There has been a movement that has overtaken many businesses that attempts to re-imagine how to effectively create an organizational culture. The traditional corporate culture was shaped like a pyramid with power centralized to the top. There was a patriarichal feeling to the culture with supervisors being expected to know best, control information shared to direct reports, develop subordinates according to a process and timeline of their derivation, and management roles being the culmination of career pathing discussions. Of course, that has not always proven to be the most successful approach to competing in the marketplace where changes happen constantly, good ideas can occur regardless of hierarchical level, expertise may exist anywhere in the organization, communication that is free-flowing between departments, across functions, and not restricted to reporting relationships is valued, and employees often feel shackled by being squeezed into the conventional expectations.
What it Looks Like
Oneof the quick visual clues that indicates that an organization is working to improve on the way that their culture impacts their business success is the removal or reduction of dedicated offices behind walls and doors. An Open Office environment that may have assigned areas (cubicles) or even open seating available to any employee is one such clue. By encouraging interaction and engagement between and among employees is believed to allow for the exchange of ideas, better working relationships, reduction in the “us” vs. “them” mentalities that often was fostered by the physical environment commonly used (floors dedicated to departments, offices, location of where executives are situated, etc.).
The traditional approach to business was that management was expected to be wise, solicit input for decision-making from subordinates, but always retain the final decision-making authority. Decisions could be reached quickly as they ultimately were being made by a single individual (admittedly, speed did not mean better in all instances) and did not require multiple contributors. However, it also meant at times that each rung of the corporate ladder had to approve of a decision if budgets were impacted and the amount required was above that Manager’s authority. The approach now used often calls for group or committee sign-off on decisions with members of the group or committee being chosen from various levels of management, expertise, and authority.
Many organizations are moving away from a single decision-maker and seeking to create a more democratic and collaborative approach to making decisions. One place where this is seen commonly is in hiring decisions. It is standard now for an applicant to be interviewed individually and in groups by employees who may be; peers, subordinates, supervisors, subject matter experts (SMEs) who will likely work with the applicant upon hire, and in some sales roles, even customers participate in the selection process.
The downside to this approach is that it is assumed that more opinions, observations, insights provided, etc. are a good thing. However, not everyone who participates in the process necessarily is skilled at it, should have an equal say, and can torpedo an applicant’s chances (not to mention create unnecessary steps and work for the employees that cost the organization) inappropriately.
It is fashionable in some organizations to refer to their leaders as being responsible for stewardship and to repudiate their role as key or critical decision-makers. Rather, the view is that they are beholden to ensuring the organizational members are most fully developed, provided opportunities to grow and contribute, and reach their potential. Decisions are “pushed down” the organizational ladder when and where possible (if not feasible) and leaders attempt to encourage their reports to assume responsibility.
The results of this approach being poorly implemented is no better than when the autocratic, command and control, hierarchically driven organization model is employed. The ego of middle managers can be as extreme as those at the top of the totem pole, the political fighting may actually be more vicious, and the business results will not improve (whether looking at sales, employee turnover, or any other measure.). Power (informal and/or formal) will continue to warp the process if the right governance is not applied.
It is correct to assess organizational culture and to take the steps to improve the impact it has on the business. However, to blindly accept one approach as better without truly analyzing what effect it has on the business performance is a mistake.