Change the system, change the culture

Change the system, change the culture

The challenge of transforming large, complex organisations that have grown up around calcified hierarchies and process management structures is a hard one. There are no easy answers.

It requires knowledge across various fields including technology, culture, psychology, org design, learning, networks, new ways of working, etc., so we should not be surprised that people often have different areas of focus or emphasis about where to start and what matters.

But at some point, we have to face up to and challenge the core system that sustains the old and holds back change, which is the idea of a two-tier workforce where a hierarchy of managers controls all aspects of how the rest of the workforce operates.

We need to coordinate work. We need strategy. We need control and governance mechanisms. It is just that all these things can be done better, cheaper and more productively by smarter tech and systems than a pyramid of people in suits.

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But at a time when business improvement and change are becoming more and more urgent priorities, we continue to see faceless ‘political’ old guard management groups take too much money off the table whilst preventing real change, push out visionary leaders trying to make a difference, or disempower emerging leaders and change agents who are trying to improve their organisations.

The common lesson in each case is not to start by focusing on individual behaviour, culture, brand identity or communications, but to get practical and concrete quickly by designing a better system. We need a way of coordinating work and guiding the organisation that is more effective than the current one, more real-time in the way it works, and less prone to exploitation by a small group of people. Change the system and you will change the culture and the individual behaviours.

But it rarely works the other way around, so if your focus is only on culture, comms or individual behaviours, you may not see the systemic change you are hoping for.

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