When Reality Bites: Independent Reality

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Grodnitzky, Ph.D.
January 4, 2023

I spent some time over the holidays thinking about our experience of reality and how it affects us — as individuals, as part of groups or organizations, and as leaders in our culture. I offered an introduction to the different kinds of reality in a blog here. I took a deeper dive into the nature of individual or personal reality here. Today we discuss independent reality.

I use this term to describe what many scientists would define as objective reality: Something is independently real if it continues to exist even if there are no organisms to perceive it.  Independent realities don’t care what we think, believe or feel about them. 

Science gives us knowledge and understanding of how independent reality works. Engineering works because it is based on scientific understanding of independent realities. Planes fly, cars drive, buildings stand because of our understanding of independent reality. In medicine, antibiotics and vaccines work because of our understanding of independent reality. Independent reality is important to understand because it is what allows us to live with and use technological advances that so many take for granted today.

The Reality of What Employees Want

It is our understanding of independent reality that allows us to survive as an individual, a group or family, as an organization, and as a species. 

When we see a bus coming down the street, we don’t step in front of it. If you do, reality will bite. When we come to a railroad crossing, we look both ways down the tracks. If we see a train is about to cross, we stop before we hit the train. If you don’t, reality will bite. Accurately understanding independent reality allows us to operate successfully in the world and make decisions that will benefit us and those around us.

What is true for us regarding independent reality individually is also true for our businesses and organizations.

There is an independent reality that has been brought to the fore over the past two years: As a species, human beings want agency. We want to make determinations for our lives and our future. This is a fundamental independent reality of human behavior.

Some businesses are embracing this reality. Others are ignoring it, and others still are rejecting it. But if you do not understand this independent reality, reality will bite. 

4 Steps to Create More Autonomy

Just like we don’t want to step in front of a moving bus, or drive onto a track when a train is about to cross, we don’t want to deprive our people of the agency they seek.

While I have written much about the hybrid workforce, some industries (such as construction, manufacturing and healthcare) have natural constraints regarding where employees can work. But regardless of whether such constraints apply to your business, the independent reality of humans’ desire for agency will affect your success. So I offer that you must tie your business performance metrics to autonomy of time. The better your teams perform, the more autonomy they are given.

Here is a four-step process that can help you align your organization with the independent reality of human agency:

Step 1: Inform the system. Ask employees (through a survey or one on one) this question: “We would like to offer you more autonomy in your work schedule. What would that look like for you?” 

Step 2:  Create the system. Now take this message to a small group of high performers: “We did this survey with you and your colleagues. We learned that this is the type of autonomy you and they would like. We would like you to create a system that ensures you can maintain performance at Level X or higher.”

Step 3:  Test the system. Now approach a different group or team of high performers. Your message: “A survey found that this is the type of autonomy you and your colleagues would like.  Group A created this system of autonomy and performance. We would like you to test the system to ensure you can maintain performance Level X or higher.” Give this group whatever time they need to ensure they can be successful. 

Do you think they will feel pressure to perform? Of course they will – it’s their system!

Step 4: Roll out the system. After data from Step 3 confirm that the new system is successful, roll it out to others.

I want to be clear: I am not asking you to risk your organizations. I am suggesting you can have your employees, inform, create and test a system of performance that would offer them more agency and autonomy. Only after it’s been proven successful do you roll it out.

The desire for agency is an independent reality. The train is leaving the station. Are you on it? Behind it trying to catch it? Or in front of it, lying on the tracks? 

When we don’t align ourselves with reality, reality bites.

Our next blog will focus on the third type of reality, our social realities.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

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