Narratives of Culture: 2nd Movement

April 22, 2015

Change Fatigue.gifI tend to ration my use of Gaping Void cartoons otherwise I would be using one every day! However this one was too good not to use. It’s also very relevant to the new approach to intervention and change that Culture Scan and other aspects of SenseMaker® like the soon to be announced 360º feedback tool. I’ve given up on getting Culture Scan out this week by the way. Everything is working but the fine detail of the text and pricing has to be right and I’ve slipped it to Monday to allow that. The upside is that it allows me to complete the series of posts to explain its use. This link will take you back to the first of those if you want to catch up.

The emphasis of today’s post is to argue against change management programmes with end goals and argue instead for multiple small action based interventions to secure a vector or vectors of change. The cycle of change initiatives in most organisations is relentless and largely driven by the multiple false assumption of the engineering metaphors of the last few decades. The standard approach is to decide how things should be, then attempt to close the gap by dragging people into the Brave New World that has arise from a few top executive workshops constrained by the recipes of their favourite consultants.

There are substantial and known problems here:

  1. Setting goals for something as nebulous as culture inevitably dooms you to a series of failures, in part because you heighten expectations but mainly because making such goals explicit does not account for changing context over the period that the change programme is going to take. Even if they were right at the time, they will not be correct a year hence
  2. Also you are no longer dealing with a green field site, these days you are building on the partial memories of multiple previous change initiatives though which your employees (and customers) will filter what you say. If you get a cynical response it means you are at least one change initiative too many, not that you staff are unresponsive. The cynics care, listen to them; the sycophants who always greet your ideas with enthusiasm should be fired before they further their own corruption and enable your damnation.
  3. Such programmes are a gift to the political players in the organisation, adept at making themselves visible in what ever is the current corporate fashion. This is turn frustrates those who genuinely want to make a difference but are more engaged in doing things that producing material dressing up in the latest rhetoric of change.
  4. Ironically the very change programme diverts people from making real change as they are now too occupied in the process not in the actions that the process is designed to achieve. So you are in a downwards spiral.
  5. Finally and most importantly the focus on a specific verbal construct of the future means that you will miss opportunities that present themselves in day to day interactions. This ability to spot weak signals has been at the heart of my, and now Cognitive Edge’s work for two decades or more. it is in the outliers that opportunity and threat present themselves not the dumb downed platitudes of most initiatives to which it is impossible to object, but which are objectively meaningless.

The alternative is most cheaper, simpler and more sustainable. You start with where people are and then you seek to carry out small fail-safe initiatives to see if you can start to shift things in the right direction. Take a look at the landscape my first post on Culture Scan to get a sense of this. You engage all people in a What can we do to get more stories like these and fewer like this series of actions. Not talking about how things should be in the future, but doing small things in the situated present than enable the emergence of better future. Managing change is about what we do now, now what we want to be. That at best gives us a sense of direction.

Over the next few posts I will give some examples of that around the signifiers we are using for Culture Scan.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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