Saturday, October 10, 2015

Org Culture

I had the pleasure of attending a just-in-time coaching session recently and it was incredibly insightful; really helped me put my assignment experience in perspective.

My coach helped show me the importance of organizational culture.  It really is the DNA of an organization.  It's purpose is survival -- to make life predictable and safe (homeostasis).   Culture is the desire to maintain the status quo.  This is why change takes so long, especially if it's culture change.

One of the main differences between cultures in different organizations is risk tolerance.  In my current organization, the consequences of making errors is dire -- to the extent that ppl could die.  This means that mistakes are not tolerated.  Methods must be proven, and proven again. There is little room for innovation and risk taking.

My org practices a command and control style of management.  It works, given the culture. However, in it's current implementation, people suffer the consequences of bullying behaviour. Over time, it's debilitating and makes people sick.  My coach said it well : A general during peace time does not lead in the same manner as a general during war time.  Unfortunately my general is constantly at war.  You cannot whip people and demand they succumb to your every whim without consequences.

Another insight I had pertained to the effect of culture on management. At times, I am frustrated with my direct supervisor because of the lack of decision-making and strong leadership.  My coach helped me see that he is a victim of the culture -- a culture that equates success with not making mistakes.  It matters not if we are improving, just that we make no errors. My supervisor is hand-cuffed himself as so many decisions are controlled from the top.  He is simply giving me what he gets.

My other frustration was with change.  I tried too quickly to force my ideas on my team without first understanding the culture.  I was a perceived risk, because I wanted to challenge the satus quo.  An elephant will move when it wants to move.  Culture is an elephant.  Change is most successful when done in increments and in areas where there is little risk.  My colleagues see everything as the same colour.  I can help them see that there are many shades of grey, in places where risk is low.  Start here and slowly try to influence the core.