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And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
Robert Burns wrote these words some 225 years ago but they still come back to haunt us time and time again as a stark reminder of how easy it is for perceptions to go awry. The multiple scandals of the past few years have thrown up some incredible examples of blatant disregard for customers and for fellow colleagues and yet at the same time as these were going on financial institutions were telling customers that they had their best interests at heart.
And it’s not just financial institutions which say one thing and act another. Corporate slogans may say that customers come first, that the company is a sustainability leader, or that innovation is at the heart of everything they do; but look behind the ad-speak and the reality may be far different. In fact one of the hardest tasks which we face as consultants is to shatter the illusions of corporate leaders and lay bare the truth of how the organisation actually performs.
So you think you have a strong and positive company culture, you think your employees are fully engaged and innovation runs like a thread through all of your operations? If that is the case then why are there so many complaints on social media, why is sickness and staff turnover growing, why do so many ideas falter before they can reach fruition? The intention may be there at the top, the slogans may sit neatly on your website but how far down the chain of command does the impetus reach?
The trouble is that it is one thing to have a belief, to sit in the boardroom discussing grand schemes and plans; quite another to translate those ideas into practice. Ideas only translate into reality when time and effort is taken in engaging the hearts and minds of those who have to live the ideas on a daily basis. Simply getting employees together and telling them that in future they will be innovative is doomed to failure. Announcing to the markets that in future the company will be embracing a culture of sustainability means nothing if the only way a project will meet agreed timescales is through huge materials wastage.
To truly live the dream means taking time, it means getting the middle managers to embrace the change and to act as gatekeepers to diffuse the new culture throughout the organisation. It means encouraging employees to feel that they truly have a voice and it means accepting that some short term gains may need to be sacrificed for long term profit.
None of this will happen unless the drive is there, but also none of this will happen if the leadership team continues to rule rather than to guide. The larger the organisation the more layers of management there tend to be and under an autocratic system many of these layers are engaged solely in a self-preservation exercise. That means that every message downwards is passed through multiple ‘what’s in it for me’ filters whilst every message upwards is distorted by buck passing and back watching.
The result is that the leadership sit in ignorance, believing that all is well and that the culture which they have dictated is on course. But all is not lost. Exercises such as The Engage Model and Organisation Cultural Assessments which get under the skin of an organisation can throw up some nasty surprises but they also give companies the power to see themselves as others see them. Every successful cultural change starts with a deep understanding of where the business truly is at the start and as long as the leadership is prepared to do what it takes; self-knowledge and a change of culture can lead to a future free from ‘many a blunder.’