It Takes Guts to Build a Culture of Openness
by Arnaud Henneville, Apr 21 2016
There is this peculiar thing leaders talk about; this so called ‘Culture of Openness.’ For the late-comers, the idea of an organizational Open Culture is dead simple: it is about allowing everyone to dare to talk freely (even when the going gets tough); it is about allowing not ‘failure’ but ‘experimentation’; it is about accountability. The self-evident rationale is: to accelerate the flows of information in every direction (top-down, bottom-up, sideways) so as to de-silo a structure. For what purpose? To speed-up everything: best practices exchanges, innovation, new product development, time-to-market, etc.
Now, the barriers to making this happen are massive; it takes guts throughout the organization to move from a command-and-control to a people-centered archetype. And in the business we are in, we experience this first-hand, from internal politics and hubris at the top to everyonedown the food-chain ‘resisting’ any change coming their way; IT-folks to HR-contributors included.
It takes guts throughout the organization to move from a command-and-control to a people-centered archetype.
My company runs bespoke enterprise social platforms for our clients and for our clients’ (Partners) clients and sometimes, amazing results come from where one expects them the least. A few years back, the CEO of a large organization had taken on the courageous-yet-necessary mammoth task of revamping the culture of his rapidly spiraling out organization. In his words, the move was about ‘opening-up the company’ to allow for greater responsibility, risk-taking, intrapreneurial mindset, etc. All was meant at repositioning the company in the top-league after years of deceleration in innovative products/services hitting the market, massive losses and rock-bottom employee morale.
At the start of our engagement, the CEO’s own picture of ‘current versus future’ state was a rather optimistic one. While they had certainly achieved some great results over a few quarters, it turned out they were nowhere near ‘done’ – as they’d soon discover. And we got to the bottom of it in a matter of days – not by conducting surveys and extrapolating on results but by implementing an open platform that would, objectively, give the leadership team the right reading of the current situation. Indeed, the beauty of tools like ours is they enable one to see through the invisible and the impalpable.
Once a corporate platform is launched and adequately positioned internally, it is fairly easy to judge the real (not wished-for) level of ‘openness’ within the ranks. It is typically at that point, a week or so, post-inauguration that some very eager leaders tend to lose it: “How come my people ain’t engaging?”, “Why are they not they sharing best practices on this great tool we offer them?” To which I often reply “Well, no feedback is also good feedback – you have a loop here: we just need to figure what this tells us”.
I am amazed (and somewhat amused after all these years) when people, very smart people, assume that a tool alone will solve all their problems overnight. And that thanks to their newly launched corporate platform they’ll move from a siloed red-tape organization to an agile innovative one after a couple of system-generated push-notifications. While most would agree ‘the silver bullet’ is a fallacy, or that ‘unicorns’ don’t exist – deep inside, we still all seem hopeful, dreaming of another reality.
But make no mistake, we have gone through it over and over already; no tool – no matter how brilliant, no matter how user friendly, irrelevant of the number of features it boasts – will turn a dysfunctional culture into a winning one in a heartbeat. ‘Trust’ is to be earned. And so, culture is to be carved and anchored daily, process after process, meeting after meeting, demonstrated behavior after demonstrated behavior. One of the great results tools like ours create though is to shorten the journey from ‘here’ to ‘there’ by giving decision-makers an unbiased, untainted, un-sugar-coated view of the reality: the organization as it is from within (at any point of time). Then, what happens or does not happen is really up to all of us.
Culture is to be carved and anchored daily, process after process, meeting after meeting, demonstrated behavior after demonstrated behavior