Change Management Is Essential to Success: Organizational Culture Seeing the Big Picture

Organizations worldwide are, have been and will continue to be required to undergo serious changes if they are to stay competitive and be able to grow profitably now and in the future. One of the major changes required is way that management manages the human capital within the organization. The methods and approaches used by leaders, used by ‘the boss’. Further understanding of how people WANT to be lead and managed is essential if an organization is going to be able to attract and retain key people.

HOW SERIOUSLY SHOULD WE TAKE THE BOSS?

When we’ve lived with certain assumptions for a very long time, they become part of the unquestioned realities we accept as ‘truths’. Any challenge to these ‘truths’ seems like an act of undiluted insanity or, at the very least, a display of extreme stupidity.

One of the assumptions relating to the boss that many of us seem to live by is that “the boss is always right.” We have also heard of the two rules for getting along with your boss: “Rule #1 = The Boss is always right.” “Rule #2 = If in doubt, refer to Rule #1.”

In fact, the boss-employee relationship is typical of many other ‘superior’-‘subordinate’ relationships in our culture. Let me enumerate those that I have had the opportunity to observe or experience first-hand.

Begin at childhood: Children are basically the ‘property’ of their parents. Parents can dictate the course of their children’s destiny in many ways. They could go as far as selecting a future husband or wife for one of their minor children, arranging the entire marriage with minimal consultation on how the individual affected really feels about the whole thing; choosing their children’s future careers, generally doctor, lawyer or engineer; or keeping them locked up in a room for most of their lives, if they are ashamed of a physical or mental handicap their child may exhibit. There is no recourse to courts of law or children’s rights groups that could take action against an offending parent. Naturally, parents are acting in accordance with what they believe are in the child’s best interest. Children such as these can grow into bosses, but more likely into submissive employees.

At the other extreme are parents who delegate the upbringing of their children to those who are paid to do the job, day and night. Children in such households have to get into serious trouble before they can attract the attention of Mom or Dad who are too busy doing their ‘own thing’ and living the ‘good life’. Children such as these can grow into employees, but more likely into cold and unfeeling bosses.

Between both extremes there are the varying shades of ‘average’ households where Mom stays home and does literally everything for the children and Dad, of course. Dad is fully occupied in bread winning activities that keep him away from home a good deal of the time. Children such as these grow into employees, independent professionals, career managers and sometimes bosses.

“What a deterministic view!” you say. I agree. Or you say, “But that’s stereotyping and pigeonholing people!” I agree again. Do me a favor though, list all the exceptions you can think of and compare the percentage to those who do fit the stereotypes.

Go on to school-life. At home Mom was always right, or Dad was always right or they just didn’t care as long as you didn’t get into trouble that money couldn’t fix. At school, the teacher is always ‘right’ and oddly enough, at college the ‘professors’ were mostly always ‘right’ too. In fact you were rewarded on how accurately you reproduced their views without challenging them. ‘Challengers” were perceived as trouble-makers and were dealt with accordingly.

Generally speaking, the ‘good-guys’ are the conformists who go on to become ‘obedient’ employees or ‘devoted’ middle-managers until a better offer comes along. The ‘trouble-makers’ are those who leave the country, if they can. Enjoy the change so much, they don’t come back

The common theme here is that the authority-figures throughout our lives act according to the assumption that they are always right and others have the obligation to follow without resistance. Conflicts, resistance of any kind and even mild questioning can be viewed with anxiety and apprehension. The response can be fierce from authority-figures who feel threatened by such challenges.

Could there be a connection between these factors and the “Brain Drain” we have been experiencing throughout our history? Could there also be a connection between these factors and the general lack of initiative and motivation we hear so much about from bosses? Consider the case that follows:

In a large (over 600 employees) Lebanese organization an individual is hired to lead a department that offers services to the organization as a whole. The individual is full of enthusiasm during the first two months during which there is a lot of new knowledge to acquire, new people to meet and new systems to learn. By the end of those two months, the individual is ready to start the process of implementation of the action plan developed for the realization of the department’s mission.

A very minor part of the action plan included the installation of coat hangers in the offices and the purchase of a few key references. Not having been given a budget, the new manager had to seek approval for these small requirements (under L.L. 500,000). Approval entailed writing a short proposal stating the purpose of the items requested and submitting it for approval by two other individuals, before any action could be taken by the purchasing department. The entire process took about six weeks.

The major task of getting approval for the overall plan was more complex. This has to be seen by the highest authority in the organization before it could be implemented. Quite understandably, the authority figure was very, very, very, busy indeed since virtually all matters both great and small had to be seen and approved by him. Moreover, the person directly concerned did not have access to the boss. The case had to be understood and reported by another manager who was a layer above the new department head, but one layer lower that the boss. Two appointments previously scheduled to study the project of our new and enthusiastic manager had been postponed due to the intervention of matters of higher priority.

Meanwhile, four months later, the determination and drive of our newly hired individual began to wane. That individual put on a bold face, kept busy with daily routines and read extensively in order to make good use of the waiting time. Each day the same question was raised, “Has the project been approved?” The answer invariably came, “Well, the boss is extremely busy and he has not been able to give it his full attention yet. Maybe tomorrow or next week.”

The new manager had plenty of time to question the wisdom of changing jobs. Were there no challenging jobs that allowed for a minimum of autonomy? Needless to say, six months later motivation was at a low ebb and our new manager was beginning to get acclimatized to the culture of the big organization.

How seriously should we take the boss? Very, very seriously indeed. In fact, look at who the boss is before you leap. The culture of the organization he or she leads will generally be reflective of that boss’s assumptions about superior-subordinate relationships.