One of the speaking engagements that I am often invited to deliver I’ve called 'Culture change: holy grail or poison chalice?'
In it, I discuss the opposite sides of culture change, from the unbidden aspects of culture that hold us back to the potential for loss of something worth keeping by targeting a change for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way.
A few years ago a client asked me to build an opportunity to reflect and review into the delivery of this talk. Each team was asked to consider their organisational practices through the lenses I'd presented in the talk. During their playback, one team raised the organisational drive for innovation that had been put in place the year before. In taking up my challenge to consider where culture drives thinking, they had realised that the organisation had targeted innovation in the way that they always approached new initiatives. They had put in place innovation processes, review boards and an innovation flow chart to provide the rules that they wanted to apply to innovation. Unsurprisingly, they had achieved very little innovation as their highly tuned process controls had achieved what they had always done and, in doing so, the organisation had reaped the same results that they always had, and none of it was innovative.
Their bias as a group and as an organisation was towards managed risk through controlled process; this was something they were very good at but unfortunately this bias pushed them to manage everything by tightly controlled process whether it needed it or not.
The trouble with biases is they are exactly that, a bias. If you believe that something 'should' be a certain way or should be delivered in a definite way then that's your bias talking and because it's your bias you will tend to see it as the only way. The stronger your belief is, the more likely it is that you will drive to manage things to match your belief. From there it's a short step to designing process to ensure your bias is delivered by everyone, writing policy that cements it in, and even demanding accreditation or qualification that matches your perceived view of how things 'should' be. And at some point, when everything matches how you think it should be, there will be little or no room for anything that is new. Innovation becomes a 'minor adjustment' at best.
There are many things that should be delivered consistently in an organisation but a good leader will ask themselves whether all things need to be delivered with consistency and conformity. For example, in a processing unit, quality is maintained through tight controls with no room for deviation. In a call centre, however, the basics of customer service are laid down as a consistent process but good service is delivered through one human being using their relationship skills to help another as opposed to following a uniform process. Does an engineer imagine multiple ways of delivering a new design or do they follow a laid down process? These are just a few examples that show there is a spectrum that runs between total conformity and chaotic imagineering; a spectrum that the manager defines.
In essence, as a manager you decide what really needs to be managed with conformity and where flexible thinking could benefit the organisation’s strategic objectives. One requires tight controls and the other needs inspirational leadership to release potential. To provide this level of leadership takes an awareness of your own biases. For example, If you tend towards perfection you may, on your own, create perfect results (but probably not within time and budget!) but as a manager this may translate into thinking that there is a 'right way that things should be done'. Checking in on those words 'right' and 'should', then testing yourself to see if its just your biases talking, may help your team to achieve a result that you couldn't imagine on your own. At the other end of the scale, you may be a creative and innovative thinker who does not like to be pinned down. In this case, you may avoid conformity like the plague and feel that better results will 'always' come from free thinking, which of course they don't in all circumstances.
All of this comes down to understanding your own value structure which is the core of your thinking process. Different from the behavioural styles that many of us have come to understand through DISC, MBTI and TMS (which represent how you do what you do), your value structure is the core of your thinking itself and drives the choices you make which in turn result in your actions (delivered through the aforementioned behavioural style). Inherent in your value structure are your biases, many of which will be unconscious for you. As a leader they will drive how you lead and how you lead will drive the organisation that you are the custodian of.
The inventiveness of your organisation is let loose or constrained by every action you take and every decision you make so choose the time and place for conformity or innovation based on the organisational need, not your unconscious bias.
theCHANGEfactor™ brand was established in 1999 in the UK by Martin Fenwick. Prior to coming to New Zealand this resulted in projects in Belgium, Germany and France as well as throughout the UK.