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Successful Triple Bottom Line Sustainability Depends On Board of Directors’ Leadership

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

The notion of organizational leadership has traditionally been viewed in a top/down reductionist thinking fashion. At the pinnacle of the organization is the CEO, followed by the other C-Suite incumbents, then senior executives, then middle management and so on and so on. The idea that an organization’s board of directors has the ultimate leadership responsibility is either not typically considered, or the role of a CEO has become so dominant that no Chairman wants to fight that leadership battle anymore.

This is no trivial mater in regard to who should lead sustainability initiatives, and triple bottom line sustainability (tbls) in particular. It’s one thing to report good intentions through a Corporate Social Responsibility report, but another entirely to envision and lead the complex long-term business changes entailed in a tbls strategy, since this is one of the most systemic and challenging change-related journeys on which any organization may embark. The complexity of triple bottom line sustainability has been emphasized in previous blogs, and is further inferred from the following tbls definition adopted by The Leadership Alliance Inc: “Triple bottom line sustainability is the result of the activities of an organization, voluntary or governed by law, that demonstrate the ability of the organization to maintain viable its business operations (including financial viability as appropriate) whilst not negatively impacting any social or ecological systems.”

The board of directors in principle is ideally placed to envisage and lead this demanding journey, given that it has responsibility for the interests of all the stakeholders, not just shareholders, as its mandate. Without the board of directors’ interest, broad experience, vision, knowledge, and leadership, regarding a chosen sustainability variant, it is not likely that anyone else in the organization will pay much attention, other than for “window dressing”, and this has been born out through our research [1].

Furthermore, even a top management that is committed to sustainability does not last forever, and the responsibility for maintaining a change initiative falls back on the governance structure. If the board of directors does not understand the essence of an organizational change, the risk is that top management will be replaced with new managers who have new ideas of their own – organizations are replete with change-credibility “black holes” created when change sponsors have moved-on from much hyped initiatives without accomplishing their objectives.

As I look around at sustainability initiatives in progress, I see more and more evidence of the application of the traditional reductionist approach, whereby responsibility for sustainability is parceled out to individual organizational entities without regard for the need for a new and innovative organizational strategy plus an overarching planning process capable of addressing systemically the unpredictability and dynamic complexity in which today’s organizations operate. All too often innovation, the key to sustainability, is targeted to saving electricity, reducing waste, or preventing usage of non-biodegradable materials; of course such initiatives are important, but typically they are cherry picking, and no consideration is given to applying innovation to business planning that could lead to restructuring of the organization, and the optimal redesign of its strategy to eventuate in an organization truly designed for the tbl sustainability journey.

This kind of bold new thinking must come from the board of directors which has the power and the mandate to exercise leadership in setting organizational direction for the CEO and the C-suite … when will you directors heed the call? If someone in leadership is reading this blog and would like to know how we at The Leadership Alliance Inc. can assist an organization to set-off optimally on the tbl sustainability journey, please contact us, and as always your comments are of great interest to us.

 Reference:

[1] Smith, P.A.C., Sharicz, C., “The Shift Needed For Sustainability”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2011

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“Personal Change Management” (PCM) Programs

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

“Personal Change Management” (PCM) programs were developed by The Leadership Alliance Inc. [TLAINC] because, in our experience, successful implementation of organizational change is always significantly dependent on non-rational “people-factors” that are present in the organizations workforce at all levels; however, these “people-factors” are ignored in virtually every change initiative.

These people-factors include personal perceptions, attitudes and feelings that exist below the surface of formal organizational contact, and they are disregarded because organizations largely operate under a cultural cloak of rationality, ignoring or deeply underestimating non-rational realities such as emotion. The result is tragic — workforce energy that could be applied productively becomes a destructive force that undercuts the anticipated change-related performance enhancement. Remember, the people that will resist the change are the very people relied on to implement the change!

Organizations that are serious about successfully implementing change must strike an adequate balance between promoting rationality/technical efficiency and exploring non-rational factors if the anticipated benefits are to be captured. They certainly cannot afford to do otherwise if the planned change is highly disruptive and/or expensive. So how might this be accomplished?

Although an organization may attempt to ensure a successful change initiative by collaboratively developing an exciting vision statement, and satisfying employees’ various basic physiological needs, really significant leverage for successful  change lies in upgrading each individual’s understanding of their own unique personal and inter-personal “people-factors”, and by surfacing them, help the individual deal with them appropriately. To address these needs, TLAINC developed the Personal Change Management (PCM) approach – performance-based programs that facilitate personal identification, understanding, clarification, and resolution of significant non-rational people-factors that may impact the success or failure of a given change initiative, independent of the type of change envisaged.

The PCM approach is based on the notion that to ensure a successful change effort, each individual in the organization must have their own evolving PCM “kitbag”; one that they personally continuously fill and refresh with knowledge about the organizational change envisaged, what it means to them, and how to bring it about at their local level or how to address barriers to implementation. Furthermore, all employees, including managers, must populate their PCM kitbags with understanding and skills related to people-factors. This is achieved using programs that assist managers and staff change local peer-peer and senior-subordinate interactions to enhance authenticity, create emotional openness, and ease the process of “letting go” of the past and making sense of the new context.

The Roger Gaunt Action Learning process is an ideal vehicle to achieve these ends when exploited as part of an intensive workshop and coaching program involving small groups. This style of action learning was pioneered by Roger to help participants deal with their change-related concerns, without delving into any deep-seated emotional issues that are better treated via 1:1 health-professional interventions. This model is favored over the more familiar “project model”, advocated by Professor Reg Revans, because it encourages individuals to define and work with their own areas of interest and emotional concerns, thus building increased capacity for ownership, insight and effective implementation of identified solutions.

Each small group is called a PCM Group (PCMG). In TLAINC’s program PCMG members undergo a process that is enriched with counseling and group-work skills that draw on psycho-dynamic, Gestalt, and client-centric theory. Group members act as collective “counselor” to each “presenter” of an issue, enabling exploration and clarification of her/his situation, plus identification of options, solutions, or “next steps”; at a follow-up meeting the presenter reports to the group her/his progress regarding subsequent “action” taken.

TLAINC supplies highly skilled facilitation for PCMGs to ensure participants develop the discipline to work openly with the group process, and to set aside their own agendas when addressing the concerns of others. The facilitator trains the PCMG in the Gaunt Action Learning techniques, models the skills, and provides a “holding environment” for the group within which challenging and thinking can happen without threat. The aim is to enable a PCMG to become self-facilitating and responsible for its own development.

To explore PCM programs and PCMGs in more detail please contact me at pasmith@tlainc.com – and NO we won’t follow up with you afterward unless agreed with you!

Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #1

October 22, 2010 6 comments

This is the first of six Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams.

“We now know that the source of wealth is something specifically human: knowledge. If we apply knowledge to tasks we already know how to do, we call it productivity; if we apply knowledge to tasks that are new and different, we call it innovation. Only knowledge allows us to achieve those two goals. Organizations that are efficient and effective in applying knowledge will succeed better than their competitors” – Peter Drucker

Business as usual is no longer an option – it is obvious that traditional organizational design has not worked in today’s complex business environments. New ways of thinking and organizing are critically important if organizations are to do more with less, and ensure ongoing business growth and renewal.

Most of today’s organizations are set up like spider webs with thinking and command at the centre, and planning and control exerted through the web threads. The problem is that command and control operation is far too inefficient in terms of speed and efficiency, too clumsy in terms of knowledge management, and too lacking in variety for today’s complex dynamic business contexts. Top-down corporations need to adapt their fundamental structure to change from a command and control model to one that promotes facile communication incorporating social trust and widespread knowledge sharing – in other words to survive surging market competition organizations must decentralize.

A decentralized organization has distinct market advantages over a wholly centralized organization, allowing not only for the natural development of the key capabilities needed for the organization to operate creatively and successfully in face of today’s constantly changing circumstances and environmental demands, but equally to address the needs of a churning workforce that increasingly includes a new breed of worker – the Generation Y Millennials, the cohort born between the mid-70s and the early 2000s. Organizations challenged with three generations of employees need novel organizational strategies to accommodate employees’ varied learning requirements and to foster work satisfaction. Decentralized organizations are more responsive to market forces and employee variety, are agile in implementation, and are consistently adaptive to innovative processes that promote and empower continuous improvement at the rock face of employee daily-deliverables.

Decentralization as it is implemented today typically involves creating a starfish configuration, comprised of small hubs capable of operating, growing and multiplying interdependently of each other. The starfish model is used by innumerable organization designers around the globe today. Although it is an advance over the spider web design, and does facilitate significant strategic advantages to emerge from daily operations in ways that play a significant role in continuous improvements informing sustainable advantage, the starfish model still does not go far enough to provide a truly sustainable systemic approach to organizational design.

Genuine Sustainable Advantage (SA) demands a much more polyarchic approach, providing both independency and interdependency of all major components of organizational processes. In the SA model people become epi-central to the co-evolution and co-maintenance of strategy, structure, processes, and rewards. Human-centric organizations include employees in most of the organization’s responsibilities and decision-making, ensuring incremental investment by each member in the rigors and rewards of a profitable company.

In the second Blog of this series the critical differences between Sustainable Advantage (SA) and Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) will be explored, and the relevance and promotion of innovation reviewed.

Social Commerce and Successful Supply Chain Development

May 17, 2010 1 comment

A supply chain (SC) in which the members are strategically, operationally, and technologically integrated is fundamental to commercial success in many businesses, and SCs continue to be adopted by organizations as a strategic vehicle for creating and sustaining market advantage. Claims for the success of supply chain management (SCM) have traditionally been largely based on efficiency improvements (e.g. time compression, cost cutting and quality improvement) and innovative supply chain factors which enhance consumer value have been underplayed.  This Blog is to heighten awareness of the huge influence that social commerce may have in ensuring successful supply chain development, where social commerce is defined as all manner of intra- and inter-organizational social discourse particularly related to market concerns e.g. F2F meetings, communities of practice, social networks, social media, Enterprise 2.0 etc..

First of all, there needs to be a realization that indeed there is an unbalanced focus on technical and rational perspectives in SC practice that has resulted in the ignorance of potential innovations that could result from understanding the complex social and political issues that are an integral part of any supply chain. In defense of this bias it should be noted that ‘people issues’ such as culture, trust, aversion to change, opportunism, willingness to relinquish control, and willingness to collaborate, are intractable issues that organizations avoid addressing at all costs. This is especially true in cultures where emotion-laden subjects are un-discussable i.e. most organizations! Difficulties in acknowledging and addressing these cultural issues imply that for effective implementation, SCM must be aligned with an appropriately developed organizational culture e.g. see the EVO approach (http://www.tlainc.com/TLO%20V3%20N4%2096.pdf).

Collaboration is highly important if SCs are intended to lead to innovation, since the innovation potential of a SC is based on the skills and expertise of each supply chain member. In order to generate SC innovations, member organizations must understand the dynamics of the supply chains that they are involved in. For example, successful SCM involves horizontal cross functional integration, based on inter-organizational relationships which increase trust and collaboration, not only across but also within firms. The need for common or translatable value systems, language, symbolic artifacts and protocols or etiquette have been shown to be important for developing shared understanding and thus enhancing the chance of trust and commitment, not only across the whole SC, but also in each particular organization. This ensures that each trading partner increases trust in the other members of the SC to keep them committed.

The conventional approach to SCM views the supply chain as a linear process involving discrete organizational entities that are tightly linked from the source of supply to the supply of a final product or service to consumers or end users. Such SCM emphasizes major functions such as outsourcing, supply management, chain management, relationship management and power management. The current alternative view, which focuses on the social commerce among members, does not imply that the management of these major functions is not crucial, but rather that principles of organic and facilitative management through stimulation of learning, networking and expectation alignment should be incorporated in the management of these functions. Many SC practitioners have difficulty moving from the conventional view to one which focuses on social collaborative arrangements among members, and thus remain uninformed about the learning-related processes they could employ to build relationships and better integrate.

People who commit the firm to SC promises must be empowered and resourced to execute them, and must have the appropriate knowledge and skills provided by training, learning-by-doing, and Knowledge Management (KM) processes. A key competency therefore is the ability to learn or acquire the needed knowledge and the capacity to identify key information, understand the competitive importance of the knowledge and apply it. Learning in supply chains requires a high level of trust that allows partners to openly share sensitive information in order to gain full benefits of collaboration. If an organizational partner has excellent learning capacity, inter-organizational trust intensifies, and as the whole supply chain learns to work collaboratively and trustingly, the KM principles adopted will unleash immense creativity and innovation providing significant advantage to supply chain partners. In order to gain the necessary trust and commitment for this to happen, the organizational values and culture need to support the creation of social capital (SC).

The concept of social capital is useful for representing the collaborative status of relationships across an organization. Although there is no uniformly accepted definition of social capital, its meaning in an organizational setting has been defined as “The set of resources, tangible or virtual, that accrue to a corporate player through the player’s social relationships, facilitating the attainment of goals.” [1] A growing body of opinion sees social capital as an important source of commercial advantage. The importance of social capital is often under-valued in SCM but its value in my opinion must not be underestimated. Social capital might be viewed as the relational glue that underlies the effectiveness of supply chains, and it comes into its own particularly in supply chain situations that are complex and ambiguous.

Successful innovations are generated when key processes such the formation of wide and interconnected intra- and inter-organizational networks, and extensive experimentation, and broad learning are emphasized. SC practitioners may be considered members of a community of practice rather than members of disconnected functions along a chain. This requires that SC members actively and deliberately explore together their relationships. This collaborative learning builds competence, commitment, and accountability to their community of practice. In this way they adopt a people-centric social learning approach towards better understanding customers’ and/or SC participants’ perspectives and needs, promoting further supply chain integration. It is clearly important to underpin such inter- and intra-organizational social networks with a multitude of social commerce related communication channels within which SC actors may share learning and insight, and to introduce Enterprise 2.0 and social media  where possible.

[1] Gabbay, S.M., and Leenders, R.T.A.J. (1999),  “The structure of advantage and disadvantage”,  in R.T.A.J. Leenders and S.M. Gabbay (Eds.), Corporate social capital and liability, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston.

Developing Sustainable Organizations Using the Sustainability Score Card™

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Blog by Peter A.C. Smith and Dr. Carol Zulauf-Sharicz (Suffolk University, Boston)

Definitions of sustainability range over many different domains such as profit, viability, energy, ecologies, natural resources, organization, and society to name just a few. Most of these definitions are different and none of them totally satisfy requirements to cover all aspects of the subject.  We feel that since a complete definition is not feasible at this time a pragmatic approach based on relevant current research and practical concerns is valid. Therefore we focus here only on the sustainability of commercial organizations, especially organizations functioning in complex environments such as those that face firms locally and globally today and for the foreseeable future. This is not to say that some or all of the following may not be more generally relevant. Further, we define sustainability as the capability of an organization to be viable over extended periods of time in a commercial sense whilst being an exemplar in avoiding potential or real negative ecological and social impacts related to its activities.

What makes an organization sustainable?  First, achieving “Right for Market™” (R4M™).  R4M™means introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts at the right price with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimising, and retiring them as necessary; and secondly, making sure that achieving R4M™ does not negatively impact relevant ecological or social systems. These two points demand extensive internal and external knowledge and awareness. This may only be satisfied if the organization is founded in complexity and learning based on systemic approaches.  In particular sustainability demands innovative approaches and fresh thinking for the necessary transformative changes to take place and organizational self-actualization in terms of sustainability to be achieved.

With respect to individuals and their self actualization, Abraham Maslow developed a well-known hierarchy of needs.  Maslow postulated that human beings have an innate drive to satisfy these needs, and that they form a hierarchy – Maslow drew the hierarchy as a pyramid. At the lowest level he placed a person’s physiological needs e.g. food, water. Once the physiological needs are met humans look to satisfy what Maslow called the safety needs e.g. law, stability.  When the two lowest needs are largely gratified, there emerges the need for belongingness e.g. love, community.  According to Maslow, only when the three lower needs are satisfied will the individual seek esteem.  Maslow divided this class of needs into two sub-classes.  The first involves the need for self-evaluation e.g. self-esteem, confidence; the second involves the views of others e.g. reputation, prestige.  There is a further less-well formulated stage that often, if not always, develops even if the lower needs are satisfied whereby individuals feel a new discontent and restlessness unless the individual is doing what they are fitted for – this is epitomized in the expression “What a person can be, they must be” and relates to self-actualization.

Maslow made the point that some needs are under the control of others (in the others’ domain), for example safety, recognition, enumeration. Other needs can be satisfied by the individual him or herself (one’s own domain), for example self-esteem and self-actualization. In this regard, Maslow had the further notion of “threshold limits” making the point that individuals should set a target for satisfying their own needs “in others’ domain” at the boundary between “justifiable appetite” and “greedy desire”.  Maslow further postulated that the energy used in seeking to satisfy “greed” saps the individual’s capability to satisfy needs “in one’s own domain”.

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Turns out by analogy “quite a lot”! We can view the needs and development of organizations in a similar way to those ascribed to individuals by Maslow. Further, by equating this development as a journey toward self-actualization in sustainability terms, we can identify organizational behaviors and stages of sustainability development. For example, the initial stage is related to making a profit sufficient to stay in business; short term viability is the key concern and other sustainability aspects are not of concern. The second stage is related to having standards and laws that protect the organization and sustainability other than viability is seen as burdensome. The third stage involves lip service to the communities and the ecological and social standards in which it operates; the organization no more than complies with regulations that govern organizational conduct. It is not until the organization has satisfied these needs that the organization will address Maslow’s “esteem” level when what employees think becomes important, and the organization is confident of its viability and its place in the world of business. After this what others in the broader community think becomes very important, and since this organization now yearns for high reputation and prestige it will take the initiative in preventing negative ecological and social impacts. Finally, an organization will truly become sustainable when it applies the idea that “what an organization can be, it must be” and it then operates as an exemplar of all that is included in our sustainability definition. Further, as Maslow suggested, such an organization will operate at a commendable boundary in “others’ domain” and will be thus able to channel its energies internally to appropriately satisfy the needs of “its own domain.”

For organizations to meaningfully contribute to their own sustainability their activities need to be reported and measured against identified goals. To this end the profit/ economic survival balance sheet must be amended to include bottom lines for environmental and social accountability. This has become known as the triple bottom line and there may yet be other measurements that will be added.  This new way of assessing an organization’s performance is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today; however, the application of the Maslow hierarchy to an organization allows stages and behaviors on the journey toward sustainability to be described, and a “Sustainability Score Card™” developed, that allows the organization readily to track progress and report measurements.

Please clic the link to if you would like information concerning the related Seminar. To get to  know more about building & leading sustainable organizations and how the Sustainability Score Card™ enhances your potential to achieve this goal, please give us a call through The Leadership Alliance Inc. …. our best to you, Carol and Peter

Power over vs Power to ..

August 27, 2009 2 comments

One may provide all the rational understanding and wherewithal for individuals or communities to accomplish a given objective, but if they don’t want to do it then it won’t happen, or the effort will be half-hearted with predictable results. Surely this simple truth is common knowledge, but much of the organizational managerial establishment still doesn’t get it – having ‘power over’ may make you feel good, but it’s a strategy that starts off suboptimal and goes down hill from there.

Of course organizations do routinely operate under a façade of rationality, but they still over-emphasize the goal-orientation that drives them, and under-value the expressive affective arenas of life; this in spite of a large influx of women into the workforce. In 1973 Gerard Egan wrote “Emotional repression in undoubtedly still a far greater problem than emotional overindulgence” [1]. Some thirty-odd years later this statement is as true as ever in my opinion; society still equates management capability with emotional maturity.

This translates as the control or repression of feelings, and organizations continue to use the word ‘emotional’ in a derogatory sense. Indeed, since managers are often guarded in their feelings, they prefer others to behave in the same way: “It is thought uncivil, rude, unconventional, unwarranted, and even obscene to express feelings toward others.  Emotional insulation parades under such euphemisms as ‘respect for others’ and ‘the dignity of privacy’” [2]; I would go further and include that it parades as ‘respect for our leaders and managers’. Putnum and Mumby quote Lutz who sums it up well: “In addition to treating emotion as a physiological state, people regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is often treated as ‘inappropriate’ for organizational life. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as ‘disruptive’, ‘illogical’, ‘biased’ and ‘weak’. Emotion, then, becomes a deviation from what is seen as intelligent” [3].

Perhaps there is a fear in leaders and managers that focusing on emotional energy leads to loss of control; this is not the case: “Organizations do not need to abandon instrumental goals, productivity, or rationality to develop alternative modes of discourse. Emphasizing work feelings calls for including what is currently ignored or marginalized in organizational life. Rationality is not an objective, immutable state. Rather it is socially constructed and cast as the dominant mode of organizing. Rationality and technical efficiency, however, should be embedded in a larger system of community and interrelatedness. Perhaps organizations of the future could offer society a new alternative, one shaped by emotionally-connected creativity and mutual understanding as necessary elements for human growth.” [4].

A growing issue is that so much interpersonal communication is no longer face-to-face but ‘second-hand’ – mediated through technology, and “Technology makes it easy to fake authenticity, to manipulate it, to have encounters that seem authentic but are not” [5]; however, although technology such as email seems tailor-made for the powerful elite to hand out ‘the tablets’, social networking tools such as twitter and facebook offer huge opportunities for honest social interaction, and indeed demand a level of emotional honesty for social network trust and acceptance. I am encouraged by the way social networking tools leverage the community-influence of individuals to combat ‘power-over’ e.g. the political struggle in Iran. I also see why there will be resistance to inclusion of such tools in an organization’s inernal-use technology portfolio – but we can hope!

Social systems are highly complex and there is no guarantee that a particular seemingly desirable starting condition, such as the widespread introduction of social networking technology into organizations, will result in a desirable end-state. I do believe though that it would be a step in the right direction, helping to redirect the emotional labor that employees currently expend in subverting authoritarianism and emotional control, and channel it such that they display leadership in, and take personal responsibility for, shaping their own self-organizing system. “Here, ideally, people would give up some of their uniqueness to help build the edifice or common system, rather than clamoring for more power for their system, which then gets experienced as power over other people” [6].

Human nature being what it is, I do not believe that it is possible to build a paradise where an organization will fully succeed in dealing appropriately with all the complexities of the interactions within its social systems. I do believe however that an organization can strike an adequate balance between power-over/rationality/technical efficiency and non-rational factors, such that each field contributes to, and supports the other, in optimizing performance. I contend that by adopting this approach the quality of work, and work life of the organization, would be vastly enhanced over time, and that the ground would be well prepared for general adoption of much needed traits of leadership and personal responsibility at all employee levels. I would like to hear your views – please contact me to further explore these topics.

Notes

[1] Egan, G., Face To Face, Brooks/Cole Publishing, Monterey, 1973; pp. 61

[2] Egan, G., Face To Face, Brooks/Cole Publishing, Monterey, 1973; pp. 64

[3] Putnam, L.L., Mumby, D.K., Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality, in S. Fineman (Ed), Emotion in Organizations, Sage Publications, London, 1993; pp. 36

[4] Putnam, L.L., Mumby, D.K., Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality, in S. Fineman (Ed), Emotion in Organizations, Sage Publications, London, 1993; pp. 55

[5] Lukensmeyer, C.J., Parlett, M., Power, Change, And Authenticity: A Political And Gestalt Perspective, British Gestalt Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997; pp. 7

[6] Lukensmeyer, C.J., Parlett, M., Power, Change, And Authenticity: A Political And Gestalt Perspective, British Gestalt Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997; pp. 13

The Titanic Syndrome

July 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The wealth of material in books, journals, and our tribal memory addressing change as a topic in one form or another is overwhelming. This accumulated lore has surely been building since the dawn of mankind, and includes the scholarly, the populist and the futuristic. Unfortunately, if current business news is to be believed, this body of knowledge contributes little to organizational survival.

Most managers are constantly preoccupied by change, reacting to threats and opportunities, and initiating activities based on their beliefs and aspirations. They design their organizations to ‘tame’ change, and they train their employees to ‘manage’ it. Indeed the literature is replete with authors who see this mastery of change as critical to the survival of the modern company.

Unfortunately, if current news sources are to be believed, organizations have not made a very good job of it. So if our capability to successfully address organizational change is at least adequate, why are things so bad? I believe the answer lies with what I have called for many years the ‘Titanic Syndrome’ – once the entrepreneurial business cruise is over, managers simply don’t believe their particular Titanic is sinkable.

Like the officers of the Titanic, managers don’t see any need to slow their ship down when warned of looming business icebergs. When the inevitable happens, they seek to create the illusion of progress through ‘change management’. This is almost invariably an exercise in ‘learning to do things right’ rather than ‘learning to do the right things” – even as the business is sinking the emphasis is on the best way to re-arrange the deckchairs.

The dilemma is that the managers responsible for the disaster are the same managers who are notoriously disinterested in objectively examining their own mindsets, and the part they played in the creation of the problem. I agree with the host of authorities who claim that change-related problems cannot be addressed by managers whose mental models obscure and/or contribute to the problems. All of an organization’s competitive strategies come to nothing if its managers’ business paradigm is not appropriate. When managers fall victim to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’ believing their ship to be ‘Unsinkable’, it will make perfect sense to agonize over where the deckchairs should be stacked. As Kuhn said “Learning within an existing paradigm is puzzle-solving”.

In spite of the vast sums spent on management development, management thinking is still mired in industrial age thinking. Because of this, managers easily succumb to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’. Predictability is still the basis on which most organizations are run, and managers in general view the world as a big piece of clockwork. How then can we break free of the paradox that “The greater the corporate success the stronger grow the seeds of future corporate failure”? What then are we to do? Abandon ship and lose everything or ‘right quick’ come up with a new plan? But what plan? The answer lies in keeping management mindsets from hardening by changing activities and tools so that new habits of thinking and learning are developed naturally and continuously as individuals do their jobs.

In my experience this tall order can indeed be achieved by deliberately re-designing and re-developing the systemic organizational structure, processes, roles and tools to specifically develop an environment where learning will be essential to successfully carrying out the work of any employee. By changing the rules, all employees including managers are forced to change their habits of thinking and learning without necessarily being made aware that this is happening. In this way seventy-five percent of the community will be learning rather than just the fifteen percent natural learners. Indeed, since the emphasis may be placed on performance, driven by business outcomes, the whole organization will concentrate its energies towards its own continuing business viability.

If you would like to explore these concepts further or learn more about the real life work on which they are based please contact me – I’ll be delighted to dialogue with you.