Can you imagine a world where things like empathy and intuition were actually valued in a business environment?
Scenario: A project manager is sitting in a management review meeting, and she’s assessing whether or not her project has a reasonable chance at ultimate success. There’s something about the scenario, though, that doesn’t sit well with her. Everything looks like it’s on the up-and-up, and the intended project result would be a good and beneficial thing, but something is wrong, and she’s not sure yet what that is.
Current atmosphere: She keeps her goddamned mouth shut because speaking up without solid “proof”, especially citing that she “has a bad feeling about this”, would immediately discredit her as a business person and certainly as a reliable and authoritative project manager.
What-if atmosphere: She is asked her thoughts on this phase of the project, and she feels comfortable admitting that she doesn’t feel comfortable about something. She is willing to state that something is off, that she feels like maybe there’s a key piece of information missing, and she’d like to delay for 24 hours in order to ferret out the problem. The response from the stakeholders in the room is that she can take 48 hours if she needs to: she’s been selected as the project manager because they know that she has a great sense of when things are going to go wrong and how to avoid those mistakes. They honor and respect her intuition.
The problem, of course, is that the Very Logical And Staunchly Data-Driven Business World thinks of concepts like “intuition” and “emotions” and “empathy” as woo-woo feel-good buzz phrases that have no substance or solidity. They are unreliable. Ironically, the people who traditionally do listen to their intuition in a purely “I respect how I feel about this and will avoid the pitfall” or “and will investigate further to figure out what’s wrong” tend to have much higher rates of personal success than those who blindly follow forward with the step-by-step instructions that they will complete, come hell or high water.
(This is purely an observational statement and not specifically supported by clinical data as yet, but just you wait.)
To my credit, I’ve pretty much been able to call it early on for most of the businesses I’ve worked with, including knowing whether or not they were going to have to transform in order to grow. Some are still doing well, some have been dead for a while but the corpse doesn’t know yet. Some are going to get pushed out of the marketplace for not being responsive or or not growing fast enough in the right directions.
And while I was poking around the internet looking for an image to include in this blog (because we all know that the internet is full of 7-year-olds who love picture books), I found an article from about a year ago that strongly supports my supposition. Lisa Marie Jenkins apparently wonders the same thing.
And then I got even more curious, so I did some googling – you know, like you do – and I found out that Entrepreneur Magazine has three different articles on the first page of results dealing with exactly this topic. Huffington Post even has a page of multiple results with “business intuition” as a tag. Cornerstone thinks it warrants discussion. Study.Com includes a chapter on it it its business courses. The Harvard Business Review even goes so far as to describe exactly the type of situation I started exploring above and talking about when and under what circumstances to listen to your intuition.
It’s kind of already here
I think about things like this all the time, both in the context of business and professional life and in the larger context of the world as a whole. For instance, if we really did live in a professional world where intuition was an acceptable response to anything type of decision, big or small, then by extension we would also have to honor and respect other emotions.
But at the same time, it’s already happening. Really good managers – the ones who lead people more than just arrange their tasks – already know how to read and handle their employees feelings, and they do so by honoring and supporting them. Sure, they keep their eye on the bottom line, but giving someone a week of paid leave to let them grieve a parent or taking them to lunch or dinner when it’s known that their paycheck was short and they have no food are things that compassionate managers do. It doesn’t just make the employee feel better, it builds a better relationship between the employee and the business (assuming the business policy supports the manager’s actions) and makes for better profitability all the way around.
The thing is, this type of manager is the exception, not the rule. People who trust their intuition to guide them through their corporate and professional decisions are even more rare. What can you do about it? Maybe try to apply it to your own practices.
Listen to your gut. If you can’t obviously see why something might go south (or go north!), investigate it thoroughly before acting on it. This is especially true in situations where you have project-based teams, where you might not be dealing with the same people month over month. Trust yourself.
And, as always, if you’d like to talk more about it, drop me a line.
(Cross-posted in part from Normality Factor.)