How to See and Cure Sick Organizational Cultures
Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of business is to create a customer.” Sick organizational cultures focus on themselves rather than customers.
Everything that distracts, dilutes, or diverts
from creating customers suggests sickness.
- Sink inward rather than reach outward.
- Stop learning.
- Struggle to keep things the same.
- Live in fear.
- Control rather than release.
- Dream of the good ole days.
- Backstab, Bite, and devour each other.
- Don’t share information.
- Grow heavier at the top.
- Don’t trust
Organizational culture is like air, you don’t notice it. Even polluted air becomes invisible as time passes. Sick organizations don’t know they’re sick till things start going bad.
You can’t see your culture but others do. Two words describe those who can diagnose your sickness, new and outside. They see you for what you are.
- New customers.
- New employees.
- Business people from the community.
- Members of other industries.
The deeper problem:
When outsiders and new people tell you what they see, you say:
- You don’t understand.
- You don’t see the whole picture.
- You’re wrong.
Sick organizations blame, excuse, and justify.
Moving toward health:
First, invite outsiders in. I’ve invited “outsiders” in to act as “secret shoppers.” I ask them to:
- Watch behaviors
- Forget motives.
- Forget intentions.
- Tell me what you see us trying to do based solely on observable behaviors.
Second, survey new employees or volunteers after 90 days.
Third, if culture is, “The way we do things around here,” then change the way you do things.
- Avoid big announcements.
- Involve and engage more not fewer.
- Start improving, now.
- Embrace process vs. destination thinking. A series of small improvements produces big results.
How can leaders “see” their own organizational culture?
How would you move a sick organizational culture toward health?
very true. Sick organisation never comes out of past. Your observations are very appropriate. Suggestions are equally good.
Items listed for sick organizations are excellent ones. I would add some more: people wear masks, show superficial knowledge, judgmental by nature. People believe in showcase business and try to show that they know everything. People judge others on so many unrealistic and self decided parameters. I agree that leaders can see their own culture by putting themselves in outsiders shoes. Alternatively creating repo and trust with lower level employee will reveal the crystal clear picture. The most important thing leaders need to do is to get away their feelings about their positions. In fact it is easy to see and spot sick culture. IT can be studied more based on unbiased observation. People discussion at informal interactions are the great indicator about the culture. Routines practices related to employees welfare, privileges and rights reflect organizational practices.For example in an organization where employee inquire many times about the status of their claims, leave application and hospitalization reimbursement, one can easily measure the temperature of culture. The remedy is simple ones. Leaders need to fix accountability with deadlines.Leaders should engage people with reward.
Additionally, leaders on the top should show high degree of integrity, honesty, courage and authenticity in all their actions and decisions. When needed, they should take unanimously decision to protect the reputation of employees and organizations.
You ask: “How would I move a sick organizational culture towards health?”
One word: alignment.
Drucker’s simple statement is rich with meaning.
“Create a customer.” This means “create a relationship” to me.
If I am creating a relationship, are my desires, beliefs, intentions, attention, and action choices aligned with the kind of relationship that will benefit both the customer and my business?
If not, there’s work to do. That work could end in greater alignment, or finding a new role.
I believe alignment always begins with inner life choices, and works to outer action.
Have a great weekend, Dan!
If the CEO is running a sick organization and doesn’t know it, his or her capacity for denial will not likely be overcome with facts or opinions. The org needs a new CEO.
If the CEO knows it is sick and wants to change it, start with the stated goal of the organization that relates to the customers or clients. Undoubtedly, there is an old goal that is being ignored or abandoned. Is this goal expressed well? If not, redefine it. If so, redirect most of the company’s new efforts to show all employees and clients that the company “now means this goal in a new way” and is committed to do what it takes to achieve it. Use Drucker’s wisdom (about directing efforts toward helping clients) to enable all employees to help define “how” to better serve clients.
A company can use those people who work for them in temporary or consulting roles to give them clues about what their culture is like.
Take the time to ask their opinions since they often have enough insight into the organization to identify pockets of real concern but are still outside it enough to have a fresh viewpoint.
I really like your blogs. This is a good read!
Hi there I would like to reblog your post at: http://www.skillsservices.co.za thanks for the great post.
The symptoms of sick organizations are known from the market place. Just interact with few key customers, dealers and retail outlets keeping your identity closed and you shall know where the company stands. Engaging professional market research and studying their critical findings more objectively can certainly help if you trust them and ensure the reliability part.
Internal employees can also give you enough signals if things are deteriorating. The attrition rate can be a good indicator and of course the reasons of low employee satisfaction level will provide enough clues about the unsound organization health.
The turnaround can happen only if problematic areas are identified with basic research and corrective measures are taken on a war-footing basis with some bold decisions. One needs a tough CEO to go ruthlessly in bringing the desired steps with two way communication and unpleasant decisions.
Dear Dr. Asher,
I appreciate your feeling and opinions that research is needed to spot sick organizations. I even more appreciate your points that leaders should take bold decisions, that usually lack in reality. Leaders must stand to take tough decisions when needed. They should not concern to protect their position while taking decisions.
I agree that attrition rate is a great indicator of organizational sickness. In fact, it is the true indicator of leadership sickness.People do not leave organizations always because of salary or benefits but poor leadership practices, prevalent blame games and lack of accountability.
Dear Ajay Kumar,
Thanks for your supporting views. The unfortunate part is that the top management sometimes knowingly ignore some of the signals. They at times don’t believe their lower staff people and/ or not pay much attention when market signals are seen on the radar!
They live in their own dreams and more depend on the coterie of few in their close circles. Leaders need to learn on criticisms and pay due attention to all grievances/complaints of the internal as well as external people. An another are of concern can be financial irregularities leading to big frauds. Such things can’t be ignored when whistles are blown!
Dear Dr. Asher,
I am in full agreement with you. To bring in values in the organization, some boundaries need to be broken. Symptoms, signals, EGO and Arrogance need to be dealt with. These are demons that make any successful organization sick and precarious. I hope leaders will take cue from the post.
The ‘seeing’ part of the post was complete and very helpful, but the ‘curing’ part was a bit thin on the ground. Could you maybe do a follow-up post on this? Thanks again for your daily insights.
What a great read! Glad to have found your blog.
Assuming the CEO truly knows the depth and breadth of how sick the culture is, is a significant assumption which needs to be accurately measured. How will you know you are improving or just dealing with the symptoms not the problem? The level of overt resistance and covert complacency might be indicators on the degree of illness, still need to know.
Without going on a rant, there may be a trauma factor involved in the organizational culture. Frequent exposure to negative experiences and mindsets can produce a numbed, ‘this is how it is, we always do it this way anyway’ mentality. Systemic trauma can be reflected in each and every interaction and self-perpetuates in a toxic negative spiral. Mr Drucker noted it clearly.
Fixes take time, focus, time, diligence, time, alignment, time, commitment and an amazing amount of intense energy and did I mention…time? It is not a one person job. It is a cadre of like-minded champions that need to be grown, supported and expanded along the journey. Know they are there, just have to dig deep sometimes, which leads to ‘be there’. When you have that cadre, you can do amazing things and it all starts to get fun! Still painful, but fun too.
For an ill culture the leader has to be there, perhaps at 9 pm, perhaps at 2 am, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually present. Weekends are not optional. How can Jim Sinegal go to almost all 582 Costco stores every year? What? You don’t have time to do that? You are not the right person for the job then–be real, own it, move on.
Great observations! This is true of any organization no matter what the size.
How can leaders “see” their own organizational culture?
I’ve been very tired this week. My joints are aching and my performance is below par. My body is telling me to slow down and rest.
In the same way an ailing organisation is telling its leaders that something isn’t right. You just have to look and listen and be honest. In my experience insiders say much the same thing as outsiders. Unfortunately no one listens.
Complex question Dan, thought provoking …… how does anyone see anything when they desperately need to …..
……It is a bit like needing your car keys and not being able to find them, even though you BELIEVE you know where you put them and you re-trace your steps hoping to put your hands on them in that VISIBLE place, when all the time they were in the pocket of the colorful jacket you happily wore the previous day because the sun was shining !!
This issue has become such a concern that cars are now designed to KNOW who owns them …………. and open because THE CAR senses YOU (not really YOU, but the micro chip you carry on your person !! ) ….. really doesn’t beg thinking about, an inanimate device, SENSES YOU !!
Then we look at organisations, when we can’t even locate our car keys to get to the work place !!
All information enters by the eyes and leaves by the eyes ….. if we don’t see what we need to feel ….. then we are truly blind …………..
How do we make it healthy again …… we seek a reputable optician who can administer a prescription after consultation to fit short sight or long sight and we hope that it is that simple to cure and not more malignant !!
Awwsome! I’d like to Reblog this at http://www.chicsinheels.com