Control, Challenge and Champagne

When I have the opportunity to engage people about motivations, I get very excited. It is when I get to see and hear the "spark" in their souls. It is also when I get to see people make positive changes. Often the energy that is released from individuals is like popping a Champagne cork.

The status quo has a comforting effect on many people, with good reason. We all have a need to master what we do. The beginning of any journey or project is stressful. The "risk" of the unknown or the yet unlearned keeps us in a state of readiness which can be exhausting. Once we acquire a level of familiarity with a subject or task, we feel more at ease. We enjoy the feeling of "control" being restored to our lives.

At some point in the journey two general personalities traits become important. One trait is our need to "control" and the other trait is our need for "challenge". In some degree we all have these traits; one or the other in more abundance from time to time. What tends to determine the vacillations in the degree between control and challenge is external pressure. When external pressure rewards the status quo, then we are being, in some way, rewarded for "control". When external pressure rewards "risk", then we are being, in some way, rewarded for "challenge". There is a time and place in any business strategy or life strategy for both control and challenge. Our success usually depends on our ability to make "active conscious choices" when to reward one over the other.

The "cork" in the Champagne bottle or the constrictor that prevents the natural flow between these two general personality traits is "non-recognition of choice" or "recognition that one trait is not rewarded". We all learn to recognize the signs, both conscious and unconscious, telling us what is rewarded and what is not rewarded. For organizations stuck in a one sided reward cycle, either control or challenge, there is stress and dissatisfaction. Eventually, like the movement of tectonic plates, there will be a buildup of pressure that will have to give. Like an earthquake or the geyser from a Champagne bottle the human spirit will be released. This is true on a personal individual level, on a department level, and on an entire business organization level. How this energy is managed or mismanaged is significant to our quality of life and business success.

I mentioned "non-recognition of choice" earlier. This is the easiest to correct and the easiest to overlook. I have worked with hundreds of people and it is striking how often they communicate that, "I did not know I had a choice" or "I did not think anyone wanted to hear my ideas" or "I did not know I was allowed to work with that department on process". Non-recognition of choice can be eliminated with communication and feedback. The feedback is critical to express value for the communication and reward it. The vast majority of people I work with say, "I am okay if they don't run with my idea, as long as they let me know why they don’t". Communication is not a "suggestion box", it is conversational.

"Recognition that one trait is not rewarded", now, that is the harder of the two most common restrictions on the human spirit. Organizations in the predominant state of "challenge" need to figure out how to reward control in the culture. People need the decompression that comes with the safety net control provides. This is true for individuals as well as organizations. If your life is in a constant state of "challenge", you need to find ways to reward yourself and bring "control" into your life. It can be as straightforward as setting boundaries for work and personal life.

Organizations in the predominant state of "control" need to allow for the possibility of "challenge" in order to advance the natural desire for people to effect their surroundings. Strangely enough, in rare cases the act of adding "control" can be the "challenge" but more often what is needed is the permission to “risk”. Rewarding risk means to empower people to engage a challenge. Organizations comfortable with empowering people to engage risks are themselves comfortable with "controlling" the effect. Imbalance in any endeavor can cause stress. Supporting "empowerment zones" that support your business strategies can be a perfect method of "controlling challenge" and "challenging control", once you have recognized an imbalance in your organization or in your life.

Creating an "empowerment zone" will also allow the people involved the opportunity to "test the waters". To suddenly expect people to unlearn a learned behavior is not realistic. Let them experience a new environment with a balance of both "control and challenge" and over time this will ease the transition back to balance for the organization as a whole. Clearly explain the purpose and the process for the shift back to “balance” and watch the Champagne flow.