American Management Association (AMA) has for decades had an offering, Operation Enterprise (OE), that introduces modern American management practices to college-aged young people.
As you can imagine, it was quite a treat to participate in such a program when I was 19, along with a score of other young people.
As you can imagine, I was pretty clueless when I was 19. (Actually, I was probably more clueless than you imagine.)
Operation Enterprise was the first time I heard about the Johari Window. I have written about this model before and about how it is used in T-group. Back at OE, the exercise was the one mentioned on Wikipedia: From a list, you choose a number of adjectives that describe you, and then you have a handful of somebody else choose how they experience you as well. The bigger the overlap, the more others also see the person you think you are.
My biggest takeaway at the time was that you shouldn’t give this exercise to unsuspecting college students. As previously stated, I was pretty clueless; I don’t remember the correlation – but it was not much better than random.
For somebody less clueless than me, the rational question would have been “WT# happened there?”
I, however, attributed the result to that a handful of young people with whom you have spent less than a week are probably not the best judges of your character. After all, I knew how much confidence I had felt about answering for a handful of other participants: not very much.
In retrospect, does it matter how sure you are that somebody really is able, accepting, adaptable, bold, brave, calm, caring, cheerful, clever, … (56 of these words) if you respond based on your own impression of that person?
Enough about that face plant. Fast forward a couple of decades.
After some acquisitions, the company I worked for had expanded its workforce and our CFO, my direct manager, felt that his leadership team didn’t work together well enough. You would find nobody in the team disagreeing.
Consequently, we booked a couple of days away from the office and one of our colleagues from HR showed up in advance to administrate – yes, you guessed it – an assessment of how well we knew each other.
This time, though, it was not the Johari list but the good old Big 5. On a scale from 1 to 5 how do you and your colleagues score on these concepts that summed up to the five traits: Openness to change, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
And then we went away, and spent many hours together discussing not only what we had answered but, even more importantly, which data points we had used for answering as we did.
Much to my relief, the CFO and I were very close in how we respectively thought we were and viewed one another. At most, we diverged one point. We were known to each other. But other answers were all across the board.
Ex. one of my colleagues thought I was super introverted. The data point was that I had an office with an often-closed door. Like just the week before I had not come out and said good morning even once.
OK, we apparently had some communication issues as, the week before, I had not even been in the office but was visiting sales managers across the country. The activity had been registered – but this colleague didn’t know that the named activity meant I was not around.
An excellent exercise for checking assumptions; I can only recommend it. Within a couple of days, we had changed to organization, removed many sources of friction in our processes, and upon returning we had the support of the other employees – who breathed a sigh of relief that we returned with productive results.
The only hiccup I had from this exercise was that as much as I had argued well for the change in the organization and believed fully in it, had gotten a promotion, and had more respect from the new colleagues to whom I apparently had been quite opaque previously, I didn’t like my new role. It was the right role for our organization. I was just not the right person for that role.
It had taken me over 20 years to figure out that the story I told myself about what my career should look like was based on other people’s expectations and not on what made me excited to get up and go to work.
I solved the problem the radical way: I moved to another country. Not because of this; but it helped facilitate the rather large decision that I didn’t yearn to stay in my job.
What do you do when you discover you are not who you think you are?