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Organizational DNA

I often hear these organizational horror stories about companies with too little or too many policies or processes, or companies with a total lack of leadership and decision-making ability. I also hear of companies with poor quality products/services being produced despite efforts to change. The list of organizational dis-functionality goes on and on. It is not uncommon to hear stories about organizational leaders and their management teams expressing concern about why their communication “program”, or the new “employee recognition program” aren’t having the desired effects that they wanted. Worse yet, for companies that are subject to audit compliance based on their systems, (i.e. ISO) these audits often turn up shortcomings in existing systems.

DNACompanies make adjustments, but at the end of the day, the desired change is either not realized or not sustained – something isn’t working. Often the rationale given for why things haven’t had any “organizational stickiness” covers everything from:

1) The employees don’t understand the new system/program
2) People are unwilling to change
3) “They” need more training
4) The company has grown too quickly
5) We don’t have the right people in the right positions

So why is that? Simple (in terms of explanation) – it is because the organizational change in behaviours and approach that are required to achieve the desired outcomes are not embedded in the organizational DNA!

What I mean is this – if you truly want to deliver a superior product or service and you have determined that being a process driven organization is the way to go, then you must embed that within your organizational DNA. The leadership team and managers must walk and talk process and link performance and desired outcomes back to processes. These processes must become a religion, a driving force for how business is done. They need to be believed, lived and breathed day in day out by the organization and its employees, in effect, becoming part of their DNA.

This is the same principle for the above noted communication and recognition programs. Too often I have seen company’s survey employees and when the surveys tell them that recognition or communication is an issue, the answer is to develop a “program” to fix things. There is no concerted effort on the part of leaders and managers to actually improve daily communication and/or recognition (make it part of their DNA). The answer is to develop and deliver a program, check that off of the “to do” list, and move on to the next thing. Any wonder it doesn’t work?

Whether it is to become process driven or improve communication, it simply can NOT be a check in the box exercise for your company. It is not something you do the bare minimum of so you can achieve a certain status, certification, or survey result. That type of thinking and approach is short term and myopic and it will simply lead to the activity of applying organizational bands aids to something (that isn’t truly embedded organizationally or believed in) that in the end won’t provide the company a desired outcome anyway.

Think of the need to embed things in the organizations’ DNA another way. Let’s say a company feels that a commitment to diversity is the right thing to do and makes sense for its business. So the company goes out and prints a bunch of posters, adds it to their values list and trains managers on “diversity.” At the end of the day, if the senior leaders don’t model the way, talk about diversity and what they see as the desired outcomes, and hold themselves and the company accountable for growing and supporting a diverse workforce, than it has become an exercise in smoke and mirrors. Your employees and the public will know that it isn’t something you truly believe in and it was simply a check in the box exercise so your next recruiting poster could say that you have a diverse workforce.

As an organization, and as HR leaders, your actions have to align with your words. It is all about believing in something and making it part of the organization’s DNA. Whether it is processes or people, ISO 9000 or employee recognition, you have to believe in it and do it for the right reasons. It has to be invested in and sustained and not simply dusted off once a year and given a cursory check. It all needs to be transparent for it to take root. Remember, your employees are watching – if they see it is something the company truly embraces, than they will embrace it. If it is a check in the box exercise, your employees will simply ride the wave until it passes out to sea and then wait for the next fad. Obviously, the desired change will not occur and you will be left asking the questions (again) identified in the first part of this blog post. What about you? What has been your experience organizationally? Do you believe something has to be part of your organizational DNA to have it work? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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