Monday, April 04, 2016

Lessons from Batman vs Superman - Know your Enemy. Fight the Right War.

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Spoiler alert. 

If saving lives and keeping villains behind bars were their calling, why would two superheroes pitch a war against each other? A large part of the reason why I decided to watch the movie was to find out the reason why. The other part, of course, is because of Batman (never mind that the Director prefers Superman). Suffice to say, the suspense generated by the epic battle was a great movie-seller but to think of it, such "wars" happen to our team and organisations from time to time.

In a nutshell, the movie sets itself in the aftermath of the destructive battle between Superman and General Zod (in the prequel Man of Steel) which left Metropolis in ruins. Batman saw Superman as a potential threat to humanity, and was manipulated by Lex Luthor to firm up his perception. Superman, realising Batman's actions, also viewed him as a threat. When both heroes realised they were not each other's enemy, they were confronted with a larger monster to deal with. After the victory, Batman and Wonder Woman set forth in their search for other superheroes to form the Justice League.

Whether the "war", silent or pronounced, takes place between the veterans and the freshies, the newly recruited Manager and subordinates who would have thought their career progression opportunity just got stolen. Left unaddressed, the energy spent by team members to engage in mini-"wars" among themselves will leave the team high and dry when the real "war" (think opportunity or crisis) comes by.

Forge Healthy Mental Models with Open Communication 
Amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily operational work, data can sometimes be hived up within a department or a work team, with the others oblivious to it. This is especially so when the team feels that the new data only concerns the team itself. For instance, a suspected increase in request for logistics support, due to a competitor suffering from downtime issues, might seem like data critical for the logistics department but the Human Resources department could have benefited from more lead time to respond to possible needs for contract drivers and overtime budgeting. In the absence of data and information, work teams can develop unhealthy mental models about one another.

Open Communication is, thus, crucial in forging healthy mental models within work teams and between teams. Besides promoting an open organisational culture and keeping one another in the loop via email ccs,these are some ways to encourage open communication:

  1. Ensure there is sufficient time allocated at each team meetings for each member to be engaged in discussing the bigger picture, besides their operational updates. Use the check-in/check-out method to facilitate such discussions which often produce gems. 
  2. Listen from the rank-and-file and the frontline staff. My experience working with unionised blue collar workers tells me that at the company canteen and at the shop floor, informal conversations thrive and data sometimes get pieced into very useful trends. 
What gets actually measured gets actually done 
Employees are driven by KPIs, and passion. No performance appraisal is perfect but spending organisational time and resources to conduct appraisal exercises only to subject it to be overriden by personal bias is counterintuitive.

When team members find that the listed KPIs are just to legitimise the appraisal process, they will soon determine what actually gets measured and gravitate their work correspondingly. In most cases, this leads to a contest of face-time with the boss (including staying back late in office and leaving after the boss does), and pleasing the boss (ultimately leading to groupthink and poor team cohesiveness).

While the other extreme of strict adherence to KPIs is not beneficial as well, organisations would need to find a balance on transparency and managing expectations.

Service Excellence with Team Excellence 
When your client lodges a complaint on your team member, how you respond as a team leader can affect team morale. Do you prioritise your external stakeholders' (clients, shareholders) interest above your internal ones (employees)?

I once came across a hardworking employee who works stealthily. His hard work was not as appreciated as employees who received compliments from customers. As a result, he submitted compliments to his company using his clients' names. He soon got a raise.

There can be established guidelines on handling complaints and feedback against employees but the team leader's attitude towards unproven, unverified claims can matter more than the final outcome.

I am eager for the sequel to the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Meanwhile, identify your Lex Luthor in your enterprise and may you build a strong Justice League!