Don't mistake the cycle of transformation to cost cutting as anything other than a vicious cycle, or more likely a death spiral, if you are not focused on evolving your culture.
People - you, your staff, your customers - are changing, looking for more. There are many in the morning of their life who don’t need to wait for the sunset to know there’s more, there’s a yearning for meaningful exchange. But most companies are not ahead of this change, many recognise it but don’t know the answers and don’t make seeking them a priority.
The current construct of the majority of our companies is still driven by the qualities of the white, western male; I think it was the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath that first provoked that thought in me. Changing the construct, the way of doing things, is like crossing the Rubicon for most executives. The question is, what can companies do in order to leverage today’s diversified population, with all our talents, needs and desires? And why would you want to?
Let’s take the process of choosing between limited numbers of options from a business case, which is a common place way of informing decision making in an executive board room. It is rare for anyone in the room to debate whether there are other options, never mind stand back from the options and question whether the problem being solved is even the right problem.
Debating and defining your problems is a critical step in determining where to put your focus, are you taking the time and involving enough people in the initial part of the process? While ‘fresh thinking’ can be a great thing, in reality, it's not always entirely welcomed. While it seems common sense to involve downstream deliverers and recipients of a product or service upstream in its development, it rarely happens.
Smaller companies that are growing tend to be more inclusive by necessity, employees feel their opinions and ideas are valued, that they need to pull together to address the problems before them. But as the company grows, processes, systems and specific roles start to push out that sense of being valued as an individual and the inner loyalty crumbles.
Yes, we live in a faster paced world, and few folk expect to have a job for life. Despite that, most companies are still looking for highly committed employees. There's an old saying that really resonates "the key to commitment is involvement".
A few years ago, an HR colleague and I were pondering how the company we were working for could get ahead of being seen as a utility in order for it to start turning more profit. The problem being the company had been at the forefront of making communications mobile; many of the original employees were still there and continued to see the company as the sexy start up that had brought about a revolution in the way people went about their daily lives.
The culture was still deeply wedded to the ‘start up’ mentality and yet driven by a global corporate with big shareholder expectations. Customer perceptions and expectations had also dramatically changed. Among the literally hundreds of projects on the go, addressing the culture to any degree of substance wasn’t among them.
If you’re lucky, you’ve got employees who are debating this kind of thing, though in most cases it will be a side bar conversation rather than a solution that the company is actively seeking. So how do we make it centre stage, invite more ideas?
The obvious answer is to create a more inclusive process to involve your people in meaningful conversations to take the organization forward. But creating a process, without also investing in your people, especially your leadership, would be a serious mistake.
For the most part, people need help to uncover what is within them. That is where we should focus our efforts, because through personal transformation you create an energy that is infectious.
I remember working with a head of department a number of years ago who was a clever guy, but difficult to work with. He was always late for meetings, or didn’t turn up; he’d make derisory comments and just generally do what he liked. He was in charge of a large department, multi million dollar contracts and a lot of his team’s work impacted on the organisation’s reputation.
Along with some other senior managers he was sent on an intense leadership development programme. This was an out of office, away from home, stripped bare type of a deal. But he came back a changed man, and it changed his relationships, and the people around him. The organisation reaped the benefits of the newfound cooperation in many unseen ways.
Therein lies the rub, back to the business cases and returns on investment. Investing in your people, your culture, is often difficult to quantify. I’ve heard executives agree it is common sense and we all know it’s the right thing to do, but you have to prove it. Why is that? I'm quite sure that those of you who hold the purse strings know a wise choice when you see it.
Let’s take a different approach to our corporate lives, one that seeks, values and leverages the best of people. Let’s get back to a place where we trust our inner knowing, and start to see our work lives as a vehicle for our passions to thrive (no, I don’t mean a sneaky liaison in the back office).
Whether you see it yet or not, we’re not going to win where we stand. You need to be more to make more. It’s time to take a leap, cross the Rubicon, to build a better team, a better company, a better world.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
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