A dislocated approach to organisational change
A moment in time that causes you to reflect upon a life experience that holds a mirror to organisational life as a senior leader.
Don’t ask – boys will be boys!
I began to wonder after the pain had subsided how I would cope with one useful arm.
It’s amazing how much we take for granted in our everyday lives.
For most of us normal everyday functioning is achieved at the level of the subconscious. Automated routines are played out by our bodies every second of our lives without any major reference to the conscious mind.
We could not function without such programming.
All of a sudden I was faced by the reality that my left arm would be out of action for a while, and I would have to figure out how I could run my life.
Automated routines running in my subconscious would only cause me pain, and result in a failure to get even the most basic of activities completed.
I began to think about the parallels with modern organisational life: blame the strong painkillers the nursing team prescribed me at the hospital.
It dawned upon me that most organisations operate on autopilot to get things done.
Policies, procedures and practices are prescribed within the hierarchy to set up the organisations ‘subconscious behaviour’: it’s culture.
Of course in practice employees form the organisations sub conscious – they learn the routines, cues and responses until they too become automated in to everyday actions.
In truth anyone that has been in the same job for more that a few months will be performing mainly on autopilot, largely unaware of what they are doing, and how they are doing it.
I believe that the analogy also holds true for the approach to efficiency savings, and organisational change.
For years now we have been taking cost out of our organisations – slimming down, chopping back, reprioritising. Caught in the world of benchmarking, best practice, and inspection we see the same mistakes often repeated over and over again across business and commerce.
In my experience leaders often fail to see an organisation as a living entity.
It is the physical actions and responses of people employed on behalf of the organisation that bring it to life. A living system that runs on autopilot until something catastrophic happens to destablise the current situation.
Now dependent upon the size of the catastrophe we can fall back on coping strategies.
In the case of organisations we have a tendency to look back in to the past to see what we have done before, and if we can make it fit this time.
Someone scrambles to sort out a temporary fix; Just like the sling and the drugs that the nurse gave me in the treatment room to make me feel more comfortable, and to take away the pain.
In many organisations a series of temporary fixes have been put in place over time to make things work.
The problem is that the closer you get to the front line the more dislocated the functioning of the organisation becomes; the more ‘work arounds’ are put in place at a local level to enable the system to continue to work.
Unlike the human body the ‘corporate brain’ in an organisation tends to be isolated, away from the immediate functioning of the core operation.
The pain and discomfort of the impact of indiscriminate action e.g. salami slicing budgets over time upon the customer and the front line is not directly felt by the ‘corporate brain’ and so actions carry on regardless of the pain suffered at the front line.So, organisational leaders genuinely have a tough job to do to continue to figure out how to make ends meet going forward.
It would be wise to spend more time understanding the real impact, and unintended consequences, of the decisions already taken; with the help of colleagues on the front line to figure out the damage that may already have been done.
The equivalent of a sling and a few painkillers is not a sustainable solution.
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