Friday, January 25, 2013

The Missing Discipline - The Missing Mother

                                                                               Remember that movie "Not Without My Daughter" with Sally Field?

A long time ago, in a smallish apartment on the Upper West Side of New York, I shared an apartment with a noted psychologist who did couples counseling.

It was curious to me how a noted psychologist getting a divorce could do couples counseling. But then again I am not always clear when I communicate. And my profession is to help other people do this very same thing.

So perhaps we spend our lives in the dogged pursuit of excellence in what we're bad at.

In relation to this, let's talk about corporate communicators for a bit. Because we're trained to actually write things, get feedback on things, strategize and measure. Yet we spend too much time playing a role we aren't trained for and that is outside our scope to carry out - that of organizational development (OD) specialist.

This is the missing discipline in most organizations. One that is not covered by communication, or human resources, or training. It is organizational development as a discipline that performs the mothering function analogous to what takes place in families. The OD expert helps explain outside logic to people on the inside - creates a safe emotional space to heal and adjust to reality - so that the communication and every other function can proceed.

OD as a discipline reminds me of my Grandma. She was fabulous for so many reasons. Most of my memories involve talking to her while she made food. There was Grandma frying noodle kugel in a cast iron pan. Chopping vegetables for soup. Grinding liver in the big metal grinder, with eggs (so gross, right? Delicious!) Grandma made chulent with meat bones so big the entire family fought to be the lucky one to grab it. We looked like the Flintstones fighting for those bones. She used to make a variation on Wishbone salad dressing, and to this day I've never had anything so good.

Grandma was the one we ran to when we made the trip upstate. She stood there at the top of her rickety brick steps. Hands on her hips and polyester pants and her trademark dimpled smile. "Grandma, Grandma!" we used to yell as we flung the car door open and ran to her.

Grandma was a mother to all of us, to her children and her grandchildren. And we did not need another when she was around. Her children - my mother and her sisters and brothers - they went to the city to learn a trade and earn money at a very young age. There was no funding to support them. With that generation the concept of a full-time, stay-at-home mom who had nothing to do but mother - well that died.

This is not a diatribe about how sad it is that women work. Not at all. Believe me. And I am well aware that for many women, sitting at home and watching the kids was a luxury they never, ever had. But still - there was a concept of full-time mothering, as a job, that was respected at one time. And when that went away I do think something was lost. The daycare generation never had that mother figure, who had nothing better to do than simply take care of them.

Today we work in the modern organization. Which as always is emotionally vacant - neutral - "professional." But the pain of that Switzerland-like neutrality is worse because there is no Grandma, or mother, sitting at home waiting to put a Band-Aid on your knee. That uncritical empathic listener who only exists to give you a hug.

It is politically correct to say that mothers should pursue their dreams, belong at work, and are actually better at parenting when they're occupied outside the home. Plus we need the money. But at the end of the day the truth is not so simple. The mothering function - whether it's performed by women or men - is completely irreplaceable. And it hasn't yet been replaced by an equivalent function at work.

We communicators feel this as we go about the business of the day. We want and need to focus on conveying information. But the basis of this function is a certain emotional centredness. There must be a person or department hired by the organization whose entire job it is to be the mother - to help the organization adjust and cope with the events of the day. (If you recall "Star Trek: The Next Generation" - this would be Deanna the ship psychologist.)

You may tell me that internal communications fulfills this role. Or that people can see the EAP (employee assistance program) staff when they're troubled. But that's not what I'm talking about.

In order for any corporate communication to be effective, there has to be a more foundational level of communication that engages employees at the emotional level, to hear their concerns and provide a safe place for collective feeling, celebration and even grieving. That is the missing discipline we need - the capacity we should foster - and the OD function very much fits the bill.

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