escape the bystander effect, know the real purpose of your organization

There is no innocent bystander.? There’s only bystanders.? Stop it!

“Life could be defined as having and following a purpose.”? Harrison Quiqley defined life in this way while discussing how we can all succeed at gaining the highest return from our human capital.? Now, let’s delve deeper.

You there, the employee who’s lost their way within the company — just working, without direction.? Sure, you’re doing your job day in and day out, but when was the last time you really asked yourself why you’re doing your job?? Even further, when was the last time you asked your colleagues why you’re doing your job?? Or why they’re doing their jobs?? Not for money and security (which is in a tailspin, as of late), but the purpose.? Are you providing a service unparalleled by any of your competitors, to be and make others more productive, to make yourself an agent of change?? If you don’t know or are hazy on the answer — ask!? And if you ask, and that person is a bit circular in their response, ask again.? And after you’ve asked, take heed of the answers.? Provide your own answers until you can formulate your purpose, your organization’s purpose, and where the two interweave.

This is, by no means, a futile team building exercise.? This is building your personal agency within your organization.? The real purpose of your organization will not only make you more productive, streamlining your work day into that which fits the goal, but knowing will provide you the individual agency over your organization’s purpose.? And agency is a powerful tool.

How? Why? Glad you’ve asked! Indulge me, would you?? Should you ever be unfortunate enough to be amidst any type of medical emergency in public, there are certain actions you should henceforth remember:

–if no one has taken the lead yet, no one is going to
–even if you’re thinking otherwise, everyone else is thinking the exact same thing — and still doing nothing
–when taking the lead, be assertive and confident
–when delegating, always ask a specific who to do a specific what
–explain to everyone working with you not only how this crisis will be solved, but why and through what actions

The reasoning behind all of this?? Well, as humans, and more locally, as humans in the United States’ individualisitc culture, we are first and foremost responsible for ourselves.? However, when placed in the spotlight, given a task outright, performing that task to the best of our ability becomes a reflection on ourselves.? In a group, should that task never be given outright, the responsibility of performing it is diffused amongst all others in the group instead of shouldered by a sole individual.? And because everyone has neither been explicity assigned nor held accountable, inaction is usually the result.? The most studied case of this diffusion of responsibility or bystander effect, is the murder of Kitty Genovese.? A mere 100 feet from her apartment, Genovese was stabbed to death while her neighbors did nothing, each citing that they believed the other neighbors would have already called the authorities.? No one had.? No one did.? This lack of agency proved fatal that night.

Agency is a powerful tool.? Although Genovese’s murder exists as an extreme example of the bystander effect, the principle holds true in many different environments — including the workplace.? Including you, the diligent employee.? Using the new found knowledge of the real purpose of your organization, you have provided yourself the accountability, agency, and drive to accomplish this purpose with each keystroke.? Everything you do is no longer just because, but instead because I am driving this organization forward.

With an entire organization built upon individual agency, productivity becomes less about the group producing in mass and more about each individual contributing to the group in order to accomplish the purpose of the whole.? So, no longer sit idly waiting because you’re sure someone else will write that, post that, draw that, report that — you are the agent for your own human capital.? And your human capital is best utilized by everyone when you know you are the agent.

1 comment for “escape the bystander effect, know the real purpose of your organization

  1. September 17, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Any time that I hold a meeting with a group of people about a project we’re all collaborating on, there’s only two bullets on the agenda:
    – What still needs to be done?
    – Who’s doing it?

    People tend to respond to that because it’s specific, and to the point, plus it makes meetings a lot shorter.

    I also try to avoid sending a group of people an email when I need feedback. Blasting out a question over email to a group of people almost never works.

    Instead, I like to send individual emails, even if they have all the same content but the person’s name. That way, everyone assumes they’re the only one that got the email, and they’re held accountable for not responding. They also give more honest feedback, because they’re not influenced by others in the group that have already hit the “Reply All” button.

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