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Paper Tigers or Palpable Change

Paper or Palpable Change

  • 25 January 2018
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Many organizations are struggling to adjust to our current "VUCA" world. VUCA is abbreviated for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Where the world once moved at a slower pace, with more predictable challenges, among markets and competitors you knew, and consumers being less demanding, the world has gone "crazy." Technology is connecting everything and everyone, disruptive new inventions emerge, service economies breed demanding customers, and we need to respond faster and multi-task more.

That goes for both organizations and individuals. You were just getting used to the new operating system on your smartphone when the new update appears. Your company was getting ready to launch a new product when a better alternative suddenly enters the market.

Competing Values

We need to be faster, cheaper, but also more innovative, collaborative and productive and reliable at the same time. The Competing Values Framework shows that that is not possible at the same time. For every unit of time or money, you need to choose what to spend it on. You cannot eat the cake and sell it at the same time. Such is the nature of reality. You can spend that one dollar or one minute only once.

The Competing Values Framework (CVF) that is at the basis of the OCAI culture survey, discerns four culture types based on competing values that you cannot embody 100% at the same time (though you need them all to respond effectively in different situations).

You're either 100% efficient or 100% innovative at a given point in time. You're collaborative or competitive - but not both at the same time.

The Gap

Many organizations are still organized as a pyramid. Many mature companies rely on the CVF's Hierarchy and Market culture types. They focus on what is stable, predictable, measurable. They depend on planning and control. They have honed their procedures and policies. They cherish both efficiency and effectiveness. 

But at the same time, clients want innovations, different services, more customization. Employees don't accept narrow job descriptions or authoritative leadership anymore. Competitors don't play by the rules. Suppliers behave more flexible while asking reliability from the company. 

Now what? More and more companies turn to the OCAI for help. "We need to change! We need to become flexible. Our employees are disengaged, but they should think for themselves and solve their issues. We need to become faster and better."

Map and Plan!

Sure, the OCAI can help them map their current and preferred culture. Often, their current culture profile has a strong basis in the control-oriented Hierarchy culture. Their preferred culture goes in the direction of the entrepreneurial, innovative, agile Adhocracy culture. That would match their clients, their market, and their employees better....

But how do they get there? Well, preferably in their well-known "Hierarchy-culture-way." Because that's the way they're doing things. They're used to planning and control. They love detailed plans and thorough analysis. They prefer to roll out all their plans in a top-down fashion: to implement. 

What people don't know, they don't like. Yes, they need more flexibility. But they hope they can control that flexibility. They'd prefer to plan their impromptu improvisations. Contradictions...!

More often than not, my prospective clients want a Culture Plan. Firmly rooted in planning & control, they want to know the exact steps and results in advance. They need to know when and how the culture will be changed, what the results will be, and how much budget and sessions that will take.

Paper Tiger

The consulting firms that satisfy this need for a detailed plan on paper (a paper tiger?) will win the assignment. They are hired to do the culture change project. Even though culture change is not a project, but an ongoing process. Even though it cannot be 100% controlled or planned. After the project, looking back, the detailed plan made in advance probably didn't work. Or, if it did succeed, it went surely differently than anticipated.

In my experience, at the start, we can agree on a rough outline and direction and start the journey. But the map is not the territory. You'll be surprised, traveling through the territory of your daily culture, what you'll find. Some things will go faster than expected; some things will be more frustrating. Some things are a big surprise; others are no-brainers. 

But detailed planning and control in advance are not possible. That's why I refuse to feed that illusion. I don't like to spend time on paper tigers. I'd rather spend energy on and work with the real tigers that we encounter in the culture, in real time. 

Learning by doing

What works best is to shape the culture change process as a learning experience to practice the "new" culture. We're not going to achieve a more creative, flexible, agile culture in the planning & control way. That's not possible. We're going to develop this agile, entrepreneurial culture by being entrepreneurial, by experimenting with making mistakes and learning from them, with trying new behaviors, with being flexible and finding our new way to do things around here.

That can be scary. It is a journey through the real territory. You can use a map, but the map is just a piece of paper. No Culture Plan is going to help you. If you need to become more collaborative and innovative, if you need to be more flexible - then you must DO it. You cannot plan for every small detail, minute, or dollar. You need to agree on rough outlines and then go for it: travel in the right direction and adjust if needed.

Paper is not Now, and not Palpable

What do you think happens often? The clients that need it the most, entrenched in a dysfunctional Hierarchy culture, won't and can't accept rough outlines and planning. They prefer detailed analysis before and after, above practice in real time. They insist on a detailed Culture Plan in advance, because they still believe in Paper Tigers.

Fortunately, some clients dare to travel without exact hotel reservations. They trust me to facilitate their journey while backpacking through their new territory. They have faith that they'll make it when they go in the right direction and learn together, in real time. Not in advance or afterward, on paper. But in the here and now, where culture evolves as people get together. They go for palpable results and real change.

Also check out the online Positive Culture Academy. Subscribe to the Academy's mailing list so I can keep you posted!

© Marcella Bremer 2018, All rights reserved.