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  • Writer's pictureOliver Nowak

Setting up your Organisation to Win

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he refers to the 6 paradigms of human interaction: Win/Win, Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, Win, and Win/Win or No Deal.

So which of these paradigms is the most ‘effective’?

Win/Win is a mutually beneficial state where both parties act cooperatively to win together rather than competitively against each other. In many ways, this is a very unusual interaction because the way that society is structured is highly competitive. Success is determined by your relative position to the person next to you rather than in absolute terms. And over time that has bred an uncomfortable culture of “for me to succeed, you must lose”. However, those that practice the Win/Win mentality realise that in many cases there’s a third alternative, a version where, if they put their minds to it, they can both succeed, together.

Win/Lose is the product of this competitive mindset. It’s a very authoritarian mentality, often power will be used as justification be it through position, credentials, wealth etc. Covey describes that for many of the individuals practicing this mentality it traces all the way back to their childhood and how they grew up. The stimulus is that as a child they had to compete for the love that was shown to them. Love was given on a conditional basis, like when they did well at school or at sport. Over time the child learnt that their personal value was determined by outside sources rather than through the intrinsic value of their personality. The consequence is that self-worth would be determined relative to others or an expectation. If you think about how our education system is set up, it’s not a surprise that so many people are locked in this mentality. Our personal value is determined by a grade that is set relative to others, it does not show effort in any way - a child earning a Grade D is classed as a failure and another gaining an A a success, but the first child might be absolutely maximising their potential while the other is only running at half speed. Shouldn’t we be more worried about the second child?

Lose/Win is very simply the other way around. It’s a mentality of seeking approval from others by letting them win. Individuals who practice this lack the confidence to express their true feelings for fear of alienating the other person. Their true feelings get buried and they act the way they feel they are “supposed to”. Win/Lose people thrive on Lose/Win individuals because they know they can get what they want and that acts as a big source of strength and power for them.

Covey’s argument is that in the long-run, when it comes to relationships, applying Win/Lose and Lose/Win mentalities ultimately results in a Lose/Lose every time. Think about when you have two Win/Lose people put together. Both are so focused on winning at the cost of the other person that they both end up losing. This dynamic becomes very punitive and vindictive, and Covey likens it to a bitter divorce where neither party is willing to concede. The Lose/Lose here might be that both parents care about the children but are so set on getting one over each other that they forget that their feud is negatively impacting their well-being.

The Win dynamic is another alternative. This mentality is all about getting what they want regardless of what happens to the other person. In essence, it’s the same as the other Win mentalities above but without that sense of competition.

In summary, what this clearly shows is that when it comes to digital transformation in an organisation, the only truly viable solution is Win/Win. To achieve true success, the organisation has to win as a whole.

So if it’s that simple why is it so rarely applied?

Ultimately, like I have so often said before, it’s a cultural issue. Do you have a cooperative or a competitive culture? Which target is more important? The company target or the personal targets that make up the company target?

If I think about the customers that I have spoken to, most organisations are orientated around the latter. They’re very fragmented because the personal or departmental targets matter much more than the organisation succeeding as a whole. In other words, it’s an incredibly competitive Win/Lose culture. It’s about one-upping them, and this drives a wedge between them rather than creating an environment where they collaborate for the greater good of the organisation as a whole. However, when it comes to digital transformation, the only way to truly succeed is to think of the organisation as a whole. To achieve true transformation the organisation needs to be fully connected, communicative and efficient. Let me bring it to life with a very simple example, IT might have a better chatbot than the HR team, and that might feel like a Win for them today. However, in the long run it would have been better for the organisation as a whole if they had collaborated to create one single chatbot so that employees only had one chatbot they had to interact with. In essence, this element of competition has seen the opportunity for real transformation pass them by because the focus was too narrow minded. Success was determined by beating the other department rather than by the interests of the organisation as a whole.

The rebuttal to not working cooperatively is often, “we tried, it just didn’t work” or “they didn’t want to work with us”. Let’s be honest, it can be classed as playground stuff really. However, the alternative to not working cooperatively, doesn’t always have to be to work competitively. You might have noticed there was a 6th paradigm that I haven’t talked about yet. If we can’t find a solution that benefits us all, maybe due to cost or because senior management aren’t bought in, it doesn’t mean we should go away and say “ah well, we tried, we may as well just fend for ourselves now”. It’s ok to just admit that it’s No Deal, at least this time. Having this mindset frees us from our competitive compulsion to drive our own agenda. We can afford to take a step back and figure out exactly what the underlying issues were rather than immediately give up the chase. This mindset is orientated on the long term benefits of the organisation.

As I said, it’s a question of culture. Do you have the sort of culture where people are willing to fight to work together for the benefit of the organisation as a whole, or are you an organisation of individuals that are only interested in themselves? Your potential for true transformation might depend upon it.

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