Overcoming Your History- Part III

We are in week three of a series that began by asking the following question, why do some organizations find it next to impossible to affect real cultural change even when faced with the clear signs of decline or with a crisis that threatens to undermine or destabilize them?  My answer, they have not developed the muscular leadership and courage necessary to overcome their own history.  Overcoming your history could be defined as the ability to critique and honor your history simultaneously.  

I have been using Edgar H. Schein’s work on organization culture to get at this issue of overcoming history.  This week we examine level three, structures and processes.  It is at this level that the dysfunctional nature of an organization is most clearly evident.  Dysfunction can be defined as an environment where employees use most of their imagination and energy to create processes that maintain a broken system.  Over time these valuable people become accustom to the dysfunction and begin to view it as normal until a new hire arrives that needs to be trained.

Level three-organizational structures and processes:  Why do we do it that way?  Does that make sense?  Is this an efficient, cost-effective or a good use of time and energy? Are these decisions being filtered through the organization’s vision and mission?  Anyone who has experienced a rookie year in an organization knows about the honeymoon period when you are allowed to ask obvious, disturbing and often accurate questions about the organization’s unique structures and processes. This honeymoon period is allowed in order to bring a newcomer up to speed on how things are done.  Certain amounts of history and information must be shared in order to acclimate this person to the convoluted way that the culture has learned to cope with the crisis and change that occasionally threatens its values and shared assumptions.  This orientation is done to help a new colleague learn the copping mechanisms necessary to function in a dysfunctional manner.  The result is a culture given to passive-aggressive tendencies where employees are taught to survive by smiling, not disagreeing and flying below the radar.  People in these cultures are afraid to criticize and reluctant to change because they are exhausted by continual directives to implement one hair-brained scheme after another that promise to fix the problems on level three but ignore the obvious failures at levels one and two.  This is not change, it is insanity disguised as innovation.

Quick Point:  most organizations do something known as “exit interviews” when supposedly departing employees are asked for their insights and observations regarding their experience with the organization.  Rumor has it that upper management distills these insights and observations for data that could be used to make the organization more effective or efficient.  This is just a rumor.  My suggestion is that organizations do “entrance interviews” immediately following the training of a new hire.  The new person is asked if anything seemed strange, bizarre, inefficient or just plain bonkers.  Then they are asked if they have any ideas or suggestions for correcting the situation.  I know this sounds crazy but it’s worth a try.

I planned to stop at this point but I changed my mind.  Next week I will discuss how an organization overcomes its history to create a healthy, creative and thriving community.

Comments are closed.