True Organizational Culture Change: “Everyone Talks Different”

culturechange

The #culturechange that Sandra Johnson engineered at a challenging City Government division is the most astounding cultural turn around that I have ever witnessed. An informal City leader who missed 50% of the meetings due to an illness came back and said, “I don’t know what happened but all I can say is everyone talks different.” It is a pleasure to post this amazing turn around #organizationalculture case study:

The Client: City Government

The client was a City Government Division with 25 union employees. Over 50% of the staff had been with the City for 10 years or more. The division manager had been with the division for over 25 years.

The Situation:

The division had some of the highest number of grievances in the City. The assistant manager had been hired into the position over other more senior staff and there was an active movement against her. The culture of the division included at times yelling, name calling and all around staff of unhappy campers.

The division scores on the #EmployeeEngagement survey were some of the lowest in the City.

I was brought in to help improve the organizational culture with the goal of improving overall employee engagement and reduce the number of grievances.

The Solution:

The #leadership agreed to a 9-month program meeting once a month for two hours with the entire staff. In between the monthly meetings, the manager and assistant manager agreed to bi-weekly coaching. Management also supported intermittent small group discussions with staff members who volunteered to work on issues, brainstorm and propose solutions.

The Results:

During the program, one of the informal leaders did not attend the monthly meetings as they were held on her normal day-off. The second informal leader missed about 50% of the meetings due to a medical leave. The other two informal leaders ironically were both up for a promotion against each other and the assistant manager, who was a key champion in the initiative, interviewed and ultimately selected the one who agreed to and was willing to support the organizational change.

At the end of the 9-month program:

  • Over 50% of the staff were actively involved in small group “think tanks” and volunteering to take on projects to promote the new culture
  • The informal leader who was promoted transformed from a resistor who previously sat “outside the circle with her arms folded” to a champion of the change, taking on additional responsibilities
  • The manager humbly announced to the team that he was “amazed at the amount of talented people and exceptional ideas he had on his team that he didn’t realize.”
  • The assistant manager embraced the movement and took over the leadership role of ensuring the continued success of the program.
  • Weekly staff meetings became led by staff members with everyone contributing to the agenda opening up two-way communication.

The feedback from this effort clearly suggests a true cultural transformation!

Facilitator: Sandra Johnson, MA RCC, Strategic Corporate Solutions

http://www.strategiccorporatesolutions.com

sandra@strategiccorporatesolutions.com

This blog does not express the views of my employer

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How to Renew Your Organization

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Whipping down the streets of Washington D.C. in a taxi, I was dreading my arrival at a recent business acquisition.  I mistakenly believed that my organizational design role was to break the hearts of these leaders.  Twenty years earlier, they had founded a company in their garage and now they had made it big, having been purchased by a Fortune 100 company.  I erroneously thought that my role was to deliver the news that their small company ways of doing things would now have to completely change.  They would need to assimilate to the mother ship!

I glanced down at the final piece of research I had gathered in preparation for this meeting.  It was the Ichak Adizes model of an organizational life cycle (Ichak Adizes, www.adizes.com, 2017).  This holistic and intuitive approach fundamentally changed how I approach recently merged companies, as well as how I engage with all smaller entities within larger organizations.

The Adizes model of an organizational life cycles provides a metaphor for viewing the stages of organizations.  Adizes wisely observed that the basic principles for managing organizations as they mature are similar to living organisms.  We have all exclaimed in frustration at some point that managing our staff is like trying to deal with a bunch of unruly kids.  Adizes took this statement usually made in jest to a whole new level!

Adizes pointed out that the predictable and repetitive patterns of behavior that humans experience as they grow and develop are similar to what organizations experience. As a result, just as you develop ways to help your teenager move from adolescence into adulthood, you can leverage similar strategies at an organizational level.  One can reflect on the characteristics of the organization at each stage and, more importantly, identify prescriptions that will assist the organization to move to the next stage.  This model, metaphorically, allow long standing bureaucratic organizations to detour and in some cases even avoid death.

The organizational implications and lessons that fall out of Adizes model are wide and deep.  However, my main concern was that I was about to be dropped off at the door step of the founders of the small company that we had recently acquired.  Wasn’t there a more positive message that these leaders should hear as we become the same company, working towards the same goals?  This is where Adizes learnings about why large mature companies buy small growing companies is invaluable.

Adizes maintains that the large bureaucratic companies desperately need the small innovative companies in order to grow and stay alive.  While established companies often times have a great deal of cash and strong financial statements, they have many factors working against them.  Adizes points out that they tend to:

  • Be interested in reducing risks
  • Reward employees who follow directions versus innovate
  • Value uniformity and consistency

This push towards maintaining the status quo is exactly what brings down many of these organizations.

Enter the newly acquired kid on the block…  These small nimble organizations typically offer growing technology in new markets.  And most important, they have flexible ways of thinking and working, quickly embracing new strategy.  This provides an agility injection into the staid bureaucratic organization.

Based on this line of thinking, you can probably guess the end of the story.  I did inform the founders, who it turned out still acted more like teenage rebels than leaders, that I would be helping them introduce more structure and control.  They understood that this was an important part of their growth and development.

However, the larger, more amplified message was that our now combined companies needed their innovative products and new markets.  And most importantly, we needed to tap into their agile approach of doing business and infuse some of that bias for action into our increasingly unadventurous culture.

I had falsely believed in a compliance focus in working with newly acquired companies.  I was all about sticking pins into them for their own good.  Adizes helped me realize that the actual opportunity lay in bottling up the innovative thinking and approaches that the smaller companies offer and infusing them into the larger bureaucratic culture.  This strategy offers big wins as the ripple effect positively impact a hundred times more employees than are housed at the acquisitions.

In the years following my mergers and acquisition role, I have applied the Adizes approach in working with all types of small, innovative departments and teams within larger organizations.  As I help these groups grow and accomplish their larger objectives, I make sure to avoid squashing their agile thinking and approaches.  In fact, I help them find ways to capture these innovative approaches and embed them into the larger organization.

With mixed results Americans spend millions of dollars a year on products which claim to help us stay young.  The Adizes approach offers a tonic that really does allow old dying organizations to reclaim youth!

Note: The views expressed in this blog are my opinions and do not reflect the views of my employer.