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Stuck: How to Win at Work by Understanding Loss - Book Review

1 August 2022
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "Stuck: How to Win at Work by Understanding Loss" was authored by Victoria Grady and Patrick McCreesh in 2022. Victoria Grady is an esteemed professor of organizational behavior, while Patrick McCreesh is a recognized expert in change management. Together, they skillfully merge their areas of expertise to introduce the concept of attachment theory, which is traditionally associated with psychology and primarily applied to children, to the realm of adult workplaces.

 

This book comprehensively explores various facets of the experience of feeling stuck, providing profound insights into its causes, effects, and methods to break free from it. The authors delve into the following key topics:

 

  1. Introduction: Attachment

  2. Understanding the underlying reasons for becoming stuck

  3. Identifying the root causes of being stuck

  4. Examining the emotional impact of being stuck

  5. Strategies for overcoming the feeling of being stuck

  6. Navigating stuckness within corporate culture

  7. Analyzing organizational situations that contribute to feeling stuck

  8. Taking charge of a stagnant organization

  9. Unlocking the untapped future potential

  10. Summary and practical recommendations

 

The authors present a unique and intriguing perspective by linking attachment theory with the workplace. It is highly recommended to read the entire book, as it offers an in-depth explanation that encompasses the structure of the brain and its relevant components in the context of the discussed subject matter.


Introduction: Attachment

Attachment theory, initially developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in developmental psychology, delves into the long-term relationships individuals form with those around them. This theory explores how the initial bond with a primary caregiver, typically the mother, during early years shapes the nature of connections a person establishes throughout their life. According to the book's authors, attachment represents a fundamental human need to rely on tangible and abstract objects that provide support. These objects can manifest as people, places, ideas, and values.

 

Gaining a deeper understanding of our brain reveals the presence of the limbic system, known as the intuitive brain, which significantly influences our overall life experiences, including our dynamics in the workplace. When we engage in present learning, the intuitive mind, residing in the limbic system, draws upon memory, emotions, and associations. Attachment theory supports learning and personal growth by living between intuitive and rational minds. However, depending on its style and context, it can also contribute to getting stuck and impede progress.

 

Moreover, it is crucial to acknowledge that the responsibility for the social-emotional systems associated with motivation and pleasure (SEEK), caring and love (CARE), loneliness and sadness (FEAR), and joy and play (JOY) lies within the limbic system. The intuitive mind constructs our memory-emotion-learning based on the social interactions within these systems.

 

On a personal level


Understanding the Reasons Behind Feeling Stuck

The experience of feeling stuck arises when we encounter the need for change and encounter challenges in transitioning from one support system, tangible or abstract, to another. Our attachment patterns established during childhood continue to shape our behavior, influencing how we respond to various situations. Individuals with a healthy attachment style tend to develop adaptive responses to loss, often necessary when faced with change. Conversely, those with insecure attachments may struggle to cope with such losses, leading to difficulties in navigating and embracing change. This can manifest as frustration or resistance, resulting in delays or outright refusal to progress.


Identifying the Causes of Feeling Stuck

In the existing literature, various attachment styles have been identified, each corresponding to different response styles when faced with change:

 

  1. Individuals with a secure attachment style prioritize a sense of safety and stability. They are aware of what constitutes a supportive foundation and strive to regain that feeling as quickly as possible after a change occurs. However, they may sometimes lack awareness of the challenges others face during the change process, resulting in reduced empathy.

  2. Those with an avoidant attachment style exhibit restraint, aloofness, and detachment in the face of loss. They tend to be less sociable and may avoid forming close relationships to shield themselves from potential rejection. Consequently, they often hold a negative perception of others, impeding their ability to respond positively to change. On the positive side, they are highly task-oriented and can approach change from a pragmatic standpoint, devoid of emotional entanglement, often responding with restraint.

  3. Individuals with disorganized attachment styles display consistency and need help maintaining stable relationships. They frequently experience fluctuations between anxiety and dependence, as well as avoidance and detachment. Seeking validation from others and caring about how they are perceived is important to them when making decisions. If the group successfully embraces change, they will follow suit instead of opposing it. Their weaker attachment to existing norms makes transitioning less challenging for them.

  4. Those with an ambivalent/anxious attachment style yearn for close connections. They rely on the support and validation of others to navigate through change. Open and frequent communication with them fosters their willingness to embrace change.

 

The authors propose a questionnaire that facilitates the understanding of employees' attachment styles, thereby enabling a deeper comprehension of how each individual can be supported in letting go of the past, including the associated loss, and successfully moving toward the future.


Exploring the Emotional Impact of Feeling Stuck

During times of change, our attachment tends to center around four categories of objects:

 

  1. Relationships: These encompass our interactions with colleagues, managers, and specific individuals within the work environment. Such relationships play a crucial role in fostering attachment to the workplace, motivating people to continue their engagement. They act as a support system, providing stability and comfort during times of change.

  2. The organization: Attachment to the organization arises not only from tangible aspects, such as its products and brands, but also from abstract elements, such as its concepts and methods. Additionally, our psychological contract with our organization serves as another avenue for developing attachment.

  3. Places: People can form attachments to physical locations, communities, or countries. This attachment can give rise to sub-identities when an organization operates in multiple locations, leading to a culture of silos and segregation.

  4. Culture: Attachment extends to abstract ideas and values that prevail in society (similar to the concept discussed in section 2).

 

By considering these four types of objects, we understand the factors that contribute to attachment and influence individuals' responses to change.


Strategies for Overcoming the Feeling of Being Stuck

To overcome the sensation of being stuck, it is crucial to acknowledge the accompanying loss that comes with change and find a transitional object—a person, place, idea, or value—that can provide support. Only then can we effectively navigate the change process, properly addressing the loss and offering an alternative response? Each attachment style requires different emphases, considering the strengths and weaknesses discussed earlier, coping with the change and loss experienced during the transition from the previous situation. Here are examples of objects that can be relied upon during the process of change:

 

1. Company purpose:

Examples of objects through which it can be expressed are the mission statement, company strategy, and values.

Emotional gain: Seeking.

Educational boost: Unlikely.

Attachment style: Protected, disorganized.

 

2. Processes and concepts:

Examples of objects through which they can be expressed: are AGILE, ADKAR, DMAIC, and PMP.

Emotional gain: Seeking, fear.

Educational gain: Possible.

Attachment style: Protected, avoidant.

 

3. Sensory experiences:

Examples of objects through which they can be expressed: are a song or melody, video, photos, and office decor.

Emotional gain: Seeking, fear, care, play.

Educational gain: Apparently.

Attachment style: Protected, avoidant, disorganized, insecure.

 

4. Familiar objects:

Examples of objects through which they can be expressed: are apps, games, and wearable devices.

Emotional gain: Seeking, fear, care, play.

Educational gain: High potential.

Attachment style: Protected, avoidant, disorganized.

 

5. People:

Examples of objects through which they can be expressed: are charismatic managers, new leaders, and change agents.

Emotional gain: Seeking, fear, care.

Educational gain: High potential value.

Attachment style: Protected, avoidant.

 

6. Physical objects:

Examples of objects through which they can be expressed: our offices, awards, and displays.

Emotional gain: Seeking, fear, play.

Educational gain: Awake.

Attachment style: Avoidant, disorganized, insecure.


By recognizing these various objects and their potential contributions, we can effectively navigate the process of change, allowing for growth and adaptation in the face of loss and separation.


the organizational level


Being Stuck within Corporate Culture

Our corporate culture encompasses the way we conduct our activities. When considering attachment within this context, it is important to recognize the following:

 

  1. Culture comprises visible aspects, such as stories and jargon, as well as invisible components, including deeply ingrained concepts that guide our actions.


  2. Culture fosters social cohesion and enhances the organization's marketing value.

  3. Culture can be intentionally directed or organically developed, even without conscious intention.

  4. Culture is significant both within the organization and external stakeholders, including the public and the market that observes it.

  5. Subcultures may naturally emerge within an organization, and this should not necessarily be viewed as negative. It often arises as a result of people's needs, especially as the organization expands.

  6. For attachment to be attributed to organizational culture, certain conditions must be met: a) individuals must connect with the cultural objects, b) agreement on the cultural characteristics of these objects, and c) individuals must individually agree that the objects represent the culture. If these conditions are fulfilled, attachment is formed, but there is a risk of "sticking," where individuals remain attached to previous objects. This can hinder the organization's ability to undergo cultural change.

 

A proposed model is presented for analyzing the objects to which employees are connected regarding organizational culture. It is recommended to pay attention to this diagnosis during organizational change while acknowledging the loss and facilitating a transitional process.


Analyzing Organizational Situations That Lead to Being Stuck

Organizations are comprised of individuals, and the pace of change is often determined by the slowest link, which tends to be attributed to people rather than technology. While many organizations may not explicitly use the term "blockage," they often refer to delays or objections. However, adopting an attachment and stuckness perspective can provide valuable insights. The symptoms experienced by individuals have corresponding effects at the organizational level:

 

  1. Frustration leads to a loss of productivity.

  2. Fear affects morale.

  3. Rejection of the environment leads to conflicts.

  4. Withdrawal results in personnel turnover.

  5. Refusal to participate leads to absences.

  6. Delayed development impacts motivation.

 

As mentioned earlier, it is possible to examine these symptoms at the individual level using the Change Diagnostic Index (CDI) and draw conclusions at the organizational level. Based on our analysis of a sample of 18,000 people over the past decade, we have found that the loss of productivity, morale, motivation, and conflicts directly contribute to absenteeism and personnel turnover. Among these factors, confidence and motivation have the greatest influence on the overall organizational situation.

 

Note: In military organizations, conflicts are recognized as a significant factor, and the designation of roles and responsibilities is crucial as an influential factor.

 

By understanding these dynamics and considering attachment-related aspects, organizations can better identify and address issues that hinder progress and contribute to a healthier and more productive work environment.


Taking Charge of a Stuck Organization

In organizations, the transitional self plays a significant role. Here are examples of how to leverage it to guide a stagnant organization:

 

  1. Senior leaders: Take the lead in initiating communication about the changes, providing a rational understanding of their reasons.

  2. Direct managers: Connect teams to their personal need for change, building trust and effectively transferring relevant information.

  3. Vision: Foster attachment to the future situation by creating an object or concept that will support individuals during the change process.

  4. Information: Present information openly and honestly to stakeholders throughout the change management process.

  5. Skills: Equip affected employees with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to adapt to the future way of working.

 

Recommendations: Leadership depends not only on the leader but also on the context and situation. It is essential to consider that leaders and their followers may have different attachment styles, requiring adaptive change management strategies as described above. The social effect of transitional possibilities and renewed attachment can influence a subgroup and attract more individuals. It is worth reevaluating change management processes by simplifying them using the proposed theory, which incorporates attachment styles, loss, and breakdowns. Plan a personal transition that eases the change process. Leaders themselves can serve as transitional figures. Plan communication and training accordingly. Utilize storytelling to create shared memories that foster a transcendent self. Embrace the learning process as it helps individuals experience the transition before it occurs (and also strengthens the joy of mastery and learning). Measuring and rewarding performance based on effort and progress in growth are recommended rather than solely focusing on the outcome. Self-transition can encourage behavioral change and provide support to cope with loss. These are just a few suggestions to consider.

 

By leveraging the transitional self and implementing these strategies, organizations can facilitate smoother change management, enhance employee engagement, and ultimately achieve successful outcomes.


Unlocking Future Potential

When looking toward the future, several prominent trends should be considered:

 

1. New technologies: It is crucial to recognize that new technologies, including digital transformation, revolve around people, and it is the people who need to embrace these changes. To help individuals cope with the accompanying loss and the need for new objects:

 

  • Allow people to have hands-on experiences to understand the changes through tangible objects such as illustrations and prototypes.

  • Encourage interaction and exploration of the new tools, fostering a sense of playfulness and curiosity.

  • Create positive associations and memories linked to the new solutions.

  • Implement changes in a measured and gradual manner to gather valuable information and feedback.

  • Prioritize technologies that serve the needs of the people rather than expecting people to conform to the technologies.

 

2. The evolving workforce: Organizations are experiencing various changes in their workforce, including widening generational gaps, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more. It is important to acknowledge that attrition is an organizational challenge, and change management should address the underlying issues causing these changes. We propose six categories of relevant problems that may contribute to these changes:

 

  • Burden: Recognize and address excessive workloads and expectations on employees.

  • Perception of control: Foster employees' sense of autonomy and empowerment.

  • Sense of fairness: Ensure fairness in the organization's processes, policies, and opportunities.

  • Sense of community support: Cultivate a supportive and collaborative work environment.

  • Lack of reward for effort: Implement appropriate recognition and reward systems for employees' contributions.

  • Mismatch between skills and values: Align employees' skills, deal with the organization's goals, and provide opportunities for growth and development.

 

By addressing these problems, organizations can effectively manage workforce changes and create a positive and thriving environment for their employees.


Summary and Recommendations

Creating connections through memories, learning, and emotions can foster stronger bonds with people and places. When we let go of something, it is natural to experience a sense of loss. Understanding how to regulate this feeling is crucial.

 

Each individual has an attachment style, which influences their general behavior and how they navigate through changes. Identifying your attachment style, recognizing the associated emotions, and understanding which objects or support mechanisms can aid in the transition is important.

 

To leaders:

 

When experiencing loss, we must regulate our emotions and help those we lead to do the same. Recognize that your attachment style may differ from that of your team members. Plan and adapt your leadership approach to effectively manage attachment styles based on individual needs and the specific situation.

 

A leader's emotional connection can assist their team in processing their own emotions. Creating a transitional self that supports the change process is crucial.

 

Practical steps:

  1. Encourage verbal and visual communication to address the need for transitional selves.

  2. Foster a culture of combined physical and virtual collaboration.

  3. Promote the development of shared knowledge through a combination of formal and game-based approaches.

  4. Manage organizational culture and address any stagnation while preparing for the future.

 

For organizations:

Diagnose attachment styles within the organization.

Build an organizational culture that considers and accommodates diverse attachment styles.

Educate managers about the importance of attachment theory and its implications.

Adopt tailored change management, training, communication, performance evaluation, and compensation methodologies, as detailed above.

Prepare for the future by aligning organizational practices with understanding attachment theory.

 

By implementing these strategies, organizations can create a supportive environment that acknowledges and addresses attachment-related dynamics, enabling smoother transitions and fostering positive outcomes for individuals and the organization as a whole.

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