Symptoms of Organizations on the Cusp of Change

The purpose of an organization is to enable people in doing meaningful work that delivers value to the customers and hence to the business.

Organizations start purely with this promise but when they scale, they end up stifling people’s ability to deliver value.

In his insightful post titled 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, Mark Raheja says,

“In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.”

The post further offers 8 symptoms of organizations on the cup of change. I recommend reading the full post to get a view on how organizations today can become more responsive and less bureaucratic.

And here is a sketch note I created while reading the post.


Leadership Belief and Building ‘People-Centric’ Culture

As a leader, you can lead others with a belief that “people are good” – or with a fear that people will default. Your belief is reflected in the way you structure up your leadership team, set up governance processes and treat people. You can choose to provide space and freedom for people to perform or suffocate them with stringent monitoring policies.

Managing by inducing fear (penalties woven in the processes) undermines trust amongst people – and between groups that work together. It undermines the attitude that we all need to grow, improve, prosper and most importantly – SERVE. It undermines the meaning people find in their work. It undermines freedom – which is so essential for people to think abundant. With fear, people are instigated to do wrong, to fudge the details and to dispassionately comply. Does it help?

Here are a few most prominent thoughts about building a people-oriented work culture:

  • Building culture is a choice – and that choice is driven by beliefs. If you strongly believe in people (and their goodness), that belief drives the choice of culture.
  • Choice matters only when it is acted upon – do what you decide, in the way you treat people, design compensation/reward policies, do hiring, create environment and set up processes within your organization.
  • Understand tradeoffs – when you choose to be people oriented, lot of people (factory-advocates) may suggest stringent processes to monitor people, control assets and increase their productivity. Take a call only after revisiting your belief system about people. Building a culture (like building anything) is a painful process that demands taking tough calls and understanding risks.
  • Train People: Focus on your middle management and ensure that they completely understand the belief system and culture. Build processes so that new hires learn the culture, understand it and most importantly, FEEL it.

We are out of the factory mode where fear worked. No longer in knowledge world, where people have a choice between doing “good enough” and doing “great”, between ”simply cruising along” and “driving”. People choose to give their best (discretionary effort) only when they are free, when they are out of fear, when they are believed in and supported.

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P.S: My post Survival mindset, abundance and leadership was featured in The HR Carnival – Summertime Edition along with a host of other GREAT posts on people management, leadership and culture building. If you are a manager, leader or an HR professional – this Carnival will add a lot of value to what you do.

The Best Time To Think About Processes…

… is when you are still small. That is when implementing process is easier and less risky. In the growth phase of the organization, business leaders get overly obsessed with growth (numbers, targets, team size etc.) without thinking how growth will be sustained (culture, processes, tools). The more you wait for your processes to be defined, the more damage it does. It is difficult (and costly) to implement process after you have attained a certain size – for two reasons:

  • Implementation takes more time, more training, more people, more friction and hence more costs.
  • Implementing processes is less about implementing robotic procedures and more about forming habits and changing the culture of the organization.

The bigger problem: In absence of processes, people will work according to their “personal” process (which is based on their past experiences).  What may be “right” for one person may be absolutely absurd for the another – because they see things through their own personalized lenses. This also happens when dealing with customers, managing people and approaching the work. There is a lot of disparity between performances of teams – and most of the time, performances of teams are governed by who is managing the team (and who all are a part of the team). Success is largely a result of individual heroism.

As a start-up business, you need to think about your processes when you are still small. When habits are still forming. When culture is still taking a shape. That is where, processes help you shape the culture and mindset of your core team. Thinking of processes while you are still small may sound little overwhelming for a moment – but if you take a long term view, the benefits are obvious. (Isn’t leadership all about taking a long term view?)

Bottom line: Have processes as an integral part of your business plan – even before you start up. If you want to build a sustainable and high-performance organization, you cannot ignore the power of processes. Processes help you build a culture on a long run.