Have you ever played a game of chess? There are three outcomes for game of chess, you win, you loose or there is a stalemate. Stalemate happens when you have lost all your options to play and so has the other side. When only two kings remain continuously blocking each other’s way and stepping aside. If you want, you can stay in such game, making moves for eternity without any outcome. But of course the chess players wisely choose to stop instead, declare the result as “draw”, shake hands and move on. The real life however is not as clear as a chessboard. So when a stalemate happens in real life, people stay stuck wasting their energy and time for a long while.
There are stalemate situations in life where you feel like you have tried everything and still there is no difference. Same problems repeat again and again like Déjà vu. This may be in your job or may be in your relationship. We tend to stay stuck in such situations because we cant recognize the condition for what it has become – a stalemate!
In this writing, I want to focus on stalemate at work because it is even harder to recognize than it is in a personal relationship. At work you are not dealing with just one person but with an entire organization, it’s environment and it’s culture combined.
You are in possible stalemate at work if you are experiencing following:
You have been working hard, you have been working smart, but you do not see the returns you expect to see. You cant create the value for customers as much as you wanted to create. You don’t see the business taking off as much as you are putting yourself in it. Your returns in terms of pay and job satisfaction are also okay. In stalemate jobs, results are not disastrous but they are not spectacular either. They are luke warm and mediocre.
You feel that you know how to create spectacular results for your customers, for your company and for yourself but you don’t get support you need to make it happen. Instead you find yourself filling in the same cracks, putting off the same fires to see them reappear again and again.
The organization may say that customer satisfaction is top priority. Innovation, agility may be voiced as part of the culture but when you need something in the orgnazation to change so that you can truly innovate, all you get back is elaborate version of “sorry, we can’t change that”. The reasons for “can’t change” can be anything from organizational silos, lack of authority or influence to outdated and rigid policies.
Same meetings with same attendance, same discussions, and same action items continue to steal your precious time, and energy. You very well know that you will be back there again in matter of months because the root of the problem is not addressed.
Your proposal to address the problem at it’s root, involves change in the way organization structures itself or executes, is returned back to you with more items on your todo list and no changes in the organization.
You feel like you have been hamster in the wheel, working harder and harder to just maintain the same low level of the returns in a stalemate environment.
Large organizations or pockets within large organizations do tend to get in to stalemate situations when business gets into stable cash flow and there is no external pressure to innovate in the market place. Typically the organization is big with rigid policies and processes which haven’t been updated in decades. Such organizations are very prone to foster stalemate situations. No matter what organizational message internally or externally is, what is most important for such organizations is keeping status quo and making minor improvements. Such organization comes to a place where revolutionary results are fantasized and idealized but operationally, status quo is what organization strives for.
Other condition for stalemate situation can be that the leaders who can change the environment are in illusion that everything is good. This is typical state of mind the higher you go up in the management chain. This is because the results in the stalemate are not total failure, so higher management tends to think the results will improve by being more busier, by doing more. Management is unaware that most of their organization’s energy and talent is gone in fighting organization’s own structures and ways. They are in illusion that “this training” or “that new employee” or an “improved process” is going to make all the needed difference. Unknowingly such leaders become the keepers of the stalemate. Most are not ready to come out of this illusion until a total disaster happens.
Strong performers suffer the most in a stalemate.
Dear friend, we all want to make difference in the world. We want to see that our work mattered that it created value and it increased quality of our life and of others. So we all suffer to some degree when that doesn’t happen but individuals with high level of commitment, integrity and drive suffer the most in stalemate situation. Because they are committed to deliver on their vision and don’t want to stop until they achieve that. Creative individuals also suffer as they continuously feel there has to be a solution out of stalemate and keep on trying different ways. Leaders with vision, drive, and accountability, who don’t give up on challenges easily, feel chronic need to create an impact by changing the stalemate situation. Such people stay very busy in stalemate environments without satisfactory outcomes in terms of their own high standards for contribution and results. These individuals throughly exhaust themselves in stalemate.
Staying in stalemate is detrimental to your spirit. When you have been very busy and you don’t see impact for your work for a long time, you start doubting your capabilities, your talents. You start doubting your own value. You start forgetting your accomplishments. You get in the mode of always striving and never arriving. Worst part of stalemate situation is that when you ask for needed changes, all you get is advice on how you should try something else. The keepers of stalemate will always ask you to change yourself but will never be able to change the conditions around you. This creates unnecessary self doubts that can have long term negative impact on your self-esteem.
Think about it my friend, working in stalemate environment is like being very busy only to kill your own spirit ! Nothing is worth doing that to yourself.
Move on from stalemate, break free.
If you suspect that you are in stalemate environment, get clarity. It is important that you have clear distinction between your own developmental apportunities and issues within the organizational environment outside your influence. Talk to people you admire. The ones who you think are movers and shakers and are not complainers. See if they feel the organizational drag that you have been feeling. You may be surprised, they might be feeling it as well. Next, talk to people who have left the organization or are in different organizations, get different perspectives. See what they suggest you do to change the situation. If you are getting suggestions that you have tried already and have gotten to a dead end then you are in stalemate situation.
Start making difference somewhere else where you can influence change.
To manifest a creative vision, an environment that you can influence is needed. Inventions can happen only in environments which are willing to reinvent themselves. Choose an environment where you have influence. It does not have to be a big project, it can be as simple as changing landscape of your own garden, the way you want it to be. You really need to feel and see that you can make a difference to clearly see the effect of environment on your level of contribution and fulfillment. Start small and simple. Take up a hobby, start a small side business or take up volunteer work somewhere else and feel how it feels to make difference with your contribution. Taste the impact of your time and energy in an environment which is conducive for success.
When you get the taste of making difference in the world, you will get the clarity and confidence to call out stalemate situation and walk out of it.
Remember, walking out of stalemate is not giving up. It is setting yourself free from suffocating conditions. When you start making difference in the world, the way and to the extent you wanted to make, you give the greatest gift to yourself and to the world.
So break free of stalemate and move on!