Internal Control, External Considering

April 4, 2013 Leave a comment

|Photo by Roland Tanglao||

Some very compelling points are made by Carol Sanford stemming from her work with “responsible businesses” about the importance of how people understand accountability.  She cites pscyhological research that suggests that having a sense of personal responsibility for outcomes (or an “internal locus of control”), whether those outcomes are good or bad, equates with higher degrees of happiness, health, and creativity.  The converse occurs when people attribute success and failure to outside forces.  “Only when people are accountable for their own decisions can they develop the rigor and discipline called for in high-quality decision making,” Sanford writes.

The capacity for self-organization is enhanced by bringing together this internal locus of control with what Sanford calls “external considering,” going beyond self-interest to asking, “How can I contribute to the larger whole of which I am a part?”  Of course, we have selfish and altruistic tendencies, and conditions can set us off in one direction or the other.  Ruling people with an iron fist, using threats, can tip people into self-protection.  It salts away at personal agency in the direction of responsibility.  But it is not just extreme examples.  “Many conventional work systems . . . blind individuals to the collective nature of the work and to the effect of all actions and decisions on stakeholders.”  This includes merit systems, performance reviews, rewards and recognition programs.  What we want is to evoke more intrinsic motivation and the impulse to serve the collective interest.  So how does this happen?  Through the cultivation of openness, an embrace of experimentation, deliberate and reflective practice (development!), avoiding rigidity around roles (valuing the full set of skills and experiences people bring to the table), and tearing down walls (or making them more permeable) between departments and functions.

More concrete examples are offered in Carol’s book and in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, which has great tips for cultivating a “growth mindset” and intrinsic motivation.  What are you doing in your work to encourage internal control and external considering?

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