The Improvement Process Starts from Where You Are Now
One of the most uncluttered, simple, straightforward calls to action I have ever heard goes like this: Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are and start now!
In order to make this work, it is essential to know exactly “where you are” in an objective, measurable way. In my experience working with leading entrepreneurial businesses, improving organizational culture typically shows up as a key strategic imperative. My question is this: How can you go about improving something if you don’t know where you stand now?
Recently, I participated in a webinar celebrating the 50th anniversary of Human Synergistics, a company dedicated to measuring and improving individual and organizational performance. Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. presented an overview of how they developed the Organizational Culture Inventory as a reliable, statistically valid method for measuring corporate culture. Along with his late colleague, J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Cooke identified 12 behavioral traits clustered in three categories: Passive Defensive, Aggressive Defensive, and Humanistic Encouraging.
The most common of these three categories is the passive defensive style. It is evidenced by four primary behavioral traits: Avoidance, dependent, conventional, and approval.
- Members demonstrate avoidance traits by leaving decisions to others, being noncommittal, laying low when things get tough, and generally showing a lack of self-confidence.
- Dependent traits are demonstrated by members who rely on others for direction, don’t challenge others, are compliant, and tend to be reliable followers.
- Conventional traits are evidenced by members who value conformity, treat rules as more important than ideas, follow policies, protocols, procedures, and practices, and set predictable goals and objectives.
- The approval trait will commonly see members who set goals to please others, agree with everyone (at least, superficially), are over-optimistic, and tend to spoil people with kindness.
Organizations with a passive defensive cultural style are unlikely to be forward looking, innovative, easily adaptive, and receptive to change initiatives. In the passive defensive culture, organizations tend to stagnate and lose ground to competitors while clinging to processes and procedures and placing a high premium on appearing to be cordial, non-confrontational and avoid conflict. Not that conflicts do not exist; they simply go unaddressed and, do not go away, but tend to grow in intensity.
Because of the need to appear as though everyone gets alone, these simmering conflicts become raw material for bitterness and resentment among members over time. Unresolved issues are talked about only in non-productive, back-channel “water cooler” conversations. Walk into any employee break room and hear members talking in hushed tones and/or abruptly stopping the conversation altogether and chances are you’re seeing evidence of a passive defensive culture.
That this is the most common of the three identified in the Organizational Culture Inventory helps explain the malaise that has a tight grip on far too many organizations.
We’ll take a closer look at the other two styles, Humanistic/Encouraging and Aggressive/Defensive next time.
For more information on how you can put the Organizational Culture Inventory to work for your organization, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.