Is Culture Slowly Killing Your Organization?

January 7, 2013 Comments
Is Culture Slowly Killing Your Organization?

Let’s consider one simple scenario which would occur in any organisation. We have the company handbook, published by the management as a rulebook by which staff are expected to refer and abide. Typically the HR department will produce this document, perhaps in consultation with senior management, certainly seeking senior management sign-off.

Once it’s done it might be posted onto the Intranet and a news item put up with a link to it.

In other organisations the document, often a wordprocessor document or PDF is put into the requisite folder in the ECM system or the file server and an email sent round to everyone with a link to it.

I bet in the majority of organisations the file is still emailed around everyone and new starts get a copy of it emailed to them when they start. Each update of the document requires another mass mailing to all staff. Because its an important document people file it in their email folders. Subsequent updates also get stored and as a result they have lots of copies of older revisions of the same document. The net result is a massive duplication of files.

None of these scenarios are particularly efficient and, frankly, mimic the business processes we would have followed in 1913, not 2013.

You might think that you have read this sort of article before: you know that there are great and fancy new ways of working with the cloud, with servers and all sorts of stuff. Equally you know that your organisation has no chance of actually implementing these things because primarily the way you’re doing it works and ALWAYS HAS WORKED.

This is why if you really want to effect change in your organisation you need to reach the hearts and minds of those at the top. Your success in this endeavour is by your ability to influence those at the top.

Assuming you can reach somewhere near the top of your organisation you have an opportunity to express how the culture of your organisation needs to accommodate change. Just because you’ve always done something that way doesn’t mean that a new way wouldn’t be better.

At the stage when you can actually get some sort of meaningful dialog with those above you the conversation needs to be framed in terms they will understand. Cost savings; efficiency improvements; customer service improvements; being able to hire the right people; retaining key staff – all of these are issues which senior managers want to know about.

Some of these benefits are wooly, or at least would need a lot of work to develop a return on investment model for. One that should have some resonance with anyone, no matter how long-in-the-tooth they are is the issue of STAFF.

People coming into your organisation, especially younger people (i.e. younger than about 40), are all well-used to expressing their opinions to strangers in online systems. They might review a product on Amazon, they might provide feedback on eBay, they might post something to their wall in Facebook or take part in that chat room or discussion forum on a subject of their choice.

Virtually everyone we’re looking at will have a mobile phone, and probably a “smartphone”. They will all know how to text people and are well-versed in shortening conversations to text-length to get the message across. They might not be avid Twitter users but I bet they have at least “Liked” a product on Facebook.

You already have an engaged workforce – it’s just that they’re engaged in other things.

My point is that you already have an engaged workforce – it’s just that they’re engaged in other things. No-one has trained them on their use of Amazon or eBay or Hotmail or Facebook. They didn’t read the (non-existent) manual about their phone in order to send a text message. The truth of the matter is that they figured it out for themselves or sought help from someone they thought could help (an “expert”).

These “Generation Y” employees that are slowly invading your organisation will find the working environment of your organisation old fashioned and backward. They know of lots of other ways in which what YOU HAVE ALWAYS DONE could be done better. Unless your culture encourages at least discussion and experimentation which these new approaches then I fear it will be writing its own long-term suicide note. Those new, energetic staff will not hang around for the long haul. They will use your organisation as a stepping stone elsewhere. The older members of staff will slowly leave too, retiring in most cases. With them will go the organisational intelligence which has been keeping your organisation alive all these years.

This is why your organisation, and its senior management in particular, needs to embrace a culture of change. Resisting change is like trying to hold back the tide. Sooner or later you will get drowned.

So if you are reading this as one of the “enlightened”, frustrated by your management’s inability to recognise what is going on around them in this respect, perhaps this article has given you some fuel for your culture change fire. Good luck.

  • Sanjay Abraham

    Isn’t it a warning to all who have understood the ‘power’ of “Social” and how it could help add value to “Engagement” in our enterprises through communication and collaboration but are still hesitant to try and taste Social@ Enterprises!!. Emails are DEAD. They could just multiply themselves and sit in our in-boxes adding NO value. You correctly said, It would be difficult to tap the potential of the young workforce if we still rely on the existing system. Great insights indeed.

    • Billy Cripe

      It’s probably a bit more complex than that. In all likelihood the risk of not adopting new tech and the business practices that come along with it is too low to warrant changing from established “traditional” business practice. In the absence of certain harm for not adopting, the “old proven ways” are seen as preferred. They can even be acknowledged as sub-optimal without such an acknowledgement triggering some sort of process improvement or remediation activity. That is why obtaining “executive buy-in” is so important in these, the early days of social business (yes, we’re still in the early days of social business). Look at places where there was rapid adoption of new technology and business process. I can think of one: Sarbanes-Oxley software. In the wake of Enron & Worldcom, the risks of *not* adopting SOX technology and workflow and audit practices was seen as too great a risk with harms all too certain for non-compliance (even accidental). When looking at it from the other side, we can (rightfully) decry the lack of progress, the opportunity missed and the potential wasted in failing to change culture, practice and technology to leverage all the wonders new social tech has to offer. But the business community is reticent to change behavior unless the risks of not changing are too high and immediate to ignore OR the benefits are so immediate and great as to outweigh the inevitable pain of retooling, retraining and re-engineering process.

      So we work to demonstrate massive and immediate value. We work to mitigate the pain of retooling. We offer up blogs and best practices like this to assist with the retraining.

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