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Thursday, June 6, 2013

To Make The Organization Transparent To Itself

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The ordinary person can't avoid germs. In just the same way the organization can't avoid potentially toxic environmental hazards.

This is because organizations are composed of people - plenty of psychological problems there. 

Those people interact in groups - which means power struggles and cultural conflict.

Groups are of many different kinds - some inherent to the organization and some not. For example there could be differences between one department and another. Between genders. Or both and many others.

Both individuals and groups compete for resources. So now we bolt on another layer of conflict, the economic struggle to survive.

And we still have not considered all the pressures from outside the organization. That is the many stakeholders who want to influence its direction.

If you stop to think about it...

Organizational health is achievable. It is.

But it has to be taken as seriously and as literally as the physical health of an individual.

In the case of a person, we know what factors promote or hinder disease. 

--If you don't sleep, don't move, smoke, abuse food, drink or do drugs, avoid friendship, and engage in overly stressful activity -- you will die too soon.

--We also know that if you invest in preventive self-care over many years rather than waiting until your body is diseased, you minimize the chance that you will have to do drastic things to recover from an illness. Because you have some health in reserve.

--Finally, if you care for your mind, body and spirit holistically, you will spend less time chasing symptom after symptom. Because health is a system in which the parts work together.

Yet none of the above will work if you fail to do one very important thing. And that is to acknowledge that you need your health in the first place. Or worse yet, deny the symptoms when something is going wrong.

In the case of the organization we routinely make all of these mistakes.

--We know what kind of leadership and management behaviors promote a good workplace, and which make it sink like a stone in the river. But we do not insist that they occur.

--We know that making little investments proactively over time build an emotional "bank account" that serve as a buffer in times of stress. But we wait for a crisis to do something.

--We know that a problem in one part of the organization usually means a problem somewhere else. But we continue to look at such issues in isolation.

But the worst thing we do, knowing all of the above, is to ignore or deny it when problems exist. Shooting the messengers  who bring us bad tidings.

This is not to say that we should run around being negative. "Oh yes, that's us, we're terrible," etc.

It does mean that we should be having ongoing safe conversations about our organizational health. Just like a regular doctor's checkup - what is going on? Are there early signs of problems? What can we do?

Investing in our physical health is an insurance policy. It protects not just us but the ones we love and have pledged to care for.

It is much the same thing with the organization. We are there for our own careers, true. But by joining we have made a pledge to the group, to take care of them not just in parts but as a whole.

Transparency is important for the outside. But it is fundamentally more important at home.  

* As always all opinions are my own.