The Transformation Paradigm: Groundswell
I have written and rewritten it trying to get the case to build to a climax where I unleash the surprising conclusion... to no avail. I can't write it that way. So instead, I'll cut to the chase. Here goes: I believe that
Cultural Transformation starts AT THE BOTTOM not at the top.
I've attended several training sessions for leaders in the last few months as well as reading numerous articles on cultural transformation. The consistent theme in much of what I've taken in, is that organizational transformation MUST start at the top. It's the leaders that must set the pace, set the examples and over time the organization will follow.
So leaders, my question is How's that working for you? Seriously. How is that working for you?
I know that my experience in our organization has seen us struggling through a transformation initiative that is years in the making. Progress has been slow, painful and at times stalled. That's how it's been.
Until now. Something has happened. Something that at first I didn't understand. In the last few months something has been different. Age old processes are being examined. Old ways of behaving and thinking are giving way to new behaviours and ways of being.
So the question is, WHAT HAS CHANGED?
As I've been seeking to understand, the answer has become clear.
Something is happening at the bottom.
At the lowest levels of our organization something is changing. Partly its started with an influx of new hires, and partly there are people who have been here for a long time that have realized that enough is enough! If we continue to be the way we've been, we'll have exactly what we've had. We have to be different to have something different!
Stumbling across this thought almost by accident, I began to reflect more. Are there other situations that would prove out the thought that cultural transformations actually occur bottom up rather than top down?
Do I even need to say more? If there is nothing else that we can learn through the massive upheaval and the groundswell that has and still is occurring in the Arab nations of Africa and the Middle East, its that if there is dissent at the lowest levels (people not in positions of leadership/authority) THAT is where the transformation will be created. NOT from the top as the leaders in Egypt and Libya quickly found out.
If the people at the bottom decide that there needs to be a change, THERE WILL BE A CHANGE.
If the people at the top decide there will be a change and the people at the bottom don't agree, there may be an initial change but it will not last as the people at the bottom actually have the power and dictate.
Growing up in East Africa and seeing more than my fair share of communism, corruption, death and exploitation, and seeing the people eventually rise up and overthrow the corrupt systems has me convinced that TRANSFORMATION STARTS AT THE BOTTOM.
In this light I've begun connecting more with our people who are just entering our organization and encouraging them to come in to our workplace with eyes wide open. Look for things that are broken. Don't overthrow the leaders but merely NOTICE things that are dysfunctional, broken, inefficient, non reflective of a productive and positive work culture. Then slowly, bit by bit, began offering up suggestions to those "at the top" on what kinds of tweaks and changes would help the organization to move from where it is to TOP NOTCH.
So if what I propose is true, is there a role for the leader in the organization to create Cultural Transformation? I say YES. Yes there is. However the role is not quite what I've been being taught lately.
It is not or should not be the role of the leader to dictate what the culture is or should be. (That should and will be decided by the general populace)
The leaders job is not to dictate the culture but to
REFLECT BACK TO THE ORGANIZATION THE CULTURE THAT IT ASPIRES TO.
This role can not be understated.
If the leader is successfully reflecting back to the organization, the leader is the sounding board. The leader is serving as the guide post for the organization to look to. The leader who does not reflect the cultural aspirations of the organization, well if you were the leader of a country, you're usurped, overthrown, deposed etc... In a 1st world organization, well, in the words of Donald Trump "YOU'RE FIRED".
My conclusion is this, lets not stop investing time/energy training leaders to create transformation environments, but lets RADICALLY up our investment in REALLY LISTENING to our people. If we listen they will tell us what and how to transform our organizations.
They want to tell us.
Leaders do you want to listen?
If you don't... well...
Watch out for the groundswell.
It'll get ya.