March 5, 2011

The Organization Needs to Ask Itself Tough Questions to Survive

Warren Bennis, in 1993, noted the following in his bookAn Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change”:

Given the nature and constancy of change and the transnational challenges facing American business leadership, the key to making the right choices will come from understanding and embodying the leadership qualities necessary to succeed in the volatile and mercurial global economy. To survive in the 21st century, we’re going to need a new generation of leaders – leaders, not managers.

Almost 20 years later, I suppose we are all haunted by the words of Bennis.

It’s my personal opinion that the word leader should denote and be applied to everyone in an organization. Every single person must play a leadership role in today’s organization. Furthermore, every single person should be treated & trusted as a leader; someone that helps to achieve the overarching goal of an organization, no matter what the intent is defined as.

There is always an ‘us’ in trust.

An example that comes to mind occurred roughly 50 years ago at NASA. It is alleged that during a tour of the NASA Space Center, President Lyndon Johnson came upon a janitor at work in the building where the lunar module was being housed. When asked by the president what his role at NASA was, the janitor pointed at the lunar module and stated, “To help get that thing up to the moon.”

Another is the cultural and business transformation story of Telefonica, detailed in the case study Transforming the firm for the digital era: An organizational effort towards an E-culture by Juan Llopis, M. Reyes Gonzalez and Jose L. Gasco. (Human Systems Management 23 (2004) 213–225 213, IOS Press) In it, the authors detail a long-term evolution at Telefonica where they passed from an informatics culture to an informational culture; through the involvement and participation of its entire 145,000+ workforce.

When an individual decides to join an organization, they inherently make a decision and arguably take a leap of faith. Does the existing culture measure up to one’s personal expectation, values, beliefs, and so on? Or, have they made a mistake in joining the organization?

Other questions to consider:

  • Does the organization treat everyone as leaders, or, is it rife with command and control tendencies, using ‘managers’ as a basis to carry out top-down objectives?
  • What sort of alignment and connection do you personally have with your organization?
  • Is your organization evolving to become both transparent and inclusive?
  • Does your organization include you in the process of drafting objectives, surfacing ideas, and generally feeling a part of the mission?
  • Are you engaged? (ie. does your organization care to ask you for your opinion before executing on objectives?)
  • Do your senior leaders walk the talk of open, collaborative leadership? Do they even use Enterprise 2.0 technologies to bridge the connection gap?

Over the coming quarters, it’s my belief that senior leaders in any organization will be facing a culture crisis. If organizations don’t realign such that all employees become trusted leaders, they will suffer dire consequences. These human capital calamities include both high potential and over-performing personnel departing for pastures that are not only greener, but that treat everyone as a leader.

If the organization of tomorrow isn’t aligned and connected to the leader of today, their demise may be slow, but it will be assured. No one will confute this reality when it begins to occur with more frequent force. (see Digital Equipment Corporation,  Circuit City, and Nortel Networks)

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