Cleaning Up the Promisphere in Companies

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Recently, the breakdown in worker/management relationships at RBTT Jamaica and the Fiesta Hotel in Hanover, Jamaica have made me think where I would start, if given the chance, to make a difference in each of these companies.

I would start by working to restore the condition of the promisphere in each company.

What is the promisphere?

The promisphere is the internal environment within a group that consists of promises and agreements that have been made, broken, changed or are hanging in limbo. It also includes promises that are expected to be made, believed to have been made or thought necessary to make at some point in the future.

The total environment of promises collectively work together to create a promisphere.

Just like our physical environment, a promisphere can be polluted. In fact, there is almost no perfect promisphere that exists, simply because groups are made up of people who are imperfect.

In the case of RBTT Jamaica, the workers went on strike on Friday. In the case of Fiesta Hotel, a worker was shot in a recent riot. In both cases, the workers will be back to work on Monday. At RBTT, they have been ordered back to to work by the government. In the case of Fiesta, there was a negotiated agreement, again brokered by the government.

On Monday morning, it is likely that each situation will be a tense one.

There will be a temptation for the leadership of both companies to “grin and bear it” — try their best to “just move on” without dwelling on the problem at hand, or the past. In fact, they will be quite happy if collective amnesia were to set in.

Unfortunately, this remains the best tool that most managers have — an ability to force things to move on, and to avoid talking about the difficult issues at hand.

However, this approach only works to delay troublesome issues, and in the case of the Jamaican workplace, it only serves to allow issues to build a quiet, dark momentum.

A much better tactic is to deal with the promisphere.

In each company I have consulted with that has issues between individuals, or groups of individuals, there has existed issues with respect to the promisphere.

A promise made in public that no merger was underway, was broken when the merger was announced within a matter of days. A promise made to clean up the physical environment is abandoned. An agreement to increase wages is laid aside.

An expectation that the company is a family is willfully violated in a newspaper report. A secret told in confidence is leaked. An expectation that a manager will be around to lead his people is violated with an abrupt resignation.

These are everyday occurrences in business, and they happen between people and groups who are good, bad or somewhere in between.

The point is, that a transformation in the culture of a company, department or team cannot happen unless the following takes place:

  • broken agreements are restored
  • amends are made for forgotten promises
  • apologies are rendered where damage has been done
  • mis-understood promises are openly dealt with

These simple acts take courage, but their effects are powerful. Trust can begin to be restored, forgiveness can start to heal relationships, and the promisphere, which is critical to getting complex work done in groups, can be restored.

A well-working promisphere is not one that is empty of promises — instead it is filled with clarity, and the simple power that comes from human trust and mutual expectations.

Ultimately, and in the real world, all promises cannot be kept.

In a well-working promisphere all members are vigilant for the smallest instances of pollution. They act as if the smallest promise that is broken is easier to resolve sooner than later, and that the collapse of this very fragile entity starts with small instances of overlooked agreements.

The very worst companies do not even acknowledge the existence of a promisphere, and are oblivious to the effect that seemingly simple actions have. They rely on unauthentic and hollow “rah-rah” efforts to get people excited, which fail because they are built on promispheres that result in:

  • skeptical employees that assume the worst — “Yeah right…”
  • pessimism and doom-saying — “Whatever…”
  • constant questions about whether or not the newest statements/efforts/projects/initiatives can be trusted, because of what happened in the past

The worst companies just try harder, with more posters, slogans, slicker graphics, more consultants, newer programs, more exotic team-building, longer surveys, new mission/vision/value statements, etc.

As a consultant who is sometimes brought in under these auspices, I try to ask each and every time when an executive explains that things are not working — “What is the state of the promisphere?” (without actually using the word.)

The truth is that companies should forget about trying to do anything different until they begin to see some gains in cleaning up their promisphere. Only then will they be able to move them, and their people ahead.