Allowing the organisation to see itself and creating spaces for personal growth
Making the invisible visible and creating spaces for reflecting and dialogue
Leaders and HR professionals have an opportunity to shape culture by creating safe spaces for reflection that allow the system to see itself and invite people to openly exchange views about what is and what should be. Of note culture is not stagnant – it evolves over time so this reflection time is not a one-off tick box exercise but should instead become a recurring ritual. This is one of the reasons why the St. Gallen management model now defines one of the key roles of management as creating platforms for reflection and evolution.
This process of the system seeing itself can be painful – facing own shortcomings and challenging/falsifying own assumptions, acknowledging what is, coming to terms with the brutal truth about how people perceive the organisation and how far this may be away from what you had hoped for and worked towards. Trying to avoid this pain (not as a conscious decision, but by favouring other priorities, e.g. “It’s not the right time”, or “the facts such as attrition rate or time to hire are on our side”) is a frequent behaviour on the leaders’ part.
Why employee surveys as we know them don’t really help
In all big companies I worked at, I witnessed regular employee surveys aimed at diagnosing the culture and employee engagement. The results usually showed good engagement with room for improvement (specifically when it came to speak-up culture, cumbersome admin processes and lack of room for innovation). This was the case in all three companies I worked for. And what was also similar was the way in which the companies dealt with the results. They were aggregated and discussed at length first at the top management level, then task forces were formed two or three layers further down in which the results were discussed again – sometimes resulting in the development of new change programs that were cascaded down to the employees a couple of months later. Not surprisingly, this did not actually have a lot of impact. Why is it so difficult to address the culture gap where it actually happens – in small teams and day-to-day (as opposed to once every 18 months in a big survey)? How come companies seem to be convinced that engagement is the key thing to measure – is it not much too late to intervene when engagement is already declining? There are more contemporary, real-time and transparent approaches for gauging company culture that invite and enable conversations within teams. In order for this approach to unfold its full potential, an organisation should enable their people on three levels:
- Communication capabilities – ability to have grown-up conversations in the here and now and adopt a meta perspective
- A general atmosphere of psychological safety
- Creating a sense of belonging that brings direction and collective flow
If you’re interested, I highly recommend you have a look at what kokoro offers as they work on all three of these levels.
There is another way – two examples
What’s all the more encouraging for me in this context is the work I am able to do at the moment. As part of a team of facilitators and coaches I get to accompany a development journey at a company that has fully embraced that culture change needs to start with creating room for reflection and learning right at the top of the organisation. Senior leaders are invited to examine and understand what shaped their own beliefs and behaviours so that they can make conscious decisions about which of these old convictions, norms and patterns are no longer serving them and their people going forward, so that they can shed them. Along the journey, the leaders are encouraged and support each other, to show vulnerability, and face their fears. If this works out, then the individual development journey and the transformation journey of the organisation are intertwined paths that inspire and enhance each other. If this resonates with you, check out consulting company atrain.
Speaking of learning and growing, I am really excited about the ACB Journey. “Applying creativity to business”- ACB for short – is our answer to introducing more creativity into today’s organisations. We want to help leaders, facilitators and change makers to re-learn what it’s like to experiment, to pay and to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a project straight from the heart that I dreamed uo with two like-minded people: Stephanie, an artist who formerly worked in accounting and IT and then discovered her artistic talent and Manuel, an expert on playfulness who is enthused about bringing people into their innate creative power.
Download a small set of slides on the culture gap topic here: