Posts Tagged ‘failure’

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Before 0ne can address a glass wall, one must be able to see it. this is no easy task as the cultural design and one of the primary characteristics of this kind of dysfunction is its invisibility. I am going to explore some of the fingerprints that you can find on the glass wall. This is by no means a comprehensive list but it is a place to begin when taking a serious look at cultural barriers to operational success.

  1. Observed behavior contravenes a stated value of the organization.

Value statements have become standard in most organizations. They will be touted in flowery language on web pages, in orientation documents, annual reports, and regular employee meetings. This is perhaps one of the most visible signs of a glass wall in an organization. It is for this reason that it will most often go to great lengths to espouse its “values” at every level. The difficulty can be that organizations that function within their values may appear to do the same. The biggest tell is that the glass wall restricts value communications to being conceptual. Alliterated catch phrases, cool sketches and often long-winded exhortations will regularly lay a conceptual framework for the proposed value system. There is an absence of behavioral meat to the value system and a lack of accountability particularly amongst the leadership. It is almost impossible for an organization to function for any amount of time without this part of the glass wall getting dirty and more visible. This often triggers point 3 as well-meaning leadership realizes the disparity between the stated values and the actual behaviors occurring in the organization. Unfortunately, all of these decisions and actions stem from point 2 and so never actually address the wall.

2. Leadership has an external locus of accountability.

There is a decision side and execution side of every glass wall. This separation results in consistent failure to achieve the stated goals of the decision side. This failure is often not even recognized and is either snuffed under a sudden change in language and goals or mined until some small positive is found that can be heralded as institutional success. The internal double speak that takes place to make this happen is both impressive and saddening. The decision side of the glass wall goes on undeterred and oblivious. However, should a failure penetrate the wall, the culture demands an immediate search for unaccountability. This results in a search for an external locus of control for the event and the institution of a blame game that focuses entirely on the execution side of the wall. It is in this category that anyone who challenges the wall most often finds themselves. In the absence of a scapegoat, or in organizations with a wall that has deep foundations and broad impact, the locus of control and accountability can be set in surrounding circumstances or external influences. This causes the culture to enforce a measure of isolation, and in some pernicious cases, place the blame on the population sector they serve. This lack of real accountability is perhaps the strongest defense mechanism employed by the glass wall.

3. There are regular declarations of a new day in the organization.

This most often happens when circumstances make the glass wall just a little more visible. The culture triggers new language and promises of new behaviors, but it then implements them entirely within the boundaries of the glass wall. The function of this particular exercise is to “Windex” the wall and return it to its invisibility. There will be a conceptual recommitment to the stated organizational values. Value training as stated above will be required of every employee. New alliterations, graphics and catchphrases will abound. Unfortunately, new behavior and accountability will not. In some cases, new leadership will be brought in, or more often promoted from within to supervise the “reset”, “relaunch” or other “re”. There is real intent to change here, but the constrictions of the wall and the strength of culture to hide its own dysfunction, blunt the effort, and channel the energy back into the wall itself. Once the wall has been “Windexed” the organization will sometimes declare success and settle into its routine patterns of behavior. Other times the initiative will simply fade away once the smeary grime is no longer apparent.

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