Changing culture

26 08 2010

Every now and again I hear a new CEO say something like “my first task is to change the culture of this organisation”. My unspoken responses range from “good luck to you” to “probably your last task too!”

Don’t misunderstand me – a new CEO can do tremendous work changing some of the cultural assumptions in the organisation, as Lou Gerstner did when he switched of the OHP in his first staff meeting at IBM. His message: “from now on, you tell me what you have to say; don’t try hiding your lack of clarity with viewgraphs.”

The truth though is that changing culture takes a little longer than changing your clothes. That is because ultimately culture is a function of the suppositions, perceptions and learnt behaviours of the people concerned. If you really want to totally transform culture overnight you had better be ready to fire everyone in the organisation and install carefully selected replacements. Otherwise you need to budget significant time.

…And analysis. Because the question that often goes begging in these situations is “do I actually know what the culture is I am talking of changing?” And “is it the culture per se; or the way the culture handles its current circumstances – and its current leadership – that is really the issue?”

A little mapping and analysis can go a long way.


Dislodging Entrenched Positions

25 08 2010

Teams – even very senior teams – often suffer from a situation where one or two individuals have “dug in” behind a particular opinion or limit (“I will go thus far and no further”). We are not talking about healthy debate here but rather long-term refusal to shift on an issue that subtley – or perhaps overtly – cripples the team’s ability to move forward. If left unaddressed for long enough there are only two options: the team fails or the “resistors” are dismissed. Putting this issue off only prolongs the agony, and makes its likely impact greater.

But does this always need to end in tears (or failure)? There are two issues worth getting to grips with.

First, in the mind of those who have dug themselves a fortified position: what is the real issue? How are they framing the problem? Is it a perceived loss of power or influence if things change? Dislike of change?

Then secondly, is there a way of reframing the issue that is both genuine and aligned to the individual’s concerns? We have all heard the father of the Bride say something like “I now realise that I am not so much losing a daughter as gaining a son-in-law”. (I hope I will be able to say that with a whole heart when the day comes!). There are equivalents in organisations. These can range from “actually, I now realise I have other things I want to do in the next 10 years” (a graceful exit) to “I now see that I will have only slightly less influence in a much bigger pond” or “a slightly smaller share of a much bigger pie” (a surrender of the position in favour of moving forward as part of the team).

So the only question remaining is – how are you going to drill down into other people’s perceptual worlds, in order to understand the issue and how it could be reframed?  Glad you asked me that…

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni)

16 08 2010

Not sure why I missed this one – it has been out there since 2002 – until a friend mentioned it in conversation. Saw a copy at Kinokuniya in Ngee An City (and that is what I call a seriously big bookstore) and read it in a single sitting this weekend. Simple, sane and true. Wonderful book, and I have taken it straight on board.

Except… MBTI? Best profiling tool? We mustn’t confuse ubiquity with quality. Specifically you cannot with confidence synchronise one person’s MBTI outputs against another person’s, so two people who have described themselves in ways that produced very different MBTI profiles might be more similar than you would realise – and vice versa. In trying to diagnose the roots of team dysfunction, this actually matters quite a lot. At best it is a tool for self reflection – and I would argue, deeply flawed even in that context.

Looking for a tool to use in concert with Patrick’s analysis? Talk to a Birkman Consultant. For a simple example (one score among nearly 100 available) see this Article by Dr Birkman and see how much resonance this has with the 5 Dysfunctions.