September 22, 2010

Do you really understand your organization's culture?

Culture change is frequently identified as the the intervention needed to improve the performance of an organization. The word "culture",  however, is used gingerly and there remains much debate and controversy regarding the best way to fully understand the culture of an organization.

Ed Schein presents a simple yet illuminating perspective on organizational culture.  According to Schein (2004) understanding one's culture requires understanding on 3 different levels :
  • Artifacts---The most superficial level, which encompasses the visible structures and processes;
  • Espoused Beliefs & Values-- An organization's strategies, goals and philosophies, and;
  • Underlying Assumptions-- the unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts & feelings.
The real difficulty lies in getting beyond the first two levels to the deeper, underlying assumptions, which is necessary for ensuring significant, lasting change.

One issue that frequently arises is the tendency to see culture only from the perspective of the top leadership within an organization. Senior leaders indeed have a significant impact on a company's strategic direction, climate and performance; however, culture encompasses all aspects of an organization including the views and perspectives of diverse individuals and subgroups, and it is, in fact, usually quite complex, dynamic and difficult to fully comprehend.

Cultural change may indeed be needed within your company for accomplishing your goals and ensuring top level performance and sustainability.  However, the first step toward change is always gaining a clear understanding of the  issues at hand, and that may just be trickier than you think.
Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership (3rd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

April 7, 2010

Can we talk?

Reflecting upon the aftermath of the final vote on healthcare reform, I wonder if there is any possibility of bipartisanship in the US.  We are now more polarized than ever.  Republicans blame  Democrats for wheeling and dealing while Democrats blame Republicans for being the party of no.  The anger has risen to the level of vandalism, hate speech and serious personal threats that have led to arrests. Gee, why can't we just all get along :-)

Part of what is happening is a shifting of power, and in general people do not give up power easily.  Of course, the power will likely shift again, maybe as early as the November 2010 elections. However, in the mean time is there any possibility of cooperation, compromise, negotiation for the common good? Or are we destined to stake out our positions, blame the other side, and use sound bites or bully tactics to win new friends and influence others?

It appears our political system is broken. I hear people say "Vote em out", yet I wonder how that will solve the problem. A new group will be voted in, probably some you like and some you don't. The SYSTEM will still be broken.  Until we address the larger systemic issues we will not get beyond the "blame em" mentality. And we certainly won't solve these problems until we start talking. I don't mean ranting, raving, name-calling and threatening, but talking. Too much to ask?

Yeats said "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity".  Let's hope its not true.

March 8, 2010

The Magical One Day Training Solution

Did you see the article in the Boston Globe yesterday with the provocative title?

"Who's still biased? Diversity training has swept corporate America. Just one problem: It doesn’t seem to work."   




This article is provocative and also informative and though there is minimal evidence presented that proves diversity training " doesn't work", there is a strong argument that there is a lack of clear evidence that it DOES work--at least if the goal is to eradicate workplace discrimination based upon racial, ethnic, gender, age, sexual orientation, and other differences.
What the article failed to point out, however, is that corporate training frequently "doesn't work". This is because training is often used when real developmental learning,  organizational restructuring or corporate-wide strategic initiatives are actually required. Unfortunately, training is too frequently used as a panacea. 
But let's take Diversity Training as an example.  Sending your employees to a one day training program is of minimal effectiveness if they return to a company that does not value differences. And this is especially true if top leadership is not involved or does not buy in to the value of such programs.  Diversity training programs frequently happen only at lower levels of an organization.   The executive team may support it; Yet, look at the executive team and what do you see? You guessed it, primarily white and male.
If an organization is serious about valuing differences, it will not rely  upon one day training programs for mid to lower level staff.  It will take a systematic look at how diversity is represented throughout the organization and make a commitment to address the issue in a multi-faceted way.  First stop?  Board of Directors.

January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King and The Change we hope will come someday

Today is a day to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great leader.

As I reflect upon the changes that have occurred over time, there are reasons to celebrate and reasons to lament.  We have seen significant advances in race relations since the 60s and we now have the first African-American president.  There also exists many more opportunities for non-white people in our country in the area of education, business and politics. I don't think too many of us would like to return to the era of "white" and "colored" bathrooms and water fountains, something I am old enough to remember.

Yet there remains much work to be done. Racism is alive and well.  It is indeed mind-boggling that in 2010 there are people who continue to hate and fear others who are different than themselves. Of course here in America we are no different than many other places around the world--how many countries can we look at which exemplify peaceful collaboration among diverse groups, be it religious, ethnic, racial or tribal?

Why does this phenomenon persist? Why do we continue to devalue others? As a Leadership Consultant, I long for more leadership in this area. Not lip service, but true leadership espousing the value of diversity. I was appalled, and I assume many others are as well, at Pat Robertson's claim that Haiti brought on the earthquake through their "pact with the devil".  During this incredibly sad occasion when we should be rising above politics to help our neighbors to the south, we hear a religious leader instead blame the people for their own devastation.   Some may see Mr. Robertson as a fringe leader, but he has a tremendous following and influences thousands of people.

Yes, there has been much change, but much more is needed.  We are living in highly polarized times where anger, blame, greed and divisiveness seems to reign.  We need moral leaders who will embrace diversity. We need this in our workplaces, communities, educational institutions, the political realm, and our religious organizations.

And we need to speak out ourselves, because after all we are all leaders capable of influencing others.