I have been interested in the furore that has followed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banning workers from working from home. I’ve also read that Hubert Joly, the new chief at struggling retailer Best Buy has also just scrapped their Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) for their corporate employees. Corporate staff who, until now, have been allowed to telecommute, as long as they got their results, will now be required to work at the corporate headquarters, though some managers will still have discretion to accommodate some workers. Joly’s intention is to shift the culture to one of greater accountability. A Best Buy spokesman said, “It makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done.”
Think about it for a minute.
Like many, the initial assumption I leapt to was that here were those awful authoritarians: new in the job, trying to make their mark, trying desperately to cling to hierarchical power and going about it rather clumsily. Isn’t the modern thing to show respect to workers and give them autonomy? As long as they achieve their outputs, we don’t have to regulate their movements, right? On further reflection and having read about the possible motivation behind the Yahoo ban, I can see it might make some sense. What if, say, she was looking at Yahoo as a systems thinker and taking action on the system? What if, say, she wasn’t trying to do the old-fashioned thing of managing the people? I enjoyed the sub-heading of an article in the Guardian about Mayer’s decision: “Marissa Mayer shows she knows little about managing people with this offensive memo to Yahoo employees.” Perhaps. Perhaps she actually knows a lot about managing people and knows that it’s a waste of time. Perhaps she knows that in order to get greater effectiveness in an organisation, you actually don’t spend your energies on managing the people, but you work on the system. Maybe, as another Guardian article sets out, she is focussing on what matters for Yahoo at this moment in time and space.
Think about it.
HR consultants and originators of ROWE Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson wrote in an open letter to Mayer, “We don’t think you deliberately meant to send a message to Yahoo employees that you are an Industrial Age dictator that prefers to be a baby sitter versus a 21st century CEO that can lead a company into the future. Or did you?” Good question. Again, let’s suspend judgement and consider the shift in policy. Could be that Mayer is one of those Industrial Age clock-watchers. Might be that she is looking to make a change to Yahoo’s ecosystem in order to get more creativity and innovation going.
I don’t have any special insights into what Mayer was thinking, but I watch what she is doing and am reminded that in a world still dominated by the command-and-control, someone who is acting like a systems thinker might sometimes look as if they are doing the old thing. That is because we haven’t enough “systems thinking stuff” going on to know what that actually looks like. How, for example, would we know if a manager’s tantrum comes out control-freakery or quality-freakery? Looks like the same tantrum, might use some of the same shouty words, but might actually come from a “we are doing crap work” mindset, not a “you are an idiot and I need to whip you into place” mindset. I’m also not suggesting that Mayer is some kind of enlightened goddess; she is as flawed as the rest of us and perhaps her way of going about the shift in working practices was a little graceless. I only want to say, let’s suspend our judgements until we examine a little more closely what might be behind her bold move, and observe if the shift in policy does, indeed, generate greater innovation and collaboration at Yahoo.
Interestingly, in a recent interview, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh said:
“Research has shown that companies with strong cultures outperform those without in the long-term financially. So we’re big, big believers in building strong company cultures. And I think that’s hard to do remotely.
We don’t really telecommute at Zappos. We want employees to be interacting with each other, building those personal relationships and relationships outside of work as well.
What we found is when they have those personal connections that productivity increases because there’s higher levels of trust. Employees are willing to do favours for each others because they’re not just co-workers, but also friends, and communication is better. So we’re big believers in in-person interactions.”
So am I. I know from experience that I get a real buzz from real-life interactions and that in most cases, I find a lost mojo when I’m doing my thing in the room with someone who’s available to me and we are giving each other our attention.
One of the things to be mindful of is that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to go. Just because whatever it is that works for Zappo’s and Google is good for them, it doesn’t mean that other businesses should necessarily follow suit. A good systems thinker will become intimately familiar with their system and do what works for that system. One of the exceptions that Guardian writer takes is that having to work in the office is inconvenient. She describes how she manages her time and gets her articles written. All good, I say. Once again, it’s important to look at the details of what is happening. In the case of a solo journalist, perhaps it would seem madness to compel her to sit at a desk in an office when she could produce quality journalism sitting at home. If the job was to co-write an article, however, I wonder if being side-by-side with the co-writer might produce even better quality work than each one working remotely, emailing the work back and forth. Just an idea. The point is that we need to know what the work is…..and to consider how best to get it done.
Think about it….
Google’s workplaces are famously enviable, but I would suggest that it’s the smart thing to do to focus on the purpose, not simply on making a “fun place to work”. How did Google’s offices happen? Someone designs them. Someone engineers the physical spaces and what is in them. To make it a fun place to work? Well, yes and no. I would suggest that that someone did not simply design something that is “fun” for fun’s sake. That kind of workplace is often mocked in the popular press or programmes like The Simpsons as funky and cool, but there is a hint of “…but they probably don’t do much work there”. I would suggest that some good thought has been given over to the design of the system at Google: the working processes as well as the community that will carry them out. What does a business like Google require? Creativity and innovation. “The philosophy is very simple,” Craig Nevill-Manning, Google’s Manhattan engineering director said. “Google’s success depends on innovation and collaboration. Everything we did was geared toward making it easy to talk.” In order to get this, what would be the optimal way of engineering these things? Draw on nature, be conscious that systems are self-organising and thrive on variety, and that, at the same time, they can be nurtured. The ecosystem within which such fruits could flourish can be designed. Google started with a philosophy. They have a purpose and a way of thinking as to how to make that purpose come to life. They are enviable because they have been designed with the work in mind, not on fun; I believe the “fun” is, in one sense, a by-product. In any case, as Teresa Amabile, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School says, “I’ve found that people do their most creative work when they’re motivated by the work itself.”
According to John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University, studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative. He says “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.” That, to me, seems slightly simplistic, but I get the point. Also, Tony Hsieh seems to find that productivity and working together in a shared workspace are linked, so there you go. In any case, you don’t simply institute a ROWE because it’s what people want and seems to be one of those lovely perks that makes people happy. You do something like that if it helps to create the ecosystem that best nurtures the work. You craft a system that is best designed to meet the purpose of the business.
All of this speaks to me because at the heart of the work I do is sociometry. The term was coined by Dr. J.L. Moreno and its basic tenet is that “the quality of an outcome is directly related to the quality of relationship between the people trying to achieve that outcome.” The sociometry, or quality of relationships, within a business, affects the system and the system affects the sociometry. It’s a reflexive relationship. Sociometry and systems thinking are intertwined. I encourage managers to see their role as supportive of those they purport to manage, rather than as controllers. I encourage them to see their role as ensuring people have the resources, information and relationships they need to get on with their work. That last bit sometimes challenges managers because as John Seddon describes, we train managers (if at all) to be good people managers. When I say “ensure people have the relationships they require”, I don’t intend they manage people or try to keep them happy. Odd, huh? I intend the kind of picture that Google have: to engineer and nurture a system which facilitates people interacting with each other. In an older article, I suggested that a good leader is a good sociometrist. Yes, leaders (people) need to develop their relationship capabilities. They also need to develop the bigger picture abilities that facilitate productive and purposeful working relationships to flourish all over the place.
Some have misinterpreted sociometry as “developing skills to get on better with people so I can get them to do what I want them to.” No. Sociometry is an active exploration of the inter-relationships that exist and an uncovering of what is not seen between people, so that they can, together, create new patterns of behaviour with each other. The result is that people work better together. I believe that working on the sociometry is part of working on the system. One of the insights that came to a client of ours recently, as a result of our work with their sociometry, was that they need to redesign their physical space so that they get more of the interactions that lead to the kind of innovation that sits at the heart of their business. In their commitments to action, I see a mirror of the kind of community that Google have created.
In the modern economy, where much of the work that we do is knowledge based, relationships and networks are core. Google’s approach is to engineer serendipity. I enjoy oxymorons. Like spontaneity training. How can you possibly engineer happy accidents? Well, we can’t make happy accidents happen, but we can nurture the ecosystem within which they are more likely to happen.
Attending to the interpersonal also cannot be underestimated. Part of this is examining how people relate to each other and what “elephants” might sit in the room between them. Dealing with these “elephants” is at the heart of sociometry. People learn about themselves and the dynamic of the groups to which they belong. They cooperatively learn how to grapple with the complexity and uncertainty of modern business life. This occurs when a skillful sociometry practitioner assists them to discover what is happening between them and work out new structures of relating.
If creativity and collaboration are core to the business, we can craft workplaces where people are drawn together and interact about the work they are doing. We can design spaces and ways of working where people are more likely to be stimulated to innovate together. Maz Iqbal, in a comment on a recent article of mine wrote, “The pragmatist changes the structure of the system so that the desired behaviour is called forth.” Yes. He also provided a link to the work of Jeppe Hein, an artist who has created some wacky park benches which he designed to encourage more exchange between users and passers-by, giving them a much more social quality. As well as engineering the physical environment, we can also “engineer” the interpersonal by attending to the sociometry. Both of these are conscious systems interventions, both add value and set a business towards achieving its purpose.
August 23, 2012
The cosmos is a complex, and sometimes confusing, place.
Every three or four months, the planet Mercury goes retrograde. What this means is that if you track its movement in the sky, it will appear to move backwards for about 3 weeks and then it continues its forward course. In ancient Greece, the planets used to be seen as erratic and unpredictable relative to the stars, hence the word ‘planet’ (‘wanderer’). The ancient Greeks found ways to describe this retrograde motion that fit within the old geocentric view of the cosmos. They concocted mathematical descriptions to help them make sense of what they observed, given the evidence they had, but which are now seen as wrong. This bizarre planetary behaviour was not acknowledged to be an illusion until Copernicus suggested that it was a matter of perspective, i.e. it is the Sun that is the centre of the Solar System, not the Earth. Copernicus stated that the apparent retrograde motion of the planets arises not from their motion, but from the Earth’s. He resisted publishing his work because he did not wish to risk the scorn to which he would expose himself on account of the novelty and incomprehensibility of his theses, and even after being published, his ideas took quite some time to be generally accepted. Only over half a century later with the work of Kepler and Galileo did the first evidence appear that backed his theory. Not until after Newton, over 150 years after Copernicus, did the heliocentric view become mainstream. Who would now maintain that the Earth is the centre of everything?
Technology had a part to play in this shift in perception. The impact the telescope had on science was profound. Amazing how, when things are seen differently, whole mindsets shift. If we look at the night sky with the naked eye and observe Orion’s belt, we will see three stars: Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. If, however, I look through a different lens (specifically, a telescope), I can tell you that Mintaka is, in fact, two stars. Faced with this information, you could
- reject what I say because you’ve always known that Orion’s Belt consists of three stars and that’s just the way it is
- suspend your belief and try to get your hands on a lens like mine so you could check it out yourself
- accept what I say and simply update your thinking
Viewing something through a new lens can cause a stir. Galileo and his telescope provided us with so much new information that we had to update our thinking and beliefs about the cosmos. Something similar is going on in the world right now. Many beliefs about the business of business are being stretched. It seems that most businesses are still holding on to outdated ideas, despite information now available which challenges these ideas.
Business does not work like that either, much as some would believe.
I was recently in a meeting where someone was describing how their business works while drawing an organisational tree diagram on a whiteboard. As I watched and listened, it was like watching TV while listening to my iPod. What I saw and what I heard did not match. I suspect there are many businesses like this. They have a hierarchical tree diagram to illustrate lines of reporting (or the way things are supposed to be), but lines of accountability and decision-making were pulling towards a more networked reality. The dissonance between the old thinking and the new more effective thinking is beginning to wake people up to the fact that something has to change. I have advocated for more diffuse power structures in organisations and to me, it seemed like that is what is occurring quite naturally in this particular business. This makes sense to me, as systems are naturally self-organising. The HR person present at this meeting piped up, “Of course, the informal structures and relationships are what really make things happen here,” and I was left bewildered why this business, which is in the midst of a significant transformation to a flatter and more cooperative way of working, would try to shoe-horn this far more effective organisational process into an outdated organisational structure.
When we are in a transition from one state to another, we cling on to what we know. We are prisoners of the familiar. The “new” is sometimes so new that we don’t have the language to describe it accurately. As we transition from a world of results-orientation, cause-and-effect, predictability, silos and planning to one of continuous improvement, complexity, ambiguity, cooperation and emergent design, we are in a quandary as to how to articulate where we are headed without giving the impression that it’s just a jazzier version of where we left. It’s not. Often, for example, when I try to describe what I do and how I do it, I sense that people are hanging my description onto what they currently know about learning and organisational transformation. ”Oh, I see, you do leadership training.” ”I get it, you teach EQ.” ”Hmm, you do role plays.” No, no and no. In command-and-control land (and still infected by the Mechanism Virus), people, understandably, will not get what I’m talking about. When I talk about managers re-visioning their function from Doer-in-Chief to Systems Stewards, I mean it; it’s not just semantics. It’s part of a sea change in the whole view of what makes work work.
We live in networked times, this is true. Now, more than ever, business is about relationship. There is a shift in mindset required in order to really do business effectively. I believe it is happening now. We are right in the middle of it. Work is not what it was and will never be that way again.
Harold Jarche uses the metaphor of the blind men describing an elephant, writing that “we are blind men unable to understand the new realities of work”. He goes on to suggest that tearing down the “artificial disciplinary walls” that we have erected out of our now useless mechanistic mindset would be a good place to start growing better functioning organisations. I tend to agree with him. Sticking with outdated models and trying to manipulate them to do something that they actually cannot do is a waste of our energy. We live in networked times and the tensions that this has created on our antiquated structures are revealing them to be increasingly irrelevant. As Jarche states, with a networked, cooperative mindset, it is possible.
We need to re-imagine how we do HR. No more treating humans as a resource to be managed. We now know more than enough about human motivation, group dynamics and psychology to deserve something radically different in how people are treated.
We need to re-imagine how we do professional development. No dull, lifeless training seminars that few pay attention to and in which fewer actually learn something useful. The 70/20/10 rule of thumb is far more reflective of the reality of work. Some serious thought should be given to that ‘formal 10%’ component too: I believe it is far more beneficial to modern business to attend formal learning events that generate real, significant and long-lasting shifts in perceptions and develops the users of the “tools”, not merely adding tips and information to a “tool-kit”.
We need to re-imagine how we do workplace relationships. No more power games. No more silos. In a social economy, social skills are vital. We need to develop greater self-awareness and compassion for others. Caring and compassion are not things to learn about; they are essential capabilities we need to learn.
We need to re-imagine how we do customer service. No bland corporate speak. No making excuses for poor service. No gamification to tart up a dull, lifeless product. What’s wrong with developing some good interpersonal capabilities and growing real relationship with customers?
We need to re-imagine what leadership means. It’s not about booting out the old CEO and replacing him (it’s usually a him) with someone who operates out of the same mindset. It’s not about a change of leadership style. It’s about a root-and-branch transformation of what leadership actually means.
As Russell Ackoff stated, “Thinking systemically also requires several shifts in perception, which lead in turn to different ways to teach and different ways to organise society.” How long till the old illusions disappear and the new mindset becomes mainstream? What will it take?
September 12, 2011
If you have ever been for an eye test, you will know that the optician will have you look through a contraption with lots of lenses, and then proceed to add and take away lenses until your vision can see the letters on the chart precisely. They will spend time experimenting with the lenses and asking you to say which of two is clearer: “better number one? or number two?…..number three clearer and smaller? or number four?” By the time they are finished, they are able to say whether you need new glasses or whether the lenses you have been using are still optimal. Because shifts in our eyes occur in such minute increments, it’s not until I have a chance to see the world through a new set of lenses that I know if I’ve actually been seeing what is in front of me or if it’s been a good-enough approximation. I know that when I first walked out of the optician’s office at the age of 16 with my first pair of glasses and saw the world as it actually was, I was overjoyed to be able to see clearly and I was able to respond to my world quite differently. I could no longer, then, imagine the world looked as I used to think it did.
The time has come for us to check whether the way we view our workplaces and organisations is still current or if we need to upgrade our lenses. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been viewing organisations, and indeed, our whole world, as a machine. This seems reasonable, as the Industrial Revolution was about mechanisation after all, so for its time, a mechanistic view of the world was a leap in our thinking. We have now advanced well into the Knowledge Age, however, and it is time to update our lenses to take account of new knowledge and new research around Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), as well as our actual experiences which point to ‘mechanism’ being an inadequate world view. Looking at our organisations (and the world) purely as machines has outlived its usefulness. However, we have got so used to seeing the world through these old lenses that it is hard to see it otherwise. This is no excuse to do nothing, though; it is simply learned ignorance. When it became clear that Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo were right and that the sun was, in fact, the centre of the solar system, only the foolish and the stubborn could continue to believe and operate otherwise.
Research and experience are now proving that the old cause-and-effect, mechanistic paradigm of organisations is not entirely accurate nor adequate and that our workplaces are actually organic, dynamic, ever-evolving complex systems.
A new leadership paradigm, however, will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Paradigm shifts do not simply dispense with the old to make way for the new; they include, incorporate and transcend. The new leadership paradigm will take account of and include the mechanistic, command-and-control perspective, while incorporating new discoveries into how complex adaptive systems actually operate. There will still be times when a mechanistic leadership view holds true. This perspective takes the line that if I tell someone what to do and they do it, then the outcomes will be as I have planned and as I predict. If all the parts of the machine work as they are supposed to and as previously agreed upon, the machine will function smoothly and efficiently. Exhaustive policies and procedures, highly detailed strategic plans, lengthy job descriptions and KPI’s; all of these are artefacts of the Industrial Age. And during times of natural disaster, say, I want civil defence organisations to respond quickly and efficiently, so command-and-control will probably be incredibly beneficial. Similarly, when operating a public transport network, I want my local authority to emphasise order, reliability and consistency over experimentation and autonomy: in contexts such as these, there will be commonly agreed outcomes and end-goals will not be competing, so it seems sensible for an organisation and the people within it to operate with clockwork regularity. The important point is that running like clockwork will only be desired in specific contexts.
For many, many contexts in the Knowledge Age, however, the machine analogy is not so useful.
Leadership in the Knowledge Age is not about trying to simplify the complex so that it fits into an old world view; it is about developing the capability to manage (and manage ourselves) in the complex. We now know enough about CAS that it behoves us and our leaders to adapt to this new understanding. Complexity Leadership Theory tells us that the behaviour of a CAS emerges from the interactions between all its elements, i.e. the people. While management can put plans and hierarchies in place, how optimally an organisation operates will be a function of connectivity, creativity, flexibility and experimentation. When this is the case, the most sustainable leadership strategy is learning. By learning, I mean deep learning; not simply knowledge about. The imperative is for leaders to make a real quantum shift and to transform themselves so that their attitudes and behaviours are meaningfully and authentically changed. The things to learn are:
- Flexibility, adaptability and spontaneity-There must be greater ease and comfort in being in the messiness of the ‘unknown’. Solving complex problems requires divergent and creative thinking; many of our current challenges cannot be met in a linear paradigm. This means that leaders must look inward and grow themselves as people. These are not capabilities you can fake. It takes courage and grit and a willingness to look at your own inner workings.
- Experimentation and reflection-There will be less ‘telling people what to do’ and more openness to innovation and reflection upon what happens when something novel is applied. This means constantly being in a state of readiness to challenge the status quo and to challenge others to do the same. This means being un-attached to old ways of operating. This also means looking at what gets created in the system when something new is tried. An intelligent approach to experimentation underscores reflection, otherwise how can knowledge and information flows, connectivity and authority be tweaked and adjusted as you make your way to optimal outcomes?
- Systems thinking-When it’s less about ‘telling’ and more about ‘influencing’, it is vital to be able to see your wider system, its interconnectedness and its emergent dynamic. Old-style hierarchies do not solely dictate how we get people to do things any more. Being a systems thinker is also not just about being able to see the big picture. It’s about being able to see both the big picture and the finer details. A systems thinker will ‘helicopter’ in and out as needs and context demand, and then synthesise the data from both of these in the quest for answers.
- Creativity-I throw my support behind Dr. Mark Batey’s assertion that creativity is humankind’s ultimate resource. It is the arch-substance. In this YouTube interview, he advocates a more conscious approach to developing and nurturing creativity, leaving space for intelligent failure.
So, to conclude, dear readers, it’s time for an “I” test.
- How comfortable am I with ambiguity and the unknown?
- Am I capable of being both a military commander and an orchestra conductor? How would I know when the context requires each of these?
- When I meet a challenge, what do I assume and how far do I go to ‘unpeel layers of the onion skin’ to find patterns, interconnectedness and hidden meaning?
- What do I actively do to cultivate creativity: my own and others’?
August 16, 2011
Reading the London #riotcleanup Twitter stream last week was fascinating. Taken in isolation and looked at one-dimensionally, one might consider a community that mobilises itself to clean up after riots to be a positive phenomenon. The range of views on the Twitter feed does not bear this out however. Some views extend to calling these folks vigilantes, another even suggests the riotcleanup is the closest thing the UK has seen to popular fascism for decades.
Similarly, opinion was spread as the riots were in full swing. Even the use of the word “riot” is loaded. I noted some people calling them protests, West Indian writer Darcus Howe called them an insurrection. So who is right? Are citizens defending their streets community-minded activists or are they vigilantes? Are the people on the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other English cities rioters or protesters?
Might I be bold enough to suggest that all these people were all these things? What we have ourselves stuck in is an old-fashioned, out-dated mode of thinking. The issues which set off the disturbances are as complex and numerous as there were people and life experiences who have been caught up in them; similarly, the responses required are complex and multifarious. We, the human race, will not progress while we hold on to an anachronistic way of viewing our highly complex and interconnected lives. The time has well and truly come to stretch ourselves and to view our lives, our relationships, our workplaces, our communities, the world through a new lens: the cosmos as an interconnected system and not as a machine. Not only to view them as systems, but to treat them as systems, to become more conscious that what we do impacts on other element of the system. Cause and effect no longer suffices.
Take Gross Domestic Product. We have so successfully parceled off our world into individual little bundles to the extent that growth in GDP is still held up as a good thing and a rise in the FTSE or Dow Jones is delivered as positive news. Hence, through this mechanistic lens, the Exxon Valdez disaster and the recent earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand were ‘good’ things because of the GDP growth that they engender. As a recent article in the Guardian attests, “Gross Domestic Product is a poor measure of economic performance and the pursuit of GDP is the prime cause of climate change and environmental destruction”. We cannot solve complex 21st Century problems with mechanistic, 19th Century small thinking.
I suppose another comment from the Twitter feed gets closer to what I’m talking about: “It is possible to condemn the riots and simultaneously try to understand why they happened in the first place.” See? Thinking a bit bigger.
What is happening on the streets of my homeland is not unconnected to the global financial crisis and turbulence on the financial markets, to the disturbances on the streets of Santiago, Chile, to the talent ‘brain drain’ from New Zealand to Australia, to environmental degradation, to the mendacity of the press, politicians and police recently uncovered in the News International scandal, to famine in the Horn of Africa, to oppression in Syria, to growing disparities between rich and poor. To me, all of these point to failed leadership, mechanistic thinking, un-consciousness and egocentricity.
- Washington DC has recently been the stage for the farce that was debt negotiations between the Democrats and Republicans and we are now witnessing the epilogue, with each side blaming the other for the subsequent downgrade from S&P and financial turbulence. Ego and point scoring above creative problem-solving: small thinking.
- UK politicians are caught up in trying to apportion blame for the recent disturbances and meting out punishment, rather than exploring the breakdown of the social contract that they point to. Double standards and abuse of power: small thinking.
- A long time investor in the stock markets comments, “I’ve survived 4 recessions and have not changed my investment strategy, it’s always worked for me, so this decline in the world economy isn’t worrying me. It’ll be back to business-as-usual in no time.” Hiding your head in the sand: small thinking.
What we require are leaders who transcend party politics, who transcend traditional schools of economics, who transcend national pride. We require leaders who transcend the old-style “I’m right, you’re wrong” paradigm of thinking. In our workplaces, we require leaders who transcend management theories and personality clashes. It is time to put our efforts into sociatry (healing of the socius); this implies inclusiveness and greater consciousness of self and others, in other words, bigger thinking—systems thinking. Trying the same-old, same-old when it is clearly no longer working is NOT leadership for the 21st century.
The astonishing thing is that humanity already has the tools available to generate this paradigm shift. Two of the human technologies I use in my work with Quantum Shift, sociometry and sociodrama, for example, have the potential to catalyse the changes I’m talking about. These radical tools, which are inherently strengths-based and creative, assist people to grow greater spontaneity in their lives, thereby opening windows and doors of opportunity, hope and possibility. There are, of course, other transformational tools at our disposal, but it requires the courage to let go of the devil we know and to venture into the unknown.
We don’t yet know what the new paradigm will look like, all we know is that it won’t look like it does now or like it used to. We therefore require people with the courage to make those steps into the unknown. We require leaders who do not know all the answers, and are willing to be authentic with us…who are willing to say, “I don’t know where we are headed, but let’s work it out together.”
Business-as-usual is gone. Forever.
November 18, 2010
October 26, 2010
Inspired by a really interesting conversation with a friend, I’m pondering on what creates a cultural shift in an organisation. While a culture shift will be catalysed by and affected by many, many factors, the impact of values on such a shift is giving me pause for thought.
To me, the word ‘culture’ very simply conjures up ‘how we do things around here’. This would apply to a nation, an ethnic group, a family group or an organisation. Every group has a culture, or a set of things that happen, and underlying these are a set of values. Values, being the drivers of attitudes and behaviours, are sometimes unconscious, however they still shape the cultural norms; they are they ‘why we do things’, if you like.
So I’m reminded of the story of the wet monkeys…..Put three monkeys in a cage; suspend a bunch of bananas from the middle of the cage, with a step ladder underneath; when the first monkey goes up the ladder towards the bananas, someone outside the cage hoses all the monkeys down with ice cold water; keep doing this every time a monkey goes for the bananas, so they learn that ‘it’s important not to go for the bananas here’…..now take one monkey out and put in a fresh one…..by now the value is in place-’it’s important not to go for the bananas here’. So when the new monkey goes for the bananas, you won’t have to hose them with water, the other two monkeys will simply attack-’WE DON’T DO THINGS LIKE THAT HERE’. The fresh monkey will not understand why, but will quickly learn that ‘it’s important not to go for the bananas here’. Take another of the original monkeys out and place another fresh one. This time, when the fresh monkey goes for the bananas, even the one who wasn’t hosed with water will attack because he knows that ‘it’s important not to go for the bananas here’. Repeat this until all that are in the cage are monkeys who have not been hosed with water. They will still follow the cultural norm of ‘not going for the bananas’. They don’t know why-they just don’t. See how values can be unconscious and still be strong drivers of behaviour?
So if you want to create a cultural shift in your organisation, how do you get that to happen? I reckon it comes by creating a picture of the new culture you are trying to create and drilling down to the values that will drive that culture. Say you want to shift to a more ‘customer oriented culture’. Simply asking people to do some things differently may not create that real, deep cultural shift. Bring out the values (for example, one could be ‘it’s important to know what our customers think and feel about us’) and let people explore whether they can opt into those values. You may lose some people, but others will come on board who are aligned with the values of your new paradigm….which is what you want, isn’t it?