‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ I’m borrowing this line from a legendary business writer, if you’ve read him too, you’d know he means it. Will reveal the name of the gentleman towards the end of the article. Not all business houses and leaders think as high of ‘culture’ or invest enough resources in setting it right .. they often, on the contrary, are found wrestling with challenges that crop up as a result of not having strong cultural fabric tying loose ends of their organization together. For some reason they miss the fact that covering a wound doesn’t take the pain away; but this write up is not about them but the ‘subject’, so let’s get back to it.
Organisations have multiple identities, they exist for economic reasons, they also have a social purpose and sometimes even a moral signature; all at once. Travel far and wide, pick up any sector, county, sect or society in the Morden world, you’d find that wealth creation is at every core of its existence. Why else would you see democratic governmental setups talk about GDP growth.. etc? It is a good thing. Prosperity in practical terms is believed to be a close blood-related relative of happiness and therefore pursued wildly.There is no prosperity without wealth. This is not just a boring business administration line, you’ll find substantive evidence of it in mythology too, Hindu mythology in particular. The fact that we worship Goddess Laxmi and in her praise sing and chant mantras which when translated from Sanskrit into our language of daily use means “ to make happiness possible .. we need wealth so .. lord grand me it, in abundance” in summary 95% of the times, balance 5% is chorus, trying to match up with it, is proof enough.
For prosperity one needs perspective, though: this is true even for those who see happiness in things unrelated to wealth. For instance the great poet, Mirza Ghalib held that to lead a good life, all one needs is a good heart, someone to love and great prose to say so differently in different times of the day. If you read Diwan-e-Galib you’d find it. ( This is a rare book and is found only in the national Mirza Galib library at New Delhi, besides Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah). Do check it out.
Perspective is important and integral to organization building. Let’s agree that there is no right or wrong perspective .. as long as your straight view is legal and permissible you’ve every right to pursue it. It, however, needs constant reiteration in an organization to
a) keep people adequately informed and
b) making sure that people do not forget it.
While an organization is way more , but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume that organization is a huge money-making machine : A huge press that prints currency, coming together of many moving parts some mechanical and others human ( accounting, sales, customer service, branding, information technology, procurement, and other, business acumens). From dusk to dawn it prints, converting paper into powerful currency. People who run it are happy seeing how humble paper with their labor turns into one with ink valued a lot more than when it arrived raw on the other end of their press and so are those who supervise it and fund its operations. Imagine, that the machines aren’t oiled routinely, its motors aren’t greased frequently, as a result.. some parts fail, causing a portion of the paper to get wasted, some ink going down uncountably. Let’s just say that workers are lazy, uncaring, selfish and insensitive, instead of letting the supervisors know about what caused the waste of paper and as a result lesser output, they choose to cobble a convincing tale, attach very little significance to it when presenting it to the top guys with the intention of having them pass it without they attaching much attention to it. And this happens over and over again as more parts fail thanks to aging, wear and tear over time. The insincere lot, keeps making their concocted story sound more believable by sprinkling experience to their false cover up reports. Or they are nice people but in absence of reiteration do not find motivation to report the issue, some may be at a level of less than required intelligence, thus unaware. Silence irrespective of reason is not healthy.
Because not all organizations are small and confined to a small & manageable by physical inspection geography/ office; not every business leader has it in within his means to check and verify every bit of information that is being shared. As a result, having heard the story so many times, they begin to believe in it as much. The real problem keeps flourishing unchecked. Neutral voices that go a-galore against the malpractices are subdued or gagged easily for they are a minuscule minority, as a result, the misdoing continues till that curial breaking point is reached when it becomes terminal and death seems the only cure.
Things come to an end: of what is left people make their last sum of money and walk their separate ways to their next destination.
In the process what could have been a prosperous endeavor ends in misery, distress, and disrespect.
Let us imagine, the same set of circumstances in an environment that drives ‘truth’ for a culture, one that rewards dispassionate reporting of events negative as well as positive. A currency factory, that doesn’t reprimand unreasonably, one that encourages people to come forward to own problems and faults and of course has practices and people in place to quickly respond to the situation and correct it. The error would have gotten reported and perhaps the press would still be running as respectably as possible.
When you’re a 200 to 500 people organization; setting these things right is not as big an issue. In all probabilities most sensible people would have been a part of the hiring process, there is near real-time interaction between management and the delivery apparatus. The problem comes when you have an operation running in scale when you have half a lac or more people operating out of a geography well spread out, in diverse areas of work. Then the challenge is real and it is not just of setting the culture right but also developing detection methods to know what is broken and where? Because the complexity is of an enormous order not acting is equivalent to inviting untimely death.
In this write-up, we will only deal with the detection of the broken and I shall follow this one up with another article on restoration, in the coming weeks. Do keep an eye on this blog for it.
What we need to understand is that broken things are not a problem. In the real world things break all the time, the problem is not having a pair of conscious eyes set to find out what’s broken and then also not having an honest intention of fixing it. Time is of the essence when it comes to fixing.
What we need to know here is that ‘doing’ part of any job is relatively easy .. in deciding what is to be done, how and when lies mastery. Everyone knows that to score decent marks one must study hard, yet not everyone scores well .. because the underlying behavior of all students isn’t healthy. One who sleeps in the class, doesn’t complete his homework and disobeys the teacher is less likely to do great in academics .. may turn out to be a great dancer but if the need is to have an academician .. you will have to look for the traits that make one.
Therefore, organizational symptom study is vital.
Below are a few detrimental symptoms for you to observe in your organization, if they exist .. your organization is a positive candidate for restoration.
When people agree ‘all’ the time with those in the position of power: Let’s accept this we’re not right all the time and when people simply agree with all that we say, we are headed for a disaster. You need people who without fear, favor or malicious intent disagree with you, give you a contrarian view. One size doesn’t fit all, don’t we know this?
When good news outbalances the bad ones on a continuous basis: Let’s say when you review a process or a business and it only tells you all that is right all the time with very little mention of what went wrong and why .. you have got a problem. Well, even Sachin has had to walk back to the pavilion on ducks, if the unit is not failing either it is not trying hard enough or just faking it.
Evident Follow ups: If you preside over a system that runs on follow up and delays .. it is a clear indication of the fact that either you do not have competent people or your competent set isn’t sincere. In both cases, if you do not get your people to change their attitude towards ‘on time’ delivery/ response; you will have to change them and if you do none of the two.. you’re setting virtual lighted matchstick to a stack of hay which is dripping with petrol. Someone is always monitoring, natural justice, you see!
Disregard for conformance: This one is rather easy when you see people not conforming to the norm for the heck of it.. you have a problem. The common way of finding it out, when people run late for a scheduled meeting, all the time. When they wilfully come unprepared, almost always. Or better yet, do not attend crucial meetings. You should know they do not care enough and you should care little for them.
Shortage of Ideas – When the group that you work with starts falling sort of Ideas.. you experience relatively long & unexplained lull, often .. you must know that your people aren’t thinking and because thinking is 50% of doing an excellent job. Chances are they aren’t even doing what they are really supposed to do, let alone anything nearly good.
Well, if you see any of these symptoms surfacing enough in your organization, you should declare an emergency.At this point, you should slow down expansion and fuel restoration. Because if you do not fix .. it will break .. and sooner than you think.
BTW,Mr. Torben Rick, is who said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”