Strategy, Culture, Change, & Filters (Post 5 of 13)
Author: Peter Jay Sorenson CMC®, StrategicOrganizationDesign.com
11 July 2013
Either the executive was a narcissistic, manipulative sociopath or he was incompetent for the task at hand. Or, perhaps both.
While working with a client a few years ago I was told that the CEO had made an impassioned speech in a weeklong new leaders’ seminar calling upon the leadership cadre of the organization to adopt the “Level 5 Leadership” approach that Jim Collins discovered in his research and articulated.1 This CEO expressed his conviction that using this approach was the key to the future success of this fast growing organization that was using a merger and acquisition based growth strategy.
There was one small problem, however. The middle management did not get the memo. Rather than using an inclusive, humble, intensely focused approach to leadership they were, in general, using a command and control, cover your ass, make things look good, politically-oriented approach. There was a masterful art of obfuscation, filtering, and yes-manning widely spread throughout the organization. Mid-managers were not being held accountable to the new standard.
Employees see the contradiction between the words at the top and the actions in the middle as hypocrisy. And it leads to disillusionment, cynicism, erosion of faith, disengagement, and “heads-down-don’t-attract-attention” work behavior. This yields a disengaged workforce that does not contribute discretionary effort and initiative at the working and supervisory level of the organization. And if you are doing a merger and acquisition strategy you are in a precarious position when your working level people are not contributing discretionary effort and initiative.2 Your merger integration will just not work.
As I was thinking about this phenomenon, I realized that there were several other clients within a five or so year timeframe that were doing the same thing. Espousing the “Level 5 Leadership” approach and doing very little to make it come to fruition.
And as I thought about it more I realized I had seen a similar pattern of behavior after Peters and Waterman’s In Search of Excellence (1984) and Hammer and Champy’s Reengineering the Corporation (1993). Senior leaders mouthing words that do not translate into working level behavior.
To explain it another way, Ed Schein’s model of organizational culture3 says that there are three key levels of culture operating in any organization: artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions.
Artifacts are what you see and experience. In these aforementioned cases, behaviors (what you see) are out of alignment with the espoused values (what leaders in the organization say they believe in). The roots of the problem lie with the underlying assumptions. Those assumptions are out of alignment with the espoused values and drive behavior (what you see) that is inconsistent with what leaders say they believe in (their espoused values).
Without that alignment the obfuscation, filtering, and yes-manning mechanisms move into high gear as the middle of the organization works to “tell the top only what it wants to hear (Quinn, 1977, page 34).”
In the case of Jamie Houghton at Corning, and as we will see in the next few posts, Alan Mulally and Phil Condit at the Boeing 777 Program, leaders can intentionally design the organization by engaging in deliberate behavior and using design features to circumvent the filters that naturally occur in the process of organizing. This minimizes obfuscation. Leaders can then operate with a more accurate reality rather than a confusing illusion in mind.
Another way to say it is that it is possible to align the artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions in your culture to create an engaged workforce in your organization.
But that will not work if you are either a narcissistic, manipulative sociopath or incompetent for the task at hand. Or both.
1 Collins, James C., Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, 2001. (ISBN 0-06-662099-6) and Collins, James C., Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, (HBR OnPoint Enhanced Edition), Harvard Business Review, January 2001, Product 5831
2 See the Gallup research on engagement at www.gallup.com). and Sorenson, P.J., “Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again or Retrieving Discretionary Effort After a Crisis,” Careers Conference, 1991. ‘Change & Competitiveness & Careers’. Conference Record., 1991 IEEE Seventh Biennial IEEE-USA
3 Schein, Edgar H., Organizational Culture and Leadership, Second Edition, Jossey-Bass Publisher, San Francisco, 1992 & 2004. (ISBN 0-7879-0362-0)(Chapter 1)