“A system is never the sum of its parts. It is a product of the interaction of its parts.”Russell Ackoff
Picture burnout as a system.
Now add Agile Transformation.
And see a receipt for personal disaster.
Let us start by definition of a transformation – one of the descriptions of such, according to Webster dictionary, is ”a change of variables or coordinates in which a function of new variables or coordinates is substituted for each original variable or coordinate.”
Change of structure, roles, policies, and, most importantly – expectations. This is where humans suffer the most, and where coaches can help the most if we are sufficiently equipped. And being sufficiently equipped do they act to help? Or as the saying goes – to serve and protect?
Burnout happens from a combination of physical – chemical – mental.
Physics is your body; chemistry is your hormones, the composition of your blood. The mental part is your stress or its absence; it is anxiety, depression, or peace, and excitement. Burnout does not have a standard course of treatment, because the things that mitigate your symptoms are as unique as the situations that led to your exhaustion.
There are three types of circumstances:
There is an individual burnout that occurs due to the pressure that you exert on yourself – this is very common among those who are perfectionists (CEOs or CIOs in our context).
There is also interpersonal attrition, which is caused by complicated work relationships (can you imagine working alone on your routine tasks and now being in a team with that particular person you dreaded for decades?)
And finally, there is organizational exhaustion, which is caused by poor organization and unrealistic demands made on you by others (the tremendous top-down start of transformation).
We have arrived at the turning point. Transformation missions where coaches are hired to observe, lead, encourage others to mastery and set up daily routines and ceremonies. Is there more?
First of all, hence you are in a coaching position, your main task is not to have a strong opinion from day one, rather download, expand your perception filter, connect emotionally and act from an open heart.
Look out for the following signs:
1. Loss of direction and governance
Employees are more likely to burnout if they don’t feel in control of the work they are doing, if people are bored with their work, or if they think that there is too much chaos in their work environment.
Action for a coach: Think about building up transparency first, enabling a clear vision of whatever the next step is. Use go and see methods, surveys, interviews, workshops to see the current situation. Create information radiators, not information fridges. List out the transformation backlog not with the help of the actual people on the floor, but enable them to do it.
2. Lack of feedback
It is not about the method of a survey or retrospective, the 1-1 connection, or the session for the team. It is a daily answer to the question, “how good am I at what I am doing, and is there anyone benefiting from my work.”
You just did something astonishing at work! How do you prefer to be recognized?
A shout-out at your company’s next all-hands meeting? A happy hour with your team?
Here’s another question: How do the team members prefer to be acknowledged?
At its core, employee recognition is the open declaration and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions to their organization, and it’s super important to an organization’s bottom line, especially in the transformation times.
This leads us to the appreciation gap, i.e., the difference between how people give recognition and how people want to receive the honor.
Action for a coach: introduce the feedback culture. Show examples of how feedback works, actively ask for it and hint to where it could be given to others. Something that I did at one of my missions – printed small cards for feedback and have been constantly distributing them in a form of positive feedback on one side and invitation to come and see me whenever they are ready for a 1% improvement.
3. Lack of training
Do you understand everything at work, and you stopped learning new things? What if you DO NOT WANT to learn something at this place? Here it is – your red flag.
Action for a coach: each Friday I sent out a newsletter with one small lesson or focus area. Each month there is an open workshop, each week there are open doors and opportunities to learn. Have 1-1s and ask for “crown jewels” of questions – when was the last time you learned something for or at your work?
A coach can be the master of a business, organizational, or tech transformation. They are built on sharing knowledge and creating learning opportunities, so this is my plea for you not to stop learning.
Having mentioned three types of burnout and three types of its reasons along with steps you can take, I have the intention to leave you once again with a thought that a system is not a sum, it is a product of an interaction of its parts. Chances are you hold the key to the most prominent element.