Handle Those Questions That Haunt You

It is Halloween season again! Our celebrations may differ depending on where we find ourselves in the world.  Nevertheless, many of us envision  ghosts and hobgoblins this time of year.  As we don our Halloween costumes and place our candles in our jack-o-lanterns, let’s think again about those “wicked questions” that Katrin addressed in her blog last month.

Don’t let the Hobgoblins Snatch Your Future

Engage Your Ghosts •Pick your time frame for assigning "relevance. " Today, this quarter, this year, or longer term? •Eliminate "either/or"  and engage in "both and" thinking. •	Learn from the past and let it go. •	Encourage and reward conflict. •	Manage your own uncertainty-driven anxiety.  •	Help others do the same.  •	Ensure cross-pollination among stakeholder groups.

Bust Your Ghosts!
• Pick your time frame for assigning “relevance”. Today, this quarter, this year, or longer term?
• Eliminate “either/or” and engage in “both and” thinking
• Learn from the past and let it go
• Encourage and reward conflict
• Manage your own uncertainty-driven anxiety
• Help others do the same
• Ensure cross-pollination among stakeholder groups

Our task is to figure out how to address these questions in the present so that they don’t become the hobgoblins that sneak up on us and snatch our companies’ futures!

Relevance: Trick or Treat

Last month Katrin suggested that we assess relevance before we take on the “wicked questions.” However, determining whether a sustainability-related question is pertinent to our company can be tricky!   The world where sustainability issues reside is murky. So how can we cut through the uncertainty to determine real relevance?

Choose Your Skeleton

Skeletons are the structures that support our bodies or our buildings.   Likewise, we use frameworks to shore up our decision-making processes.   Most of us will use one of the following two frameworks:

Business-case.   We evaluate any and all issues pertaining to sustainability, whether environmental, social or financial by estimating the short-term effect on our companies’ bottom lines.  When we decide that the issue will not immediately affect our financial outcomes, we dismiss it.  Or, if it does seem likely that it could affect us, we may try to determine whether the impact will be positive or negative and then choose our responses accordingly.   Voila!  By acting in the best interest of our immediate, short-term financial future, we reduce tension and gain a sense of control.

Multifaceted.  We acknowledge many stakeholders when it comes to addressing sustainability.   We examine the issues from many viewpoints. We recognize that that these perspectives may be in conflict.  However, rather than seeking to eliminate tensions, we encourage airing the conflicts to spark creative problem-solving.  We learn to live with complexity and uncertainty, and  we acknowledge  that we are not in complete control.

Are Ghosts Lurking in Your Company?

If you are a business leader who is looking for immediate peace of mind, your default is likely to be the business-case framework. It offers you clear conditions for making decisions. But wait a minute.  What about the lurking concerns that you may have filtered out by setting this  narrow decision-making criteria?  How can you be sure that they won’t haunt you?

Facing our Phantoms

What do you have to gain if you choose to live with some uncertainty and engage with complexity? You might be able to slay your dragons before they eat you! And you just may discover  break-through answers to the wicked questions.

But Do We Have to Choose?

Suppose we rid ourselves and our organizations of  the “either or” viewpoint.  What if we  replace it with “both and”  thinking? Perhaps we can both look at the relevance of sustainability-related questions from a short-term, business-case standpoint and from the more complex and multifaceted points of view.  If we are up to taking on the challenge of these dual paths to decision-making, this Halloween we can all sing the immortal lyrics to the Ghostbusters movie theme song:  “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!”

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment in the box below.

Kathy MillerDr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.

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5 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing those thoughts. Indeed the “either or” way of thinking has to be challenged. I do agree that only by embracing complexity and long term approach can the sustainability challenges be addressed. Otherwise we keep progressing in incremental steps, which are not delivering the results needed.

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