Our client work begins with a diagnosis of the system of an organization – particularly a close look at the Transformational issues the organization is challenged by and how well prepared it is to respond.
There are three components to a thorough diagnosis of an organization – take a look at these and try a quick, beginning diagnosis of your own organization! (We note here that we are indebted to the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky as well as the work of TAG partners Kevin Ford and Jim Osterhaus in their new and important book The Secret Sauce: Creating A Winning Culture.)
The three components are Structure, Culture, and Default Processes.
Structure includes rewards and incentives, organizational charts, reporting relationships, communication practices, hiring and termination processes, and compensation philosophies.
A key question here is “What behaviors are supported and rewarded by our structure?”. It’s an old and reliable adage that we get the behavior we reward, not the behavior we say we value. While structure feels like nuts and bolts engineering, it is in fact a powerful, subtle reinforcer of what the organization values and how agile and adaptable it has the potential of being.
Exercise: List all of your organization’s structures on a whiteboard in one column. In the next column, describe how and if each structure either supports or restricts your ability to carry out your mission.
Ford and Osterhaus have written perhaps the most thorough and useful work on crafting a winning and healthy organizational culture (yes, we are biased, but…).
In their book they prove the ‘why’ of the saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. In fact, culture snacks on almost anything else. The great differentiator between pretty good and really great organizations is a winning culture which is on its way to finding its own unique “secret sauce”.
A winning culture is an expression of the universal desire “to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference”. This culture is expressed in such facets as stories, heroes, architecture, group norms (such as dress codes) and meeting practices (who is ‘need to know’, who gets invited to what meeting, who leads meetings).
Culture sometimes feels ‘squishy’ because its standards are generally not written down, but it is a powerful, unseen, all encompassing force that largely determines attitudes, behavior, and employee engagement.
Exercise: List the elements of your culture. Which of these make it easy for you to respond quickly to internal and external challenges, and which slow you down?
Most all of us become comfortable with things that have worked in the past. This goes for individuals and for organizations. And it goes for groups in organizations. As Heifetz, Linsky, and Grashow say “When people in an organization find that a certain response to a particular kind of situation worked well previously, they will likely repeat that response whenever they encounter an apparently similar situation”.
Over time, this gets worked into the fabric of the way our organizations work. What’s worked generates predictable ways of looking at things, which generates predictable actions. Default interpretations become default instincts become default responses become default processes.
But there are problems with defaults. What works in one time and place – even repeatedly – may not work in others. A default can blind us to new ways of seeing, responding, and deciding.
Exercise: Choose a default process your organization practices. Dig a little deeper. What point of view about the world does this process represent? What behavior does this point of view result in every time? Are there times when this behavior has NOT been effective? Contrast that instance with the times it was effective.
It will take some time, thought, and courage but working through these exercises in three steps will present a good diagnosis on how prepared your organization is for change and where you might need some coaching and encouragement to get to the next level!