During my time playing for European Champions, Toulouse, the coach said something that stayed with me as I started my new career after rugby. In a regular post-match analysis, our legendary coach Guy Noves said to one of my teammates, “il faut faire briller des autres.” (in English, “make others shine”.) My interpretation is “be a credit maker, not a credit taker.” That player took Guy’s advice and went on to become one of the most celebrated wingers for both Stade Toulousain and for the French national team. Years later, I believed this philosophy of being a credit maker rather than a credit taker would work effectively in organisations. I was wrong.
The idea of doing the hard work and being a credit taker is perfectly fine – as long as the coach knows that a player is taking this approach. Even when a player does the hard, less visible work, the press and the public do not always recognise the contribution: it is unseen, unglamourous, but essential work. For the player, the most important thing is that coach sees their contribution and values it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in the sports arena, but it is even less the case in the workplace.
This phenomenon is even more prevalent for those who work in transformation roles such as innovation work or longer-term change initiatives. In such cases, it is useful for a leader to see the people in these roles as catalysts.
The term “catalyst” is derived from Greek katalúō, meaning “loosen” or “untie” (as in to loosen or untie the clogged arteries of a legacy organisation, and the mindsets that reside therein). Catalysts enable reactions that would otherwise be blocked or slowed by a kinetic barrier. Organisational catalysts will know these barriers too well: they include fear, resistance, bureaucracy and fixed mindsets to name just a few of the many barriers to change. While catalysts help to ignite a chemical reaction (a change), they do not always feature in the final output. In some cases, catalysts are burned up or consumed in the reaction they have catalysed.
Just as a chemical catalyst that accelerates a chemical reaction, corporate catalysts orchestrate new alliances, encourage cross-silo collaboration and ignite new initiatives. By their very nature, these such initiatives are slow to develop, and by the time they become tangible and successful the corporate catalyst has moved on to a different project. Unfortunately, the catalyst has often moved on to a new organisation, hoping that this time leadership might recognise their valuable contribution. In chemical reactions, the catalyst often burns out in the reaction and in a similar manner, corporate catalysts often burn out long before the seeds they planted break through the organisational soil and sprout into something measurable by traditional standards. This highlights a concudrum for catalysts: should I be a credit maker or a credit taker? Should I hand over the credit to someone, who often resisted the change in the first place, but is perfectly willing to take credit for an idea once it is recognised at leadership level.
Corporate catalysts spend a huge amount of time and energy working on nebulous and Ill-defined projects. These projects move painstakingly slow (for the catalyst, but often too fast by organisational terms), adding further stress to the change agent. Where others fail to bring organisational silos together, catalysts succeed, but with a major catch. That catch is that they must be a credit maker, not a credit taker. This brings me back to the point of a great coach, the coach recognises the contribution of such a team member. In organisations, this is rarely the case.
If a corporate catalyst is measured by traditional metrics, it can be difficult to articulate the value they add to the organisation. If (and sometimes when) a member of the status quo wants to ostracize or question the contribution of a change agent, it is easily done. As Peter Drucker so rightly identified, “The New always looks so small, so puny, so unpromising next to the size and performance of maturity.” Similarly, the changemaker is an easy target when compared to the well-established executive.
Catalysts Need Air Cover
When a leader hires someone who will upset the status quo, they must protect them (from a distance). As our guest on this week’s Innovation Show, Jane McConnell tells us, “you need to manage up, not manage down. Unless they’ve been involved in your projects, you need to manage up so that they have an understanding of what your role is.” Furthermore, a previous guest on the Innovation Show, Shannon Lucas, says we should “breadcrumb” our contribution, leaving clear traces of our efforts. In this way, should we be quizzed on what we have been doing for the past few months, we can answer it easily with data, diary entries, and meeting dates.
Pain in the butt? Hell yeah.
Necessary? Unfortunately, so.
But there is a further rub. While breadcrumbing your months of energy-sapping effort, you must then hand over credit to the department head or manager so that they get the plaudits from their peers. In doing so, you hope they will offer you more opportunities to catalyse the status quo and bring more change into a legacy operation.
Easier said than done. This often involves biting your tongue as this person sits there and laps up the praise, even when their contribution was minimal. In most cases, they barely even (and often not at all) recognise the parent of the initiative, the person who felt the pangs of childbirth of the idea, the sleepless nights, the stressful moments. This is where you have to suck it up, it is part of the job.
If leaders truly want to instil change, they must embrace change makers, corporate rebels, gig mindsetters, catalysts, but…without the necessary air cover, these catalysts will burn up (or burn out) in the reaction.
(Elias – Platoon – No Air Cover)
THANKS FOR READING
THANKS FOR READING
On this week’s Innovation Show, we welcome the author of “The Gig Mindset Advantage: Why a Bold New Breed of Employee is Your Organization’s Secret Weapon in Volatile Times, Jane McConnell
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