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Weeknote: 24.04.23

TL;DR

  • Leaders must communicate and manage what they communicate, it's about how you do it, rather than if you should do it.

  • To create change, leaders must find ways to bring groups of people along with them and communicate the message simply.

  • Two ways to create and change the culture in organizations are primary embedding mechanisms and secondary stabilizing mechanisms.

  • Personal reflection is key to recognizing the underlying culture and not making mistakes.

  • Being uncomfortable is a sign that you're growing, and it's important to listen to different viewpoints to create inclusivity in the workplace.


Themes from the week


“The outsider should never lecture insiders on their own culture, because the outsider cannot know where the sensitivities will be and cannot overcome his or her own subtle biases.” – Schein, p266


I’ve fallen behind in synthesising what I’ve been learning over the last three weeks or so. There has been a lot going on, and I’ve needed to accept that this is something I’ve needed to let fall off my to-do list. But today, it’s back on! Looking back, I’ve covered a lot in the last three weeks, from reading about organisational culture and leadership to workshops on psychological safety, coaching training, and some great podcasts.


“Leaders do not have a choice about whether or not to communicate. They only have a choice about how to manage what they communicate.” (Schein, p205).


What a great quote, it makes the point that leadership is about communication, and the question is how you do it rather than if you should do it. Creating change and leading effectively means finding ways to bring groups of people along with you – listening to them and communicating your views. To create change is to “seduce” those around you to re-think their identity.


This point was hammered home at a marketing meet-up that I attended, where the point was made that of the created climate content, 80% of it is only seen by 20% of the total population in the UK. That’s shocking, if we want to create change, the message needs to get out to many more people. The challenge is distilling the message – climate or otherwise- to something specific and meaningful to the people receiving it. Keep the message simple.


Linked to communication was the idea about how you create – and also change the culture. We need to get our hands dirty to create and change culture. “...Its not possible to study a human system without intervening in it, and we can fully understand a human system only by trying to change it.” (Lewin 1947) Schein notes that there are two ways to achieve this in organisations and society. The primary and second mechanisms. The table below sets these out:

As I’ve reflected on these points, I’ve looked back at how I’ve worked in organisations in the past, as an employee and as a consultant. What has stood out to me is that I’ve sometimes not been attuned to the underlying culture as much as I needed to be. I rolled up my sleeves and got dirty without really thinking through the prevailing culture in the organisation. I’m more and more aware of it, but I certainly have the scars to show for the mistakes I’ve made.


While reflecting on these points, Adam Grant’s interview with Pete Carroll made me rethink what I hold onto from my past experiences. Pete Carroll pointed out in the podcast that you should never sanction those who have fired you. You need to believe in yourself. That’s not to say that you can’t see it from their point of view, but you need to hold onto your belief in yourself. Looking back, one area of rethinking I’m working on has been recognising the value I brought to the conversations I had as an employee and consultant, which maybe didn’t lead to significant change, and appreciating the reasons why, while also acknowledging my perspective wasn’t wrong. You can listen to that episode here: https://www.ted.com/podcasts/rethinking-with-adam-grant/getting-to-the-heart-of-team-culture-with-pete-carroll-transcript


Another Adam Grant podcast from the last three weeks has had me thinking about the importance of being uncomfortable and accepting discomfort, which demonstrates you are growing. Sian Beilock makes the point that it's okay to be uncomfortable. “Being uncomfortable can be great for a lot of things. It's how you learn. If we're okay with being uncomfortable, we're more likely to listen to viewpoints that are different than our own, like, being uncomfortable I think is a sign that you're gonna grow and that there's something there and something that you care about and sort of reminding yourself of that is not a bad thing”. (See here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/1W0Y89fMtC2lvPsTpVkfIe?si=3633b7676fe1475b)


I’ve also been following the discussion/debate on the 4-day work week and workplace inclusivity closely. I find it interesting as how we think about work and how we set up work is very much challenging. Having become independent as the pandemic was coming to an end, I’ve been struck by the very different perspectives on the role of the office – from everyone needs to be in, to why we have an office. Raconteur has been publishing some great material on the studies coming out of the UK on workplace productivity – and I was particularly struck by the finding that 67% of employers were interested in the idea (see here: https://raconteur.net/future-of-work/employers-warm-to-four-day-week/). The challenge is making it work within the wider constraints we have created as a society.


Similarly, HBR has had two really good articles on hybrid working and workplace inclusivity. In essence, their lessons seem to boil down to creating a rhythm of engagement, modelling the behaviours you want to see (and doing it even more so online), and well as demonstrating the benefits. More flexible working provides greater opportunities for diversity and different working arrangements. It's an exciting time to be thinking about work, the challenge will be taking advantage of it. What particularly struck me is that there is no link between presence and productivity. You can find these articles here and here: https://hbr.org/2021/04/what-psychological-safety-looks-like-in-a-hybrid-workplace and https://hbr.org/2021/08/5-practices-to-make-your-hybrid-workplace-inclusive

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