Organisations are like elephants – they learn through conditioning.
Trainers shackle young elephants with heavy chains to deeply embedded stakes.
After years of being chained, older elephants never try and leave even though they have the strength to pull the stakes out. Their conditioning limits their movements with only a small metal bracelet around their foot – attached to nothing
Like elephants, many companies are bound by earlier conditioning restraints. “We have always done it this way” is a limit to an organisation’s progress especially in this new era of enhanced speed.
In order to survive in this new society you have to let go of the shackles of the past. Too many organisations still have metal bracelets around their feet. However to make things happen you need to mobilise the support of your people behind your change.
And the process through which to do this: COMMUNICATION. My questions to you or to ask your clients is this:
- “What shackles are constraining communication flow in your organisation”
- Isn’t it about time for a relook or a new look at communication practices in your company?
Who – or What is right?
Just because you are right, does not mean that you need to exercise that point or view.
We are not fish who have to take a bait. What is more important- Winning the War or winning a battle?
We have choice, and I think that a lot of people have lost that ability to think about the decisions they make. As Postman & Weingartner said in Teaching as a Subversive Activity….we need to become crap detectors.
Even Anthony Robbins indicated that it is useful to sometimes check your own values and beliefs, to see if they are still relevant.
But anyway, I just thought I would share this story.
An old man and a young boy were travelling through their village with their donkey. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.
As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.
The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.
Later, they passed some people that remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.”
They then decided they both would walk!
Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.
Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey”.
The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.
The moral of the story?
If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye!
As an employee, individual and citizen of this country we are faced with this dichotomy every day of our lives.
As an employee, you may find yourself at a barbecue when someone turns around and asks you what it is like working for your organisation? Now do you tell the truth – after all transparency and the truth are vital today or do you give the traditional corporate talking head version: “We are a company of integrity, a company of beer and roses?”
As a citizen the South African government expects you to be a proud citizen, an ambassador of this country but on the other hand you experience and deal with crime and corruption every day. Must you therefore be loyal and not speak the truth?
The media is castigated for speaking the truth or apparently only giving their version- for not reporting enough on the good news. Again, truth versus loyalty! How do we balance this in our organisations?
In other organisations, serious witch hunts are undertaken when a mysterious e-mail surfaces highlighting contentious issues and incidents. Again, what do organisations want? Truth or Loyalty?
As an employee what should you do about issues in your organisation? Speak up and get “bombed?” Speak up and be castigated as an “impimpi?” (A spy) Phone a friend in the media? BCC the wrong person? Leave it until it destroys your organisation’s good name? Apply for protection under some act that deals with protective disclosure?
Here are a few questions you should ask in this context and ideas that you can use:
- What is the state of upwards flow of communication in your organisation? Is the process working well?
- Are you relying on tools such as anonymous hotlines and other forms of media? Who measures their effectiveness and efficiency? Does your hotline to which people can call in or ask a question work? Can I phone it without fear of negative repercussions? Do you have in place a cross-functional panel which can respond and provide recommended alternates if needed?
- Do you have an active suggestion scheme operating in your organisation? Ideas are the lifeblood of innovation.
- Take a close look at the Occupational Health & Safety Act and its communication system. It is a tried and tested system that works well under the right conditions. Can you learn from it?
- Examine statistics such as exit interviews, internal audit reports, safety records, etc.
Three men were working. Each one was busy with a trowel, cement and bricks.
A passer-by went up to the first one, who looked very bored, and asked him what he was doing.
" I’m laying bricks", he said sullenly. The passer-by then asked the second man, who looked somewhat more enthusiastic, the same question: "I’m building a church", he replied. Asking the same question to the third man who was whistling while he was working, the passer-by was astounded when he replied: " I am building a cathedral".
What are you building? Why do you work for your company? What is the underlying reason your firm is operational?
We all need a purpose, a vision, a mission – call it what you like – to motivate us to action.
A vision is a rallying cry. It is a short, powerful statement. It empowers people and makes them believe that they can do.
Think about the following:
- We will overcome!
- Workers of the world unite!
- Viva! Amandla!
What is your company’s vision? Is it a rallying cry?
Or is it like one of those typical long-winded corporate statements on the walls in reception areas.
Are you living that vision?
Your choice should depend on the situation, whether you are exchanging information, seeking the solution to a problem, interviewing or counselling.
But before we speak about questions, we need to take a step backward. I believe that we need to first understand the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROBLEM AND A DECISION.
A problem is a "train off a track". Something has not gone the way it was planned or expected to. Problem solving is finding out the reasons why and the possibility of getting things back on track. Decisions are about deciding which alternative is best.
To become adept at solving problems you need to master both analytical and creative problem solving techniques, so that you can ask the relevant questions. For instance there are times when you need to ask objective questions – these are to ask for specific information. "What evidence do you have for that conclusion?" "How have you been handling this process?" "What factors are necessary to raise your Customer Satisfaction Index?"
Problem Solving questions – ask these when you want action ideas. "What should you do next?" "How would you implement the steps we just discussed?"
"Why are we so much better at answering questions than at answering the right questions? Is it because we are trained at school and university to answer questions that others have asked? If so, should we be trained to ask questions?" [Or trained to ask the complete set of right questions in the right way?] Trevor Kletz (Analog Science Fiction, January 1994, p195)
One of the problems with looking for solutions to problems is that we always come to a problem with our years of experience behind us. This can sometimes direct our thinking down certain familiar paths, and we can miss other paths which might lead to better solutions.
When people do this, always tell them this quote – In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few — Shunryu Suzuki
One way to help overcome this tendency is to force yourself to approach a problem from a completely different point of view. Alex Osborn in his pioneering book Applied Imagination talks about "Questions as spurs to ideation", and outlines about 75 idea-spurring questions in his book.
The simplest set of questions comes from the six basic questions:
- Why is it necessary?
- Where should it be done?
- When should it be done?
- Who should do it?
- What should be done?
- How should it be done?
Osborn went on with the following questions:
Adapt? Modify? Substitute? Magnify/Maximise? Minimise/Eliminate? Rearrange? Reversal? Combine?
Start applying these questions to your problems and see what ideas come forth.
In your quest for learning to ask different questions, you should read Michael Michalko’s book Thinkertoys in which he describes the rearrangement of the above questions into the mnemonic SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse)
You should also consider the 7s Mckinsey Framework. My own perspective is that the type of decision isn’t as important, as knowing the questions to consider, or having a good model which shows different considerations to explore.
- What’s the impact on people?
- What’s the impact on process?
- Impact on Technology?
- Impact on the marketplace?
- Impact on the business?
- Impact on Reputation, Trust & Integrity?
The best I believe is a combination of a systematic and creative approach to problem solving and decision-making. Understanding different models of thinking will enable you to look different at every situation or to apply the right question to the right problem.
As someone once said: "Solutions often lies in the question not asked".
As a keen observer of reputational issues around the Globe, it has always intrigued me that once a reputation risk incident has happened, that the organisation’s culture are often found to be the main cause and culprit.
At NASA (Challenger & Columbia space shuttle disasters) and Andersen (Enron), and even now BP (Complacency), corporate culture was implicated. This means that as Reputation Managers we will need to take a careful look at our culture and its potential danger to our reputation.
This lends itself to the question: “What is Corporate Culture and how can we positively influence it as part of our reputation management initiatives?”
Another question to ask is, is there a relationship between organizational culture, performance and reputation?
The definition offered by most is that "Culture is the way we do things around here." But the other day, I heard this. Culture is how we intuitively do things around here.
In other words its the way things get done without really thinking about how we’re going to do it. And therein lies the reputational risk danger. Like Dr. Roger von Oech wrote in his book – a Whack on the side of the Head. “Where all men think alike, no one thinks”.
Culture is essentially the core beliefs, traditions, customs, and established patterns of behavior held and practiced by members of an organization.
If this is true can culture be pinned to a table and dissected? Can it be reduced to bullet points on a flipchart?
It’s not necessarily the same as the values and mission the company puts in the front of their annual report, or the behaviours and processes outlined in their policy manual, although it can be.
What Corporate Culture is however; is the everyday actions, statements, and presumptions of the people who work there. The unwritten rules. The things that are taken as a given. The way we intuitively do things around here.
If you ask an employee why they do *this* instead of *that* and they respond "We’ve always done it that way" that process has become cultural. If it’s merely understood that you can call your boss by their first name, but you address everyone else of your bosses rank or higher by their last name, it’s culture.
If employees understand that they can question anything that doesn’t seem "right" this can be assumed to be engrained in their culture. If it’s understood that you never question anything, that’s culture too.
Edgar Schein, the OD expert (among others) points out that culture exists in layers.
It is often compared to an iceberg. The level that is visible above the surface is the level of behavior. This is the easiest layer to observe and change but it is affected by invisible layers underneath.
The first invisible layer of culture below the surface, according to Schein, is the layer of values:what we care about and what we think is important. You can’t observe values directly the same way you observe behavior but you can certainly infer what they are from the way people act.
The deepest layer of culture – and the hardest one to observe, measure, or change – is the layer of fundamental beliefs.
The three layers interact, of course.
Let me give an oversimplified example. Suppose we have a fundamental belief that employees are basically lazy and that left to their own devices, they’ll just goof off. We’d probably place high values on control systems that allow managers to closely scrutinize employee performance and make sure that employees aren’t getting away with anything. Our behavior would reflect these values. If you asked us about it, we’d tell you that our control systems are just the way our company does business. We might not even be able to articulate the underlying belief about employee laziness that leads to this behavior. While it might not be hard to get us to change some aspects of our control systems, it might be very challenging to get us to change our fundamental beliefs about human nature. (Theory X & Y)
Organizational cultures tend to be self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating. People who share our beliefs will be attracted to our organization; people who believe otherwise will tend to go elsewhere.
Here is an example of how culture can be formed and create reputational risk.
1. Behaviours that produce positive outcomes (not necessarily positive for the organization, but positive for the person) are repeated. Others see the positive outcome and emulate the behavior and get similar results. A belief springs up that this is an accepted way to behave, and it becomes engrained as cultural. This is what we do, even if the written rules say don’t do that.
A practical example is the attitude of self-enrichment by executives in accepting outrageous pay schemes without due concern over the messages they portray. Workers then start to enrich themselves through shoplifting and other wasteful techniques.
2. Behaviours that produce negative outcomes (again, not necessarily negative for the organization, but negative for the person) are avoided. Others see the negative outcome and avoid the behavior. A belief springs up that this is a risky way to behave, and it becomes engrained as cultural. We just don’t do that, even if we are told it’s the right thing to do.
A Practical example would be that of speaking up or whistle blowing. The moment people see how a whistleblower is treated, they will be scared. Like the vernacular in South Africa. In Zulu they speak about an impimpi – being a spy. No one wants to be branded in this way, yet from a risk management perspectives we want them to speak up so that we can deal with issues whilst they are still small.
This procession can eventually lead to a culture that is overall positive and nurturing or negative and oppressive, depending on which behaviours prove rewarding and which prove to have unpleasant consequences.
Most cultures fall somewhere in between. One thing I am certain of is that once a culture is established, changing those fundamental core beliefs is probably the most difficult challenge in OD and Reputation Management.
In most reputation risk root cause analyses, I have found that the culture had a lot to do with the fundamental root cause of the risk that emerged.
To prevent unnecessary reputation risk in your own organisation, I would recommend that you work closely with your colleagues in OD/Organisational Behavior to impact the corporate culture in a positive way.
Listening is a key concept in stakeholder management. By listening to your stakeholders you can gather valuable information, plug gaps and design appropriate strategies to maximise relationships and reputation.
A Valuable but underutilised tool in many companies is the suggestion scheme. The suggestion scheme can be very useful to pick up hints and ideas to improve processes but could also be seen as a risk management tool. Employees may sometimes use this scheme to communicate issues and risks that exist.
I always check the use of this scheme when doing a communications audit and have been astounded by how few organisations have a flourishing scheme. Almost always the statement is that it is not working. This reflects a lack of strategic planning and championing of the process.
Perhaps this will help you to plan for or revive your suggestion scheme.
ARE MANAGEMENT & STAFF OPEN TO NEW IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS?
Before a Suggestion Scheme/Box can be implemented you must consider whether a climate for innovation exist in the organisation.For instance, can any individual answer yes to these two types of questions:
- "In my business unit new ideas are welcomed and management is willing to support you in the subsequent implementation".
- "People in my Business unit are open-minded and accept the possibility that there may be better ways of achieving the same objectives"
It is my belief that you will be asking people to be creative and innovative and yet most people don’t believe that they are creative or, are stifled when they are.You will have to provide interventions such as training to enable staff to think beyond the boundaries.
Your aim should be: " How can we stimulate the creative thinking of our people". There is enormous creative potential locked inside the heads of staff, "How can we tap it?"
It starts way before a suggestion box or a suggestion scheme.
Every Organisation suffers from innovation inhibitors – attitudes and policies that limit the search for new ideas. For example, a group of senior managers at a large educational research institution reported recently that managers tend to resist good ideas suggested by subordinates. That is a clear organisational inhibitor to innovation.
In order for the suggestion scheme to work you will have to create awareness of these inhibitors and provide interventions to overcome them. You could for example run a course, on Creativity and Innovation for Senior Management, covering topics such as types of creativity and the creative process, types of thinking, characteristics of the creative organisation, methods to stimulate creativity and innovation and breaking the barriers to corporate creativity.
This will start to create a climate in which suggestions can flourish.
Here is some specific notes on suggestion boxes/schemes that you can use. The suggestion scheme can be approached from two angles i.e.:
- A new idea scheme
- A cost saving scheme
PLANNING THE SUGGESTION SCHEME
An analysis of suggestion schemes in world-wide shows that the formula or success in implementing the schemes are as follows:
1. All details of the system must be well planned from the definition of a suggestion to evaluation and award criteria.
2. Responsibility for programmed co-ordination must be assigned to a responsible management member (someone who will "Champion" the cause).
3. Programme details and procedures must be clearly communicated to all employees.
4. Top management must visibly and enthusiastically support the programme and communicate it’s continual commitment to it.
5. Acknowledgements must be prompt.
6. The program must receive ongoing publicity.
I strongly believe that suggestion schemes can work, if properly administered. The question that will arise from the individual is normally: "What is in it for me?"
Adequate financial incentives should be provided but that is not enough.What people really want is public acknowledgement, personal expression of appreciation coupled with financial incentives.
SELLING THE BENEFITS OF A SCHEME
To ensure that a suggestions scheme will succeed, you will have to "sell it" to management and staff, preferably from the top down.
The following steps could prove advantageous in doing so:
1. At the launch of the scheme – the purpose, details and advantages should be spelled out to them orally and then followed up with a written document.
2. An attractive notice or poster, briefly summarising the essential features of the scheme and designed to draw attention to it, should be placed on notice boards in the branches.
3. A suggestion Committee should be selected on the basis of their technical and managerial knowledge to appraise and rate the suggestions fairly and accurately. (Some members noted for their creativity should be included).
4. The suggestions should be evaluated on a regular basis, i.e. bi-monthly.
It is essential that suggestions should be dealt with promptly, so that staff may be assured of the sincere desire of management to receive and evaluate suggestions.
5. Regardless of its value, every suggestion should be acknowledged promptly and as soon as possible the employee who made the suggestion should be advised of the outcome thereof, by personal interview or letter.
This will prevent staff from losing interest in the scheme.
6. Any usable suggestion should result in some definite recognition to the employee concerned, ranging from: Honourable mention, or letter of appreciation to a maximum cash award.
7. In order to ensure impartiality on the part of the members of the committee it is desirable that the person who comes with the idea’s identity be unknown to them to prevent bias.
8. Every suggestion that is adopted should be noted on the staff member’s service record for consideration when the question of promotion arises.
9. The Suggestion Scheme could also be viewed as a complaints channel provided the Department head’s authority is not undermined.
Due thought needs to be given to the award criteria. These can range from tangible to intangible awards.
Financial awards could consist of various grades of suggestions per company ranging from Overall award for the year to Quarterly awards. It can,however,be assisted by other methods:
A Floating Trophy.A large floating trophy should be purchased and be given annually to the company or branch which came up with the best reward, at either the Annual Conference or the AGM. The individual and regions name should be engraved on nameplates and mounted on the trophy. Another factor is that this trophy can be held and displayed at the winning office for the period between judging, thus generating regional pride.
PUBLICIZING THE SCHEME
You will have to actively drive and sell the programme. This could be effected by:
- The running of promotional campaigns, i.e. using well designed posters, circulars in pay packets etc.
- Placing photos of staff awarded and an article should be published in the in- house magazine and corporate newsletter.
- Another alternative can be involvement by the HR Division. The design and running of a "Creativity and Innovation" training workshops can assist in the process. The benefit of this course will be that Managers, including staff, will know how to evaluate ideas, generate ideas and how to share ideas.
- A climate for suggestions can be created.
What are you doing to capture the thoughts and ideas (the intellectual capital) of your employees? Time and time again research has shown that employees have ideas that can benefit the organisation.
Unfortunately ideas and thoughts are like light bulbs. If not captured, they disappear at the flick of a switch.
Meetings …a place where they take minutes and waste hours! Meetings…It’s unfair to compare a meeting with a funeral. Funerals have a definite purpose!
I am sure you have heard these comments and more. I was going to give some tips and decided against it. This poem just sums it up.
The Committee – by Phong Ngo
Oh, give me a pity, I’m on a committee
Which means that from morning to night
We attend and amend and contend and defend
Without a conclusion in sight.
We confer and concur, we defer and demur
And re-iterate all of our thoughts
We revise the agenda with frequent addenda
And consider a load of reports.
We compose and propose, we suppose and oppose
And the points of procedure are fun!
But though various notions are brought up as motions
There’s terribly little gets done.
We resolve and absolve, but never dissolve
Since it’s out of the question for us.
What a shattering pity to end our committee
Where else could we make such a fuss?
How can you make your meetings a joy to attend? Think about it! I know many ways how.