Pondering the murky pool of organisational life.
I have been working with an organisation to create a constructive, results driven culture. After experiencing a succession of leaders, the leadership team was fragmented, the staff were cynical and disaffected. They were failing. Individually, although most people cared, typically they were either cynical, weary, bored or angry. Little clusters of energy and optimism burst out occasionally. Collectively – they had been unable to achieve anything other than mediocre results which equated to failure. The start to the work was a leader who decided to take the difficult path. The unexciting one of painstakingly engaging with each person, each mucky problem, and the realistic expectation that it was going to take time and endurance to revitalise this organisation. She’s the best sort. No glory seeking, but buckets of integrity, intelligence, patience and vision.
We started the work with understanding how people experienced their workplace, and what would make that experience something that allowed them and the organisation to flourish.
The work has centred on raising aspirations and rekindling beliefs that their effort could make a difference. There’s been no quick solution, no equation to calculate, no clever consultancy tricks. It – reenergising an organisation – simply requires strong and unwavering leadership, persistence, optimism and faith. The work has included trust building activities, listening, facilitating implementation of ideas and knitting together the richness of dialogue that flows through an organisation to show how they could create something together. Gradually, arms began to unfold, frowns changed into questions, and individual hopes and dreams were beginning to reawaken. Energy and hope began to move through the organisation and, it was feeling good. They called their change programme “Culture Change – it does what it says on the tin” People were beginning to take pride in themselves and each other and even the cynics were turning up at meetings, offering improvement suggestions and of course, challenge.
Oh the desire to manage the human side out of the equation. I arrived one day to find a senior manager fuming. She had been at a systems thinking meeting where the culture change – which is what the staff had called the work – had been dismissed “Culture doesn’t matter if the processes are right.” Oh – really? I sigh. Why does one have to have superiority over the other? Culture and processes – aren’t they by nature mutually reinforcing? Ideologies that see life in absolutes by function polarise us; but life isn’t like that, it’s messy. It’s emotional! Understand the processes, design away the unecessary, make them more efficient. Build the confidence of the people, help them have courage to ask the questions, listen to them. Do both systems and culture; the system is the culture, the culture is the system. There is no end or beginning.
Where you have a culture where people are encouraged to contribute to important decisions that affect them – aren’t they more likely to direct energy towards problem solving? If you have a culture where people aren’t involved in those important decisions, aren’t their energies more likely to be directed towards worrying about the future – filling the void?
If I had to place my stakes somewhere I would place it in culture over process – a constructive, healthy, challenging, open, vital, emotionally grounded culture won’t be governed by internal rivalry, status, protection, need.
It will be governed by integrity, intelligence, respect, openness and trust. Maybe even some love! And those things will combine to ensure that processes and systems are relevant, necessary and tight, and not used to hide behind or exert power. A healthy culture will grow the necessary processes it needs.
What makes the culture – the people or the processes? What do you think?