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The truth about organisational restructuring

The start

The first time I experienced a restructure, was when I got a call to come into the CIO office. that was about six months after I joined the company as a team leader in IT. Not sure what the topic was, I got into his room and set down. The CIO wanted to hear my ideas about some other areas in IT. The conversation sounded valid, but I had this distinct feeling something was up. I got back to my desk to find everyone in IT were called to a meeting for an important announcement. In the meeting the CIO announced a new structure, many senior managers names had no box, and my name was there now responsible for these areas that I was asked about an hour ago

…it was my first job in a commercial business and I believed the CIO that it was about better service and clearer accountabilities for the new management team. In reality, it happened to be about cost-cutting and moving aside “opinionated” managers who disagreed with the CIO. Many months later we were still struggling to recover from the damage to trust that this restructure created.

The reality

Restructures as a way to deal with cost-cutting became particularly popular after the financial crisis of 2009.

Mckinsey, 2009 : “We suggest a better way: companies should start any cost-cutting initiative by thinking through whether they could restructure the business to take advantage of current and projected marketplace trends (for instance, by exiting relatively low-profit or low-growth businesses) or to mitigate threats, such as consolidating competitors” (https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/a-better-way-to-cut-costs) and the recipe was clear:

  • Combine incidentals to gain a visible effect on the bottom line
  • While reducing the number of roles take personnel actions that were avoided before
  • Cut on management

Since, I myself led many restructures, some to accommodate new technology and changes to processes and roles responsibilities and some responding to a CEO demand to cut 10%, 20%, or even 30% of operational costs. Because of my experience in that first restructure, I committed to doing it differently. I believed that transparency, inclusion and opportunities for feedback and training made a difference even if at the end of the day some people lost their role. However, we now overused restructures and squeezed the lemon as much as possible.

Organisational restructuring motivated by cost cutting (and nowadays most are), achieves less and less sustainable long term benefits. It means that in the process, we are breaking the fundamental trust we need for a productive relationship between people and organisations. We embedded a cynical view, even on the few times a restructure was really about a new business model, new ways of working or strategic alignment.

The alternative

When we move forward we have to get away from this overused, usually ineffective method or improving business results. The answer should be in creating agility within an organisation in a way that allows an on-going evolution to teams purpose, roles and responsibilities and even to the size of the organisation. This agility is what is required as a dynamic response to fast-changing conditions.

There are many aspects organisations need to create to achieve agility. However, here are my favourite three ingredients:

Teams

With technologies and competition accelerating, companies plan on shifting to a more flexible organizational model. A popular approach is adopting the concept of agile teams. The idea is that when a new challenge arises, companies using the agile teams approach allow for small teams to form, with the necessary range of skills, to seize the opportunity. Agile teams manage themselves and are fully accountable for what they do. In the not very distant future merging artificial intelligence with real intelligence will allow these smart, dedicated, in-place, and flexible teams of generalists, to direct much larger teams of remote workers and digital humans. This combination of in-person, remote, and digital workers will allow the teams to react quickly to new opportunities and quickly retreat from failures. It is clear why this concept is so attractive. These teams can be the biggest winners in the digital era.

Learning organisation

Learning organisations and the people in them learn constantly from everything they do. Continuous learning is systemically built into the organisation’s DNA and infrastructure. Everyone gets that continuous learning is expected and will be rewarded. To achieve that, communication is open and widespread, people at all levels are included in most communications and it’s assumed everyone “needs to know.” Further, senior leaders show they are learning constantly by communicating what they are learning as they learn; people are rewarded for learning with recognition, growth jobs, promotions and even financial compensation. (most recent example https://www.microsoft.com successfully making the massive shift in mindset from desktop to cloud)

Holacratic governance

Rooted in methods like Holacracy an holacratic governance is a process to support distributed decision making replacing the current way in which decisions making are vested in a management hierarchy.  The principle of holacratic governance are:

  • roles purpose and boundaries are clear and transparent to all
  • a role is fully accountable to deliver to its purpose
  • everyone in the organisation has an equal voice to suggest changes to purpose or boundaries
  • no one has the power to overrule a suggestion unless they can prove certain and real damage to the business.

The principles of holacratic governance are counterintuitive to current management thinking however are critical as part of achieving agility. (most famous example https://www.zappos.com/)

 

If you feel you are constantly being restructured, you are probably right. This method of cost-cutting is overused in most organisations. It is about time to embed true agility for long term sustainable change.

 

@Hadas Wittenberg is a change maker and a Future of Work Enabler

Agile teams don’t scale! They spread (if conditions are right)

Background

Agile teams definition: “Small, smart, dedicated, in-place teams who have the necessary range of skills to seize a new opportunity as it arises. The agile teams manage themselves and are fully accountable for what they do”.

With technologies and competition accelerating, companies are hoping to shift into a more flexible organisational model. The buzzword for this is agile. Agile once considered a radical alternative to command-and-control-style management and is now “rolled out” across a broad range of industries. It is an exciting concept in businesses.  Having these teams mean that in the already happening future of merging artificial intelligence with real intelligence will allow these smart teams to direct much larger teams of remote workers and digital humans. This combination of in-person, remote, and digital workers will allow the teams to react quickly to new opportunities and quickly retreat from failures. It is clear why this concept is so attractive. These teams can be the biggest winners in the digital era.

However, while the concept is widely appreciated, we seem to get stuck on trying to scale, “roll out” or duplicate by using existing, none effective, change management practices. Agile teams are new and, in most cases, fundamentally different way of thinking and operating. It requires a deep change.

Deep change

Deep change happens when we fundamentally change the way we think. It allows something different to grow and spread across the organisation in a way that is sustainable and has long term benefits.

As leaders and change agents we usually focus on activating the self-energizing commitment and energy of people around changes that they deeply care about. However very little if any attention is given to the limiting conditions that exist in all organisations. These limiting conditions might stop the agile teams from forming, these might slow or stop them growing and deliver business results or these might hold them back from spreading. Only by addressing these limiting conditions organisations can really become agile.

The diagram below, inspired by the book Dance of change by Peter Senge describes the self-energizing process of deep change and the conditions that limit it.

deep change diagram 

Seed phase – limiting conditions

Seed the idea of agile teams – Create Small, smart, dedicated, in place teams.

Time flexibility and availability –most people at work are overloaded and under constant pressure to do more with less. However, like with any significant change people that are part of an agile team, should have enough time to learn, develop and embed a new way of thinking and working. To achieve that the teams should be able to control their own time allocation. The teams should also prioritise what to do or not and how much time is directed to learning, planning, reflecting and collaborating. With limited time as a constant reality, start small!

Psychological safety and trust – at the core of the agile team is the ability to experiment, fail fast, learn and continually improve. Teams should feel safe to share their learnings and trust that being open and honest is advancing both their own and their teamwork. It is important to allow the trust to develop through clarity and consistency of Organisational values, leadership that “walk the talk” and encouragement for exploring personal and organisational values alignment.

Help availability – agile is a new practice in most organisations.  It is a new way for individuals, teams and organisations to think and operate and it requires a significant amount of support and help. Help should come in the form of coaches who are able to guide and challenge the team for new learnings, sponsor availability to remove bottlenecks and protect the team initiation and other experts to complement capabilities gaps. Many organisations have not achieved the commitment level required to cause agile to be successful. If you are an executive sponsoring who this change but have no time to participate, if you are a manager but you sit on the fence to see if the experiment will be successful, or if you add this activity as just one more thing to do then don’t even start.

 

Grow phase –  limiting conditions

Grow the agile teams – allow them to manage themselves and be fully accountable for what they do

Measurements in use – Measurement is an important part of building credibility and feedback is key to agile learning. However, if the measurement is used as a lever to change behaviours you are undermining reflection and openness of the team to new learning. For example, if you created the expectation that agile is about short term ROI you will negatively impact the team ability to meet expectations and undermine the overall value that can be achieved from this change.  Instead, organisations who are committed to the success of agile, should consider balanced measures including performance, value creation and team health and use these as real-time, constant feedback to support learning and growth.

Local management of interdependencies – agile teams that are interacting with non-agile functions might feel misunderstood and unsupported. The organisation has to feel comfortable with allowing the teams to manage their interdependencies at a local level and the team must learn how to become aware of the system impacts of their own activities.  Two critical capabilities required for that: the ability to collaborate with others and system thinking.

Tolerance for self – directed teams -The agile teams require a successful arrangement of power moving away from direct and control to setting direction and adjusting in order to achieve their purpose. If the organisation’s tolerance for independence and self-governance does not increase, then this leads to a clash over autonomy between the local group and the larger system. The best way of increasing tolerance for self-directed teams is through setting a hierarchy of purpose where at every level there is an awareness of the purpose and direction of the organisation while considering the current reality and developing the capabilities for local management of interdependencies.

Spread phase – limiting conditions

Ready and able to seize a new opportunity as it arises

Organisational learning – the overall ability of the organisation to accept, learn and adopt new thinking is critical for spreading the agile teams. If you have invested all your focus on the growth of the initial teams and have not worked on developing learning capabilities across the wider community, spreading will be impossible. To overcome this limiting condition, organisations have to break the “silos”, distribute experts’ knowledge and allow participation and sharing of knowledge across all stakeholders.

Culture flexibility – Fear and anxiety are the most prevailing limiting conditions for any change to be successful and sustainable. This fear is rooted in the most common culture in organisations, the culture of winners and losers. It means that for new ways to spread other ways and the leaders that currently practice these must loose. It raises questions like: “am I safe?”, “am I good enough?”, “can I trust others to say I don’t know?”. On top of psychological safety, organisations must accept, demonstrate and embed diversity. Diversity will allow for a smoother inclusion of new thoughts and practices.

Evolving purpose – As agile teams grow in capabilities, deliver business results and gain credibility, they demand more self-governance, the ability to define their own boundaries and purpose and to set new targets.  As teams are learning to be aware of their context and collaborate with others, boundaries should be allowed to evolve.

 

Summary

The concept of agile teams as the winners in the future of work is taking hold with many organisation. To enable the agile teams to spread organisations must alter the limiting conditions that cause these ideas a premature death.

 

@Hadas Wittenberg is a Future of Work enabler and the founder of Adaptive Futures.

Stop the waste of the latest management fad

When I came out of university in the 90s, it was TQM. Then we moved into BPM and Process Re engineering, followed by six sigma and lean and lately, graduated into scaled Agile. During these many years I learned how to work in and with top down and matrix management, management by objectives and by consensus.  I Experienced the cubical office, the open space hot desking and the mandatory bean bags. I refer to all of these as management fads.

What is a management fad?

I characterize a management fad by the following:

  • Easy to understand by using principles and visual concepts that come with a clear process for management on what to do and how to use
  • Is tailored to answer the current/ latest business world problem: diversification, globalisation, digitalisation, automation, etc.
  • Claims to be universal regardless the industry, culture, size etc. hence “easy” to copy from another company as “best practice”, so you can be as successful as they are.
  • And finally, it is promoted by well recognised management experts that make a lot of money out of it.

It is true, I have been part of that system. Every few years a new promise takes over as the favorite among management consultants and executives. These management fads are usually not “new” rather they wrap century old values of money and control into a “new” something. These fads also come with new jobs.  Like the ISO auditors, Process engineers, Six sigma black belt ninjas, Agile coaches and many others.  All, there to help management ensure the “cut and paste” is done correctly. Fads are not fundamentally wrong, some have profoundly changed companies, for better or for worse. Some even introduced useful ideas that stayed longer than the fad itself. However, fads over promise and under deliver, hence doomed to be replaced by the next ones.

Why do we have these fads?

When I reflect on how come we fall for these repeatedly, I think the answer is management laziness. I can explain. We all know that the world (and business) problems are becoming significantly faster and more complex.  We also know that in most cases it requires us to:

  • Enable multidisciplinary collaboration of passionate and capable people, wanting to achieve something bigger then themselves
  • Learning, course correcting and becoming better at, and staying with it, until the problem is solved
  • Focus on creating value and reducing waste with in context and adaptive approaches

But changing values and behavior, navigating the complexity and needing effort and courage to progress is hard so we go for the fad. Think about it, loosing weight is simple: eat less, exercise more – right? So, how come we have a massive industry, billions of dollars, millions of experts and similar number of books and we are still on a promising trend for obesity? Same with management, we know the principles, but we hope that by buying into the latest we can get a quick fix.

I say to senior management, stop it. There is no one size fit all, there is no method that is better than the other, there is no consultant that knows better than you what your vision is and how to motivate and keep you and your team on track to create,  there is no end date or a magic transformation, and there is no pink pill. There is only a purpose, a desire to learn, and care for the people around you. All with limited resources and hard work.

But…!

If you need external push or specific advice, absolutely, get help. Get a (real) expert, get a good coach, get a useful tool, get a process that works. But own it, cause the change. It is your job and your problem to solve.

 

Hadas is the founder of Adaptive Futures and a future of work enabler.

The reason you don’t recruit the best talents

I found it interesting to read an article on the NZ Herald talking about the industry of personality tests as a way used by organisations to reduce the risk of recruiting the wrong people. (p.s. as opposed to increasing the chance of hiring the best people). It’s unfortunately, supporting my view that the challenge we are facing in New Zealand and elsewhere is a problem of talent waste not shortage. Our fundamental assumptions about work are causing our economy to be stuck on no growth and less pay.

When I arrived in New Zealand 17 years ago I was lucky. I somehow landed an interview on the first week with a hiring manager who was open minded and inclusive. He had no issue to consider someone for a leadership position that had no New Zealand or industry experience and not the best English. If I was not that lucky then and try it today, I would have straggled to even pass the “sophisticated” screening tests.  When later, I asked that person why he thought to hire me, his answer was “ability to demonstrate positive attitude, overcoming hardship and a passion for the task at hand”.

I took that answer as a guiding principle when later looking for people’s potential. However, throughout the years I was surprised to learn what are the common hiring and talent growth strategies and the way it is limiting potential with a set of assumptions that haven’t been tested. The current economy in New Zealand is of very low unemployment rate. This is considered a good problem to have. However, in this economy many of the existing recruitment and talents growth strategies are making organisation’s talents challenges even worse.

Some examples:

Screen for average

Organisations screen based on past skills and personality traits out of a very limited and not in their control pool. Because organisations assume these can limit mistakes. Most organisations recruit the same way: post a job, screen resumes, interview some people, pick whom to hire.  This is hiring for average.  Most top performers are not looking for work precisely because they are top performers, so they won’t be in that pool anyway. Further to that we apply screening as if we had plenty of candidates to select from based on criteria that no one can prove or link to performance. For example, why do we assume that to be an awesome UX designer in a bank requires previous experience in precisely the same job in the banking industry???.

Entrenching biases

Existing practices like Job descriptions and hiring decisions are entrenching biases not just based on gender, age, ethnicity etc. It is now becoming worse by the flooding of personality tests and AI key words, proclaiming to identify a fit with the organisation and the job before you even talk to the person. Most organisations are not really aware of the culture they currently have, and even if they do, not always this is the one they wish to have.  What makes up a person is far more complex than a set of words or letters combination to describe their personality. With a year of research I found no evidence that anyone showed a validated, predictable link between common tests used and performance. All we do is screening out diversity. Even the approach of matching with a model persona designed based on your current top performers is problematic as it ensures more of the same. (There are decades  of validated research about human personality psychology and motivation that are very useful for people to increase self awareness, it is more our understanding of how to use these researches that is the problem).

Filling the gaps

Hiring managers usually compromise on appointments to fill gaps assuming they can fix potential shortcomings with some training. Designing effective training is hard. It has to be personalised, in context, and internalised over a long period of time. In most cases organisations don’t actually know what and how to cause sustained improvement in performance, particularly when considering that a big (even if unknown) part of high performance is influenced by the environment (i.e. the manager, the team, the organisation culture, and the leadership style).  Add to that the commonly held financial point of view of “we don’t expect to invest much in talent growth because we assume people move around anyway”. But what happens if you don’t? I passionately believe in expanding peoples strengths, ensuring every experience is a growth experience. This is a positive sum game, where everyone wins.  Current approach ensures no growth hence flat productivity at best and people do leave, particularly the top performers because they are motivated by personal growth.

No use of data

We would have been better if we actually used data sourced from personality tests and other screening and performance data points to reflect and improve. Currently we still use like/ dislike and personal intuition as the best predictor of future success. Even if data is available, it is used only as supporting material at the beginning. Organisations don’t usually go back to reflect and improve. With a new sense making model , there is a huge opportunity to create new insights and positive actions based on big data derived from knowing people, knowing organisations and knowing performance.

 

To summaries, in my view there is an ever growing industry that is trying to pull the short blanket to cover skills gaps. This industry made not much difference in recent decades to people’s fulfillment or productivity growth. We have to fundamentally challenge our assumptions about work and the relationship between people, organisations and performance and design new strategies for  a different future.

 

@Hadas Wittenberg is a future of work enabler and founder of Adaptive Futures.

Is it time to uncover your core values?

Background

What is motivating one person to jump into a burning building to save someone else’s life? What is motivating an organisation to ignore the disruptor until it is too late? Or, what is motivating a country to open its borders to global influence?

I was reflecting on these questions for a while, particularly in the context of growth and the challenges people face when trying to achieve personal breakthroughs or organisational culture transformation. I assume that if we can understand and explain these motivations, we can direct our effort to have more, as related to the above examples, selflessness and innovation and less arrogance and decline.

In this post, Inspired by Richard Barrett theory, I present the cultural tipping point via a focus on a set of Breakthrough Values. I use this term in the context of organisational culture transformation. However, I believe the approach is also valid for individuals who want to achieve a breakthrough in their career.

Needs and Values explained

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is probably one of the most popular motivational theories in psychology. Maslow argued that humans are motivated by a hierarchy of needs, organised in five levels from the most basics to the highest. Humans tend to focus on the lower level needs before higher ones. The first four levels are described as Lack needs or External motivators. They drive motivation when they are unmet. While at the fifth level, needs are described as Growth needs or Intrinsic motivators. Where motivation increases the more the needs are fulfilled.

 

Values are intimately linked to our needs. Whatever we currently need, whatever we feel is important to us or what is unmet from our past is what we value. Richard Barrett argues that there are two types of values – positive values that promote growth and create internal cohesion and limiting values that are driven by fears and anxieties and can lead to stress and isolation. He also suggests that it is critical to maintaining a balanced spread of positive values to ensure both growth and grounding capabilities.

An updated model

Going back to the question “What is motivating an organisation to ignore the disruptor until it is too late?”. It might sound like a counter-intuitive question, as we usually think about motivation as a positive concept. However, the story of Kodak is a famous example. Kodak actually saw the future of digital cameras and that photos could be shared online. However, motivated to continue being the best and dominating the printing market they failed to see that photos shared online ARE the future market. What Kodak was missing might have been valuing courage to change direction and adapting to a totally new world. All humans and organisations are motivated to fulfil the Lack Needs. And while as humans we also have the desire to reach full potential, many of us get stuck, spending excessive effort in a space, where reputation and success are a common concern.

In a previous post, I discussed the fact that the dominating culture across the western world is a culture obsessed with success, defined as “I am great and you are not”. This culture lacks focus on core values that create growth. Latest trends in management consultancy advice are highlighting the need for organisations to adopt values like teamwork, creativity and purpose. However, the move from fulfilling lack needs to growth needs require a breakthrough step to overcome our implicit assumptions and fears.

I suggest that to have a breakthrough toward achieving full potential, organisations should reach a cultural tipping point by adopting and focusing on breakthrough values. Values like Courage, perseverance, accountability, continues learning, and adaptability that enables overcoming fears hence opening the opportunities for growth. These values combined with a balanced set of positive values addressing both Lack and Growth needs will allow organisations to achieve their potential while maintaining feet on the ground and offer stability at times of real crisis.

The below diagram describes the cultural tipping point as an updated version of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

 

 

Nest steps for reaching a cultural tipping point

In order to get on the journey organisations can take the following steps:

  1. Understand the organisation’s actual core values and implicit assumptions using a validated framework or a model. Unfortunately, people are unaware of their culture until it is challenged, until they experience a new culture, or until it is made explicit through a framework or model.
  2. Acknowledge the implicit assumptions that are driving excessive focus on limiting values. Then, reframe to eliminate these from the organisation. Regardless what future culture leadership might want to create, reducing the negative effect of limiting values is critical.
  3. Prioritise focus on breakthrough values; define the set of behaviours that are demonstrated through these values;  and, take the first step in making decisions based on these values.
  4. Once an organisation is able to understand how values, implicit assumptions and culture are all linked together to enable performance and embedded its set breakthrough values, it can move to embrace a future set of values for continues growth.

 

@Hadas Wittenberg is a Future of Work enabler and founder of Adaptive-Futures. Hadas helps organisations and individuals’ growth through reimagining work.

References:

Kim S Cameron, Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, Third Edition: Based on the Competing Values Framework 3rd Edition

Richard Barrett, Values-driven organization, 2nd Edition

Saul Mclaud, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

Organisational culture change is hard work

Background

There is a growing acknowledgement of the link between the type of culture that exists in an organisation, the level of personal engagement and the organisation’s overall success. However, only few organisations cracked the secret of how to move their culture and leverage it for strategic advantage.

In response to a previous post, I was asked a question about culture. While being a very popular topic on the leadership agenda I feel that clarity on what it is and what to do with it will be helpful. In this post, I bring together some of the simpler and, in my view, more comprehensive researches. I hope to turn the culture conversation from a “fluffy/ too hard/ nice to have…“, into a useful tool for both individuals and organisations growth.

Definition of culture

Culture is not posters on the walls, what the CEO declares as the new way, the managers’ personal style, or what is agreed in the strategic planHerb Kelleher (founder of southwest airlines) describe it as “…It’s not formulaic. The way I describe it is this huge mosaic that you’re always adding little pieces to make it work. And it’s not a job that you do for six months and then you just say, “Well, that’s behind us.” It’s something you do every day”

Culture is defined by the attitudes and behaviours of the majority of people in the organisation. this includes what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within the group. It is the day to day of the collective, and because of that, it is hard to change. Culture is the how in which strategy is executed. Culture can support and promote the organisation strategy or hinder it. When aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash significant amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and a thriving organisation.

 

Culture framework

 Culture stages

Framework principles

  1. Culture stage can be described by the words most people use in the organisation in relation to the way people interact with each other and the way in which they respond to change.
  2. Culture is an evolutionary process. As such, with intentional effort leadership can evolve an organisation’s culture. However like with any evolution, you can’t skip stages, you can’t stabilise the change until a tipping point is achieved, and you can’t time it.
  3. Since culture is a group phenomenon, most people in the organisation should be at the same stage to allow evolution. But, for exactly the same reason, unstable culture can disintegrate into lower stages.
  4. People “fit” into the different cultures is described in a similar way using personality traits. Note that for earlier stages of cultures, “fit” is achieved through fear vs. the individual’s preferences.
  5. Inherent in the framework are fundamental trade-offs. Although each cultural value can be beneficial on its own, natural constraints and competing demands force difficult choices about which values to emphasise and how people are expected to behave.

Why change?

The dominating culture across the western world is the culture of stage 3. The achievement worldview profoundly shapes today’s management practices. Most business leaders, MBA programs and management thinking are shaped by the hallmarks of this culture. Hence, when considering a shift from stage 3 to 4 it is particularly challenging because the current culture had served the organisations well for many years. Since the industry emphasises efficiency and results, this culture is perceived by most management as a strength.

However, this culture that created the prosperity of the modern world is also the one that is depleting the world’s natural resources and destroying the ecosystems upon which our survival depends. It is the culture of few winners and increasing inequality. It is a culture that is solely materialistic and that does not answer to humans longing for meaning and being part of something bigger.

People and organisations that have chosen to evolve to be part of a culture that operates at stage 4 and 5 report feeling more alive and having more fun, learning becomes effortless and stress goes down,  engagement is consistently high hence people seek employment in the company and stay, taking the company a long way toward having the talents to succeed.

Descriptions of each stage

Stage 1

Historically, organisations emerged when tribes organised to attack neighbouring tribes. Today this culture still exists in organisations like the Mafia or drug-dealing street gangs. Other examples are enterprises where founder-bosses do whatever it takes to succeed. They get involved in everything, regardless of structures or processes that would constrain their ability to “get things done”.

At this stage of cultural evolution, people are united by the fear and basic instincts of survival. When they are together, they form isolated gangs with absolute loyalty to the group. The theme of their words is that life has given them a bad deal, so it’s ok to do whatever it takes to survive.

Stage 2

Organisations at this stage have clear ranks up the hierarchical pyramid.  Many armies, religious institutions, government agencies, public school systems, and universities are still run today along the lines of this culture. They often operate on the hidden assumption that there is one right way of doing things, that the world should not change, and that lifelong employment should be the norm.

The focus of this culture is on predictability, risk consciousness and careful planning, respect, structure, and shared norms.

Under the protection of rules and traditions, people usually do the minimum to get by, showing almost no initiative or passion.  Passive-aggressive behaviour is the norm, i.e. people spend their time ignoring the organisation directives while telling people in charge that they are on board.

Stage three

At this cultural stage, the organisation metaphor is the organisation as a machine. The people in the organisation use the language of units and layers, inputs and outputs, efficiency and effectiveness, information flows and bottlenecks, Humans are resources, re-engineering and rightsizing.

In this culture, the values are authority and results. The culture is characterised by achievement and winning, strength, decisiveness, and boldness.

The work environments are competitive places where people strive to gain personal advantage and aspire to achieve top performance. People engage in anything that’s going on, with energy and commitment, but when you listen closely, they talk mostly about themselves and focus on appearing smarter and better than others. People operating in this stage usually complain that they don’t have enough time or support and that the people around them aren’t as good or as committed as they are. Winning is all that matters, and winning is personal.

Stage Four.

At stage four, the organisation language is about family or a community. Where everyone has a place, where colleagues look after one another, where the happiness of every member is important to the organisation’s overall success.  The leaders in this culture often strive to inspire employees to great things, leading them to outperform more traditional command-and-control organisations.

This culture value Learning and Enjoyment characterised by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity often expressed through fun and excitement. Work environments are inventive and open-minded places where people generate new ideas and explore alternatives and where people tend to do what makes them happy.

People form partnerships and operate as part of teams that are focused around shared values and has a common purpose. People build relationships based on shared values and the language is about what is the right thing to do, not what is good for me.

Stage Five.

There are very few organisations that operate consistently at stage 5. If you listen to the leaders of these organisations, they talk about their organisation as a living organism or a living system (as opposed to a machine or a family). In this culture, people collaborate and work toward a noble cause, propelled from their values.

In this culture, leadership has a different role. When Jos de Blok (Buurtzog) was asked how is he motivating the people that work for Buurtsog his answer was ” I am not. This is a sort of patronizing, I think. My most important assignment is to keep out all the problems so that people can do their work”.

The culture is of caring and purpose. Caring focuses on relationships and mutual trust. Work environments are warm, collaborative, and welcoming places where people help and support one another. Loyalty unites the employees; Purpose is exemplified by idealism and altruism. Work environments are tolerant, compassionate places where people try to do good for the long-term future of the world.

In this culture, the group is focused on creating a better world not about winning over the competition. People talk about limitless potential, caped only by the imagination and the group commitment. People in this culture can find a way to work with almost anyone, as long as their commitment to values is at the same intensity as their own. There is almost no fear, stress, or workplace conflict.

What’s next

Evolving organisation’s culture is not easy; however, it is one of the only few levers left with leaders who want to create a long-term sustainable and impactful organisation. Leadership has a critical role in enabling the desired culture. In order to shift a culture, you have to consider the following:

  1. Accurately assess your own and your organisation’s cultural stage. Understand what outcomes different cultures produce and how it does or doesn’t align with the current and anticipated market and business conditions. When designing a target culture, it has to be in context and relate to tangible problems
  2. Foster leadership that is more culturally advanced than the organisation current stage. The leaders must align with the values of the target culture and committed to personal growth.
  3. Be able to understand and talk all culture stages languages as you enable the evolution of the individuals which might be at different stages.
  4. Be ready to shift your concept of leadership. At stage 4 and 5 leaders have no directive power, their primary role is to “hold the space” for the culture to emerge and that no earlier stages practices creep back in.

@Hadas Wittenberg is a future of work enabler and founder of Adaptive-Futures

References:

Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations: An Illustrated Invitation to Join the Conversation on Next-Stage Organizations. Nelson Parker.

Logan, Dave. Tribal Leadership Revised Edition: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. HarperBusiness

Boris Groysberg, J. L.-J. (January – February 2018). The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture. HBR.