Sunday, September 11, 2011

Developing a 21st Century Mind - Part 1

It is difficult to imagine a more demanding or more exciting time in human history than the 20th Century. Particularly during the couple of decades, we have been faced with unprecedented rates of change that require massive adaptation. In every field of endeavor – business and industry, government and education, science, human services, athletics and art – the challenge of dramatic and rapid change has confronted us. The 21st Century promises to continue and even step up that trend. 

Some of the challenges we face as we move toward the year 2000 and beyond include an increasingly high rate of technological innovation, the need to balance economic and environmental concerns, the information explosion, quickly shifting employment and career trends, a highly competitive global marketplace, a widening gap between society’s “haves” and “have-nots,” and the ever-present task of inventing a future that will foster the health and well-being of us all.

To my mind, one of the most critical concepts of our time is “interdependence.” Unless we, as a species and as individuals, can develop and demonstrate concern for more than just ourselves and our own families, companies, communities and nations, we will be falling far short of achieving our potential for prosperity, peace and happiness.

We can’t just shrug off the massive problems of our times, thinking that “technology” will take care of them. Technology alone can’t get us to and through the 21st Century in a way that benefits the delicate, interdependent web of life our planet supports. It is people working together who must create a desirable future for ourselves and for future generations.

But what sort of people? What kind of mind will it take to create a peaceful, prosperous and environmentally healthy 21st Century? Well, to begin with, a mind that is receptive to change and able to figure out how to do more with less. The model for this mind already exists, and it can be found, to the surprise of some environmentalists, in the corporate world.

Many of the companies we work with have had to initiate massive cultural and organizational changes in order to stay in business. To do this, they have had to develop new ways of thinking. With our help, they have moved from Newtonian to Whiteheadian leadership. They have moved from being staffed by people who simply do what they’re told to people who actively participate in decisions that affect them and their organization. They have moved from seeing employees as problems to seeing them as problem solvers. And they have moved from closed-door strategic planning to open vision-building sessions and free-flowing information. As a result, their productivity has increased, even when significant downsizing has been necessary.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Developing a 21st Century Mind from The Performance Institute.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Your Corporate Culture's Personality

Culture is to organizations the way personality is to people. Culture and personality are “interior” domains. You often can’t see a culture or personality, but it doesn’t take you long to sense their presence or your willingness to be in and around them.

When we speak of culture, we are referring to the habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations that are the unwritten code for the behavior in an organization. It is the shared values or behavioral norm. It can be intense, and one of its purposes is to perpetuate itself.

In organizational life, the “wrong” personality can be asked to leave the company, but how do you address a “wrong” culture? What is right or wrong about culture anyway? How does culture become healthy or unhealthy? Why is it a worthy business subject? Harvard researchers John Kotter and James Heskett, who have spent decades researching corporate cultures and their effect on the organizational behavior, write culture is “adaptive” or “un-adaptive.”

As an example, when analyzing defensive or unadaptive cultures, Cooke and Lafferty look beneath the organizational skin to evaluate the way power, conflict, competitiveness, and perfectionism can impact culture in counter-productive ways. Also, their studies assess the non-productive effects of passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace. In other words, they look at how fear-based organizations predictably cause the undesirable behaviors of avoidance, dependency, passivity and extreme risk-avoidance.

In parallel studies, Gallop researchers have shown that 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail, 70 percent of workforces are unengaged, and 70 percent of the leadership in these organizations are actually causing counter-productive cultures and don’t know it. At its extreme, in an unhealthy culture, work is seen as a curse. As a consequence, the highest goal in these workplaces is actually to stop work – (“I can’t wait till quitting time;” “I can’t wait for the weekend;” “I can’t wait to retire.”)

When the strongest desire is to get away from the pain of work, the unconscious defense mechanism is procrastination, creative avoidance and slovenly work. Estranged from work, what we are left with is a worldwide phenomena now being called “worker fatigue”.

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