Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Archaeology at Work

As a consultant who works regularly with clients dealing with strategy gaps, unresolved conflict and a wide range of personnel and performance issues, my first instinct is to help them look ahead rather than dwell in the past. However, sometimes digging into the past is necessary to find a durable, forward-looking solution. I call this archaeology at work and here is a quick framework that offers a guide to learning from the past:

Determine the “Archaeological Horizon” – This is the sum total of all artifacts at a site and it can be used to distinguish between episodes or periods of time. In the world of work, this is the equivalent of putting useful parameters around what is being discussed and considered. Re-tracing the roots of a presenting problem can sometimes lead down the rabbit hole, so delineating the horizon is important. It helps people see where other issues start/stop and what is “in-bounds or out-of-bounds” in a given situation.

Begin the “Excavation” – Many people take too narrow a view of excavation. It is not just bringing in the bulldozers and seeing what is dug up. In archaeology, excavation has three phases: exposure, processing and recording. In the workplace, these three phases are essential. Exposing issues and old wounds can be delicate, however, if a basic structure is used to process people's perspectives, feelings and ideas, then the findings can be recorded and made useful in the subsequent problem-solving phases. When thorough excavation is skipped, the wealth of critical information and data is left inaccessible just below the surface.

Discover the “Numismatics” – Numismatics refers to the study of currency. In the workplace, rather than coins and shells as the system of currency, we need to understand what values, beliefs and sources of power act as the currency for the people involved. Only by understanding the underlying drivers (what matters and to whom) can the details from the excavation be put into accurate and useful context. This can be accomplished with values clarification exercises or simply through discussion.

Ensure the “Preservation of Meaning” – Preservation of meaning is the total understanding of spiritual, psychological and perceptive values that people within a culture have toward artifacts and systems. By creating a shared sense of meaning – even when there is diversity among perspectives – it becomes possible to ensure that what people truly value can be preserved. This is a defining moment because developing and implementing problem solving strategies require commitment and buy-in. The best way to generate this is to connect solutions to what matters most for people: their core values and beliefs about priorities.

Used together, these lessons from the world of archaeology can help you discover important information buried in your own workplace.

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