEI From Its Trap (The Label)?

Most of the problems and challenges in organizations, together with most of the solutions, are behavioural in nature. It’s about […]

August 10th, 2023

Restructuring to force collaboration, is likely to create more anxiety than collaboration. Structural solutions for behavioural problems hardly work.

Sometimes restructuring is done with the intention of solving a collaboration problem. ´A people´ don’t talk to ´B people´; if […]

July 18th, 2023

The ‘Impossible To Disagree With’ School Of Management

‘Good leaders have empathy, respect employees and set the example. If you want to change things, you need to have […]

June 29th, 2023

Large scale change is not small scale change repeated many times. Small wins repeated are lots of small wins.

Large scale change, as a series of cascading small scale interventions (often under the philosophy of ‘small wins’) has dominated […]

June 6th, 2023

Culture change is not long and difficult. But we make it so…

I suppose the question is how long is long and how difficult is difficult? In general, business and organizational consulting have […]

May 19th, 2023

Value is an overused term in business and, as such, it’s becoming meaningless

Value, as usually used, means transactional monetary value. Usually it doesn’t mean intrinsic value, or value per se. For example, […]

May 4th, 2023

The importance of ‘critical thinking.’ Your own critical thinking is more effective at making your workplace better than any generic employee survey.

Build your own Employee Engagement argument for free. You can’t go wrong. Here are three baskets full of concepts: Basket […]

April 21st, 2023

´Busy-Ness’ Is A Trap

I went to a big conference where I was introduced by the chairman like this: “Welcome everybody. Lovely to have […]

April 14th, 2023

Training and culture change. The love affair that ends in tears.

It seems to be very hard for people to get away from the idea that if we just put individuals […]

April 11th, 2023

Teamocracies and Networkracies have different citizens: in-Habitants in team-work, riders in net-work

The old view of the organization is something close to the old concept of a medieval city, where citizenship was […]

April 5th, 2023

3 Ways To Get Approval From Your CEO Or Your Leadership Team

Way number 1: My team has developed these three options, A, B and C. Which one do you want us […]

March 29th, 2023

A Cheat Sheet To Create A Social Movement Tip = to shape organizational culture since both are the same.

Mobilizing people. This is another of the Holy Grails (how many have I said we have?) in management. Whether you […]

March 16th, 2023

Critical Thinking Self-Test: A 10 Point Health Check For Your Organization And Yourself. If any of these are a good picture of your organization, you need to put ‘critical thinking’ in the water supply.

Test yourself, and your organization. Do any of these apply? Doing lots, too fast without thinking. High adrenaline, not sure […]

March 9th, 2023

A culture of safety or a culture of training in safety?

Cultures are created by behaviours becoming the norm. Safety is at the core of many industries. Significant budgets are allocated […]

March 2nd, 2023

Empowerment is an output. If you can visualize it, you can craft it.

The real question is, what do you want to see happening so that you can say ‘people are empowered’? Employee […]

February 24th, 2023

A simple question will jumpstart your organization into change. It will also save you from months of pain spent reorganizing your people and teams.

The following line will short-cut months of (building) ‘alignment’, integration, reorganization, team building, coalition building, and any situation in which Peter, […]

February 20th, 2023

Lead Via Peer-To-Peer Networks – If you don’t lead via peer-to-peer networks, you’re only driving your car in first gear.

Peer-to-peer work, transversal, spontaneous or not, collaboration, peer-to-peer influence, peer-to-peer activities of Viral Change™ champions or activists, all of this is the […]

February 7th, 2023

Write a script, not a strategic plan

If you care about the journey and the place, you need a story. If you have a good, compelling one, […]

January 26th, 2023

3 self-sabotaging mechanisms in organizations

Organizations, like organisms, have embedded mechanisms of survival, of growth and also of self-sabotage. These are 3 self-sabotage systems to […]

January 10th, 2023

Who should be involved in culture change? All inclusive versus going where the energy is.

Many times, in my consulting work, I find myself facing a dilemma: Do I involve many people on the client’s […]

December 23rd, 2022

Tell what won’t change – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

In any change programme that any organization wants to start, they will start by thinking of the things that they […]

December 16th, 2022

Scale It – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

When creating effective change in any organization, there are 40 rules that, in my experience, are the key between success […]

December 5th, 2022

Assets & Strengths Base – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

For more than 30 years I have been involved in ‘change’ in organizations. Again and again, some fundamental principles, and often […]

November 25th, 2022

Campaign It… is 1 of my 40 rules of change

When you filter out the noise, when you try to extract the core, the fundamentals, those ‘universal rules’ of change […]

October 31st, 2022

Hybrid or not hybrid? That’s not the question…

Culture is the new workplace If you want to have a conversation about the future of work, the nature of […]

October 24th, 2022

‘Powered by Viral Change™’: A Social Transformation Platform for the organization of the 21st Century

When we started to work on Viral Change™, as a way to create large scale behavioural and cultural change, and […]

October 14th, 2022

Corporate tribes, intellectual ghettos and open window policies

We talk a lot about silos in organizations usually in the context of Business Units or divisions. But these are not […]

October 7th, 2022

Peer Networks are the strongest force of action inside the organization

Peer-to-peer works, transversal, spontaneous or not, collaboration, peer-to-peer influence, peer-to-peer activities of Viral Change™ champions or activists, all of this is […]