As I have repeated many times in previous blogs, if you want to fix/transform any dysfunctional or unwanted organizational condition or dynamic you have to start by being honest and telling the truth about the problems.
There is no way around it – no matter how challenging it may be!
I was working with a leading telecoms company to elevate their performance to the next level. As always I started with a cultural analysis and the results revealed significant issues: silos instead of collaboration; politics instead of transparency; lack of alignment between functions and levels; plus a lack of unity within the senior leadership team itself.
As I began the transformational phase of the process I shared my cultural analysis findings with the senior team and managers effort. Whilst everyone understood the list of issues (as the output came directly from their feedback as participants in the process), it was hard, especially for some of the senior leaders, to fully accept, embrace and confront the dysfunctional reality.
In fact, a few steps further into the process when I wanted to bring the list of issues up again in order to create a plan to address them there was reluctance and resistance from some leaders to do so.
The leaders didn’t want to bring up and discuss the dysfunctional issues again because they were afraid that by doing so they would be taking the organization backwards and making things worse. The leaders believed that by not discussing the issues they would simply disappear or their negative impact would be contained or minimalized.
And, surprisingly the HR leaders and managers, whose role it is to nurture and improve the corporate culture, were most adamant about not resurfacing the issues.
Unfortunately, I experience this exact dynamic in quite a few companies.
The logic of “If you can’t see and hear the problems they don’t exist or they don’t negatively impact the organization” is fundamentally flawed, undermining and dangerous to any corporate culture.
In fact, not bringing up the issues and talking about them makes things much worse, rather than addressing them head-on.
If you understand corporate culture at all you know that when employees feel they can’t publically bring up the painful issues that they then don’t discuss them at all. On the contrary, they simply go underground to express their frustrations and this directly impacts the culture. Negative background chatter becomes rampant, people become more skeptical, cynical and resigned, issues are avoided and things get worse.
This undermining dynamic is the ‘kiss of death’ to any change initiative and negates everything that a change initiative is typically about.
The senior executives can keep saying all the right things about the importance of change. However, contrary to their declarations, their reluctance or inability to deal with the negative issues sends a covert but clear and definitive message to all, that the change initiative is a farce and that the senior executives don’t have what it takes to lead it.
And that is exactly what happened in the organization I described at the start. No matter how much change and progress they were actually making, every time I went to their offices, people would pull me aside and give me an earful about how nothing is changing, and the leadership team isn’t living up to what they said and they don’t have the courage to drive change.
This prevailing mindset was like a cancer to the initiative, and it was very hard to change people’s mindsets, because, to be frank, they were right – the senior leaders didn’t demonstrate the courage to deal with the most important problems, most of which stemmed from their own divided and dysfunctional behaviors.
Everyone knew all this, however people blamed others for the situation, and everyone felt powerless and frustrated.
Unfortunately, I see this type of dynamic in so many organizations.
Why are people so reluctant to allow the prevailing problems and issues to surface?
The main reason, plain and simple, is lack of courage! However, it goes beyond that. People don’t know how to deal with the negative issues and problems, which are often loaded with ego-based emotions and blame.
In next week’s blog I will complete this account by sharing a simple, yet powerful approach and process for addressing and transforming issues, problems, and dysfunctional realities.