Breaking Culture: 1. Why we fail
Organization Mechanics

Breaking Culture: 1. Why we fail

My experience has led me to believe that organizations tend toward bureaucratic process-oriented stagnation. This occurs as small startups scale, and has been a way of life for many local, state, and federal government agencies. When you ask why a process exists or request a temporary exemption from the normal rules, responses will range from “that is the way we always do it” to “it is out of my hands, those are the rules”. Those rules are further instantiated by inflexible systems, processes, and sometimes people. However, I like to believe most people can be innovators, but they require the right culture, the freedom from bureaucracy, and strong leadership leading the way.

You probably look around your organization and wonder how did we get this inflexible? In order to break into innovation, we must review how we got here and what causes this typical development: lag, log, stationary, death (typically used to describe bacteria population cycles, but can be charted as the growth of a business).

Ref: A typical bacterial growth curve consisting of lag phase, exponential or log phase, stationary phase and death phase. Adapted from (Komorniczak 2009). https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-typical-bacterial-growth-curve-consisting-of-lag-phase-exponential-or-log-phase_fig3_327558675

We start with people, because you will find that people are both the problem and the solution. A majority of personality types are change averse (Ref: https://personalitygrowth.com/heres-how-adaptable-you-are-according-to-your-personality-type/). They prefer consistency, efficiency, and predictability in their work and home environments for various reasons. Change can be very frustrating for these folks. On the contrary, less than 30% of personality types truly enjoy or embrace change. Looking around your organization you will find that people who dislike change will gravitate towards positions where day to day work is very predictable. These people will work in positions for years, slowly advancing to places of authority, only to further instantiate risk and change aversion into the corporation. As an innovator, while I disagree with this modality, I understand how someone can find a lot of comfort in consistency. (See my upcoming discussion of empathy in leadership to understand my perspective further)

If the majority of our organization is either change averse or simply adaptable to change, then a minority are actually change instigators. The result is they will be overruled or ignored in any meeting. My experience is also that innovators like to shoot from the hip when it comes to new ideas. These people are truly collaborators who seek to bring up ideas, ask others to add their ideas, and continue to develop concepts further as a group. This approach is so disliked in typical corporate or government organizations, that great ideas will die on the meeting room floor before they even had a chance to be fully expressed.

It is pretty apparent how we get to where we are in most large organizations, but here is a recap:

  • A majority of people prefer predictability in their environments
  • A small minority of people actually instigate change
  • Typical culture does not encourage stream of consciousness collaboration, it requires fully formed ideas that are explained in PowerPoint or white papers. Those ideas must be defended during meetings by the usual nay-sayers, not nurtured or further developed.
  • Over time, innovators will leave the organization, giving further seniority and influence to those who prefer to stay the course.

Did I miss anything? Leave a note in the comments!

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