Is your organization unable to change in the face of forces and threats from the business environment? Are you struggling against overly complex systems that frustrate and undermine your attempts to create positive change? Is your organization activity focused, rather than outcome focused? Does vital business information get filtered, altered, or stopped as it moves up and down through the organizational structure? Do you make key decisions that go unimplemented, or get reversed after-the-fact? Is there a gap between the formal (written) rules for how things get done, and the informal (unwritten) rules for how things really get done? Does your organization’s culture act like an Invisible Bureaucracy™ that prevents you from getting the results you want? These are some of the signs that your organization has reached an impasse.
One of the problems with identifying and moving beyond an organizational impasse is that managers and staff members are actively involved in the ways of working and patterns-of-interaction that create and sustain the impasse, and they don’t recognize it because these day-to-day operations are on autopilot and are organizational Blind Spots; e.g., things that others know about how an organization operates that managers and staff don’t. Often, an organization is the last to know what customers, suppliers, and competitors have known all along – an organization says it has customer focus, but then defends itself against customer feedback; it says it’s committed to providing quality services, but then doesn’t deliver on commitments. It’s also difficult to know when you’ve reached an impasse, because organizations have sophisticated algorithms for managing information that they receive from the business environment when it doesn’t “map” onto how they “see” themselves and their corporate self-image. These algorithms function like organizational defense routines that are designed to select inputs that agree with an organization’s perception of itself, and ignore or dismiss the rest.
Recognizing that an organization is at an impasse almost always requires a burning platform and there are two kinds of burning platforms: reactive and proactive. The reactive kind is when managers wait until a situation has gone critical to seek help or try to alter ineffective organizational performance and destructive patterns-of-interaction. Alternatively, managers who adopt the proactive kind of burning platform realize that while the situation may not be critical right now, it probably will be if they allow these performance problems to continue frustrating and undermining their organization’s ability to get its desired results. When confronted with the signs of being at an impasse, managers and their staff often ask the question, “How bad are we hurting?” If the answer is, “Not that bad,” then things normally go on as they are, until the next crisis raises its ugly head.
One of the strongest and most robust indicators of whether an organization has reached an impasse is the extent to which it has an intended, rather than unintended culture. An Intended Culture™ is consciously configured to achieve an organization’s desired results; e.g., its goals and objectives. An Unintended Culture™ tends to be riddled with ineffective autopilot operations and Invisible Bureaucracy that derail, frustrate, and undermine achieving goals and objectives, and is a strong indicator that an organization has reached an impasse. An organization’s ability to change and adapt with conscious intention is the true test of the degree to which its culture is consciously chosen (intended) to achieve specific ends.
Creating an Intended Culture helps an organization move beyond impasses, and transforms its culture into a powerful resource that effectively performs day-to-day operations on autopilot; e.g., effectively and seamlessly without thinking about them. When done effectively, autopilot operations can be your greatest ally because they increase your ability to compete and achieve your goals. But in most cases the autopilot operations that typify an Unintended Culture and organizational impasses are self-defeating because they perpetuate problems with work performance, communication, interpersonal conflict, and decision-making, and then derail attempts to create positive change. Creating an Intended Culture requires managers to use a four-step process to: a) take ineffective ways of working and patterns-of-interaction off autopilot and raise them back into personal and organizational awareness, b) reconfigure ineffective processes and behaviors to get different results, c) migrate the new more effective ways of working and patterns-of-interaction back to autopilot operations through repetition, and d) define a path forward for achieving an organization’s goals and objectives that embeds these changes over time so they’re sustainable. Bottom Line: Understanding the invisible forces that bring organizations to an impasse and then realigning them through this four-step process begins to transform “culture” into a reliable resource that can be intentionally used to achieve an organization’s goals and objectives.