Change is very often considered to be a slow and often difficult process. In particular, ‘culture change’ is seen as a long and winding road. Human beings are notable as creatures that have mastered (or, at least, have developed) the art of adapting. We have changed our knowledge, decisions, behaviour, environment, relationships, societies. It is too easy to think that we ‘don’t like change’. This is simply not the case. We are beings that not only adapt to what is around us, but we often actively choose to change what is around us. After all, it is not uncommon for us to seek to find ways to make things better or different (either for ourselves or, sometimes, others!).
My great-grandfather (who was still around when I was a youngster) was born into the Victorian age in the 1880s. He was already a young man when the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, yet lived to experience flying in jet airliners and even saw the Apollo astronauts land on the moon. His life experiences, work and education had to adapt fairly radically, but I imagine it was a fairly natural process – that’s life.
Organisations can change faster that society as a whole. Whilst change should be seen as a ‘natural’ process, it is one which we should actively influence ourselves. Change can occur in noticeable timescales; weeks and months not years. Changes should move into short timescales to become noticeable, rather than at barely-observable ‘glacial’ rates. Herrero (2006) goes further, suggesting that if cultural changes cannot be observed in short time-frames, then something is wrong.
“Cultural change does NOT need to be a slow and painful long-term affair.” – there is a better way.
“Short-term wins CAN represent real change.” with viral networks which engage many people, small changes can lead to a big impact.
To influence others we need to encourage quick, meaningful changes; not just ticking items off the ‘to do’ list, but adopting new behaviours, new ways of thinking, new habits. These things may appear less tangible, but they do have impact, they don’t need to wait for a sign-off by top management and they do allow change to happen much quicker.
Remember to read:
Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.
Here is an interesting one – Researchers at Erasmus University and Cambridge University identified that middle managers copy their boss’s behaviour if they are working in close/adjacent proximity to that boss. Conversely, if the boss is not in close proximity (e.g. has an office down the corridor), then the middle manager may behave differently to the boss.This includes good and bad behaviour.
♦Red light warnings♦: an over-bearing, micro-managing and ever-present boss is likely to spawn equally over-bearing middle managers and subsequently a wonderfully consistent but wildly dysfunctional team. On the other hand an over-bearing boss who is remote from the team will get…er… disappointed and will wonder why the team doesn’t do what they expect (perhaps).
♦Amber warning♦: An effective boss who is too distant may not get the cooperation expected – good bosses need to get down to the coalface and see what is happening and whether their middle managers are doing things in the ways that are needed.
♦Green Light♦:An effective boss who is close to the team will have a coherent set of middle managers and a consistent culture across the team.
Finally the survey identifies two measures of distance: social (the distance you feel from the other person) and physical (i.e. space). Interestingly we have much more choice over social distance – i.e. who we choose to spend time with and be seen with – and how that impacts on the way that we choose to behave. You just need to be conscious of who to associate with and who to avoid.
van Houwelingen, G., van Dijke, M., & De Cremer, D. (2014). Fairness Enactment as Response to Higher Level Unfairness: The Roles of Self-Construal and Spatial Distance. Journal of Management. doi: 10.1177/0149206314530166
To paraphrase Richard Branson, ‘happy staff = happy work’, and for Branson, that means that customers will also be happy and your organisation will be successful.
Motivational theory and systems theory tells us that a work (the way it is designed and the constraints placed upon people doing it) also influences whether people are satisfied with what they do. In other words, happy work creates happy people.
Deming talked about dignity in work decades before it became a focus of attention in Human Resource departments. His philosophy was ‘centered on people and the dignity of work. He believed that people should have joy in their work, that the system within which they work should be designed to make this possible and to enable workers to reach their full potential to contribute to the enterprise‘ and that system is management’s responsibility (Tortorella, 1995).
So for happy also read ‘joyful‘. Quite an expectation! But consider this: whilst a happy person is satisfied, a joyful person brings renewed energy and vigour into their activities, interests and relationships – exactly what we need in a high performing team. And a joyful person can be as quiet and dignified as they wish, or as outwardly enthusiastic as they wish, but their joy will rub off positively onto the people around them.
In relation to job titles, feedback from our colleagues at the Liquid Café (Excellence Through Partnerships) event in November 2014 included:
“The term “Clerical” is very outdated and job titles should reflect this”
“We need clear definition of job titles and job roles”
Colleagues in administrative roles are of the opinion that some job titles shape stereotypical impressions or contribute to old fashioned notions of subservience and reinforce the historical hierarchy prevalent within some university environments.
This is where we need to work more in partnership with managers who write job descriptions and with our resourcing colleagues in HR. Firstly, it is important to ensure gender-fair language to ensure that job descriptions are not inadvertently linked to either masculine or feminine characteristics. Over the past few years, there has been a lot of articles and studies about the glass ceiling, about the struggles women face at the top, yet there has been barely a murmur about the gender imbalances at the bottom of the corporate ladder. Perhaps we should consider eradicating the title of ‘Assistant’ in some instances, and replacing it with ‘Coordinator’, ‘Advisor’, or ‘Officer’. At the end of the day, assistants often do so much more than purely ‘assist’, anyway, and by removing the subservient connotation that the word ‘Assistant’ can imply, we might also remove the bias many men have toward these roles. Likewise, the term ‘Clerical” smacks of the 1930’s/50’s and it is a time a new job title was defined for colleagues performing a front line student advisory service.
To this end, and as part of our project “Who do we think we are – the professionalization of administrative staff”, we have asked our peers in the Sciences Faculty to let us know what they really think about their job titles; what they prefer, and what they dislike. We have even asked colleagues to think of brand new job titles which they feel adequately describes the function they perform, that in an ideal world, they would use. All the results we receive will be relayed to our colleagues in HR in order to better inform them of employees thoughts on this issue. Indeed, there does seem to be a case for letting employees choose their own job titles as demonstrated at the Make-A-Wish-Foundation Here employees who created their own job titles were left feeling positive by the experience and felt that their new titles provided self-verification and helped them express more of their own identity and personality.
Let’s start creating job titles that actually mean something and reflect the professionalism of the roles that we perform and the value we bring.
The idea of ‘culture change’ has been around at least since the 1970s.
Company culture was flagged as the new route to progress and competitiveness. A good company culture was seen as the antidote to inefficiency, obsolescence and lethargy. The old ways were habits to throw away, to be ashamed of, to turn our back on. People who don’t adapt are seen as dinosaurs or stuck in the dark ages.
This trend in thinking gave rise to a plethora of ‘culture change’ programmes, usually involving energetic efforts to describe company values, visions, extended programmes of training, sometimes introspection (on the part of managers), browbeating and exhortation (of employees), ‘communication cascades’, ‘town-hall meeting’ and suchlike. To support this, various four-box models, multi-ring schematics, life-cycles and illustrations sprung into life to describe this intangible ‘thing’ of culture. But is ‘culture’ a cause or an effect of what happens in organisations?
Peter Drucker stated: “company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try instead to work with what you’ve got.” This is pragmatic thinking – and in many senses he is right – but not wholly so. A different perspective is needed, since sometimes the pervading culture can be damaging, counterproductive or simply unfair or unethical.
The culture in a company, or department, or team, or any type of organisation CAN actually be changed, but it is not achieved by trying to change the culture itself. Seddon suggests that we should never make efforts to change a culture by ‘doing it to them’ (Seddon 2005). People will resent it – and also people tend to detect any manipulation or ‘brainwashing’ a mile off. This increases resistance, undermines trust, garners cynicism and is generally unhelpful – the opposite of what you intend.
Don’t try to change people by attempting to change people, instead influence them to change themselves. The same is true of organisations. We can avoid a great waste of time, energy and resources if we skip this approach and instead work on things which really matter to people – and matter to our organisation. Just like forcefield analysis, it is better to identify and remove the forces that are driving the negative culture, rather than push at the positives.
The most effective approach is to intervene at the point of work. Deal with the issues which people already find difficult or frustrating. Remove the conditions which impose upon them the negative behaviours which we want to eliminate. Give them a sense of purpose to fix their ideas upon – how things could change for the better and what THEY can do about it.
Drucker PF ( 1993) Managing for the Future: the 1990s and beyond New York: NY, Dutton.
Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, Penguin Group Portfolio, NY
Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.
A colleague recently made me aware of the Volkswagen brand campaign ‘The Fun Theory’ which illustrates how fun can be related to choices people make in life by presenting some light-hearted ideas to change mundane tasks such as throwing away litter or climbing stairs. For example against the question “Can we get more people to choose the stairs by making it fun to do?”, their electronic stairway piano made 66% more people choose the stairs over the escalator (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SByymar3bds&app=desktop).
Of course ideas around fun at work are not particularly new: Douglas McGregor talked about Theory Y managers assuming the people value work as an activity as natural as play. Deming – a statistician by trade, the godfather of Systems Thinking and Statistical Process Control and at first impression someone who would appear fairly austere by today’s standards, always opened his seminars with ‘we are here to have fun‘. Although in person he was actually someone with a strong sense of humour and a dry wit, more importantly, Deming always talked about the need (not the nice to have, the need – it was essential) for people to have “ joy in work“: it is one of his most distinctive and quotable catchphrases.
Let’s consider a couple of FUN: amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable 
definitions of fun and joy… JOY: a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment 
Clearly fun has roots in joy, whilst joy itself is a longer-lasting, life-permeating condition. Deming was clear about what should be done to bring joy back into work. Work should be designed such that it is a pleasurable experience, yet he recognised that most organisations design fun out of the experience. However fun (like respect) is not something that you ‘do’ to people – it is not the point of intervention. The trick is not to design fun back in as an add-on (like the piano steps), but instead to eliminate the things that take fun out of work – lack of purpose, lack of decision making, lack of information, inability to influence outcomes, inability to address the concerns of customers and users, inability to make the service improve, inappropriate comparisons of performance (celebration of irrelevant highs or castigation for lows which are outside our control), inbuilt sub-optimisation and inertia, judgement by uninformed outsiders or distant supervisors. Deming didn’t pull punches – these things were for him the forces of destruction.
Even people doing unimaginably difficult jobs in emergency services, terminal healthcare and humanitarian aid (to name a few), themselves gain deep satisfaction and joy in what they do. In these spheres, however, even people with a strong sense of vocation can be demotivated by the negative forces impinging on their work and can leave their professions. Fun and joy are central to the understanding of human psychology of work – and how we should design it.
To think otherwise is counterproductive. A lack of joy at work is a complete nonsense.
Bakke D.W. (2005) Joy at Work, PVG, Seattle.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, Harper Perennial, NY.
Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.
Kilian C.S. (1992) The World of W Edwards Deming. SPC Press TE.
Deming in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s & 70s: same man, same thinking, different desks
It is easy to expect that when we work with change that this should mean ‘new’, whereas it should really mean ‘better’ or (if circumstances move the goalposts) ‘different’. The path of management learning over the past 40 years is littered with passing fads which have only delivered disappointment, but a few ideas outlast the comings-and-goings of gurus, trends and fads.
I am staggered to recall that it was 25 years ago that I first encountered the work of Dr W Edwards Deming whilst I sat in an undergraduate management lecture in the late 1980s. I have had the opportunity over the intervening decades to apply, test, avoid, seek alternatives or attempt enhancements to Deming’s ideas (and many other management thinkers). Some of my work has been in small departments, others in very large organisations; some commercial, others not. My thinking has emerged from a growth in understanding.
Deming, born in 1900, was an active communicator, teacher and consultant well into his 90s.
His seminars and lecture tours were still in demand from international audiences until his death 20 years ago this month, in December 1993, a couple of weeks after I passed my PhD viva. Deming continues to get a good hearing based on his books written over 30 years ago.
A freshly edited book which pulls together his collected papers was published in 2013. His illustration (Figure 1) of how a person’s motivation withers over their lifetime under “forces of destructive management thinking” rings as true today as in previous decades. Deming’s books draw on his teaching conducted over 60 years ago in Japan, ideas which arose from concepts developed by his professional mentor Walter Shewhart at Bell Laboratories over 80 years ago.
Shewhart’s own book published in 1931 is a classic, (its style perhaps less accessible to present-day readers). The observations and principles identified by Shewhart and Deming early in the 20th Century still stand up to scrutiny and practice. Their centenary approaches…
… much more than can be said for many management ideas since.
Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.
Deming W.E. (1994) The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, 2nd Ed , MIT CAES, Cambridge, MA.
Deming W.E. (2013) The Essential Deming: leadership principles from the father of quality, Ed J. N. Orsini, McGraw-Hill, NY
Shewhart, W. (1931) Economic control of quality of manufactured product. Van Nostrand Company, New York.
There is a growing discussion in our institution about the ‘values’ and the principles which we should use to run the organisation, make decisions and design the future. Few people would argue that ‘values’ are irrelevant – even politicians dare to refer to them when there is a moral outrage or a disclosure of unethical behaviour.
However as Edgar Schein (the man credited with inventing the term ‘corporate culture’) noted back in the 1980s, what an organisation says are its values are not necessarily the same as its ACTUAL values. This makes sense because in reality, organisations don’t have values – it is the people within them that carry and interpret values, on an individual or collective basis (probably both).
Actual values are represented in rules, policies, conversations and behaviours (including our decisions to ignore or break rules); these are the things which are followed by people on a day-to-day basis. Values may be stated or unstated, but because they guide the way people think and work, it is the actual, enacted values which most accurately describe the culture of the organisation (rather than the common wish-lists included on posters or corporate websites).
One challenge is to understand what those actual values are and then to decide if any need changing. The consistency and integrity of stated and actual values is not just a conversation topic; it has impact on performance and results. If we say we value innovation, then that must be reflected in the innovative way we work, the innovative services or products we offer and the innovative skills and mindsets of people that are recruited, retained, developed and promoted.
However, if an organisation claims to be innovative (or ‘encourages innovation’), yet has rules, sets budgets or makes decisions which are constructed such that they prevent or discourage people from innovating, it is clear that:
i) innovation is not a meaningful value at all.
ii) staff will be demotivated; a lack of integrity in ‘values’ creates cynicism and undermines trust.
iii) mismatches between ‘what we say’ and ‘what we do’ de-stabilises people, decisions and work.
To make matters worse, it is likely that points i, ii and iii combine, discouraging otherwise innovative staff even further, thereby making the organisation even LESS innovative than might have been the case had ‘innovation’ never been promoted in the first place.
This is why it can be so damaging if values and vision are addressed, discussed and promoted by an organisation without the full and consuming understanding and commitment of the leaders who wish to see them implemented. It can never be a paper exercise, because the negative the consequences are real.
So if we are going to talk values in our organisation, we need to do this with integrity and care – based on very clear thinking. If our thinking is muddled, our message will appear confused. Confusion runs the risk that our value system will be considered either unauthentic or ill thought-out; either of which reduces the credibility of what we say.
This presents several challenges. How do we make sure that the values we espouse are internally consistent (with each other) and how are the same values externally validated through our own behaviour (and shown to be authentic)? This might seem to be a significant challenge, but there is a silver lining:
If we see inconsistencies in values and behaviour that others see, by changing our behaviour and creating helpful, meaningful consistency, we will show that we are serious and this will influence other people, accelerating the change.
By working hard to fall behind clear values, and re-set the rules, policies, conversations and behaviours in the institution, leaders can have a big impact on culture. Some organisations have been transformed this way in relatively short periods of time.
Leaders need to develop a good ‘cultural radar’ and be aware of how people’s behaviours match (or do not match) the desired values of the organisation – and be ready to challenge where necessary.
With the correct thinking it is possible for Leaders to develop conversations with everyone about shared values. These conversations can occur in any meeting, or at set-piece events such as a ‘management forum’, a strategic presentation, a new-employee induction event, or at an all-employee ‘town hall’ gathering). Conversations should enable constructive challenge concerning how things work now and what might be an agenda for change. The change agenda should be set at a practical level, addressing aspects of service delivery, budget setting, recruitment and promotion, for example.
Everybody should be expected to maintain integrity in the way that they operate against the communicated values. This includes being courageous enough to challenge inconsistencies when they become apparent and having a healthy and supportive debate when new or unexpected issues arise to challenge our previous assumptions.
Integrity starts with ourselves, then flows out to others with whom we work; it builds trust.
Read more on Organisational Culture:
Schein E. (2004) Organizational Culture and Leadership, John Wiley and Sons, NY
If we mention change, what are the words that spring to mind? Improvement, Worry, Fear, Concern, Waste, Challenge, Opportunity, Re-birth?
Fear (or at least ‘worry’) is, I suspect, a common response and is certainly a term often mentioned by commentators on organisational change as being an issue to handle with care. ‘Resistance’ is another common term which in some cases may be fear disguised as bravado (although remember that resistance may also be a source of strongly held, and potentially helpful, alternative views – see: Resistance is useful: a new assumption?).
This begs a question – is fear the dominant emotion of a changing work environment?
The answer for any organisation lies in the culture (norms, behaviours, values, rules, conversations) that is promoted (largely by leaders). Is change a difficulty, a problem, a challenge, an opportunity or something that you are just going to have to put up with? What are the messages, stories and perspectives that we demonstrate, repeat, encourage and expect? Is it possible to eliminate a sense of fear by the way we explore and discuss the issues of change?
Of course our views and behaviour are only part of the wider picture. There is also the fear of stepping out and being different, or of ‘raising your head above the parapet’ by doing things differently (with the implication that your head is likely to get shot off!).
It is also not unusual to stumble across incidences of fear being applied (by ‘management’) as a tool to get people to do things. This might be apparent in the way in which meetings are constructed, how conversations are initiated by leaders, in the ways that objectives are set, in responses to feedback, ideas or proposals. When established behaviours contrast with the stated expectations (for innovation, improvement, sharing or other working values), we need to be ready to challenge the old orthodoxy.
Every manager needs to understand, as Frederick Herzberg noted in his landmark 1968 Harvard Business Review article, if you kick a dog it may move (out of fear) but is NOT motivated. Fear causes a fight/flight response in people, which focuses on generating action to avoid the cause of the fear and not on producing better work or doing things more effectively (Aguayo, 1990). The fight/flight response driven by people who use fear often causes hiding, running or cheating and none of these things lead to positive change which is what the organisation really needs. Sometimes leaders need reminding of this again and again; Herzberg’s 44-year-old article has been re-issued at least five times (most recently in 2008) and still remains relevant; people are motivated from within – they themselves must want the change and it is these motivations which will make things happen.
Aguayo R. 1990, Dr Deming: The American who taught the Japanese About Quality, Mercury, London.
Herzberg, F. 1968, “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62
Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.
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