|Developing enduring organizations|
Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
At the core of any self-respecting and admired organization lies integrity, which lends it vitality and endurance.
The field of learning and development and OD (organization development) is always pregnant with astonishing possibilities. There is always room for improvement whether in individual capabilities, team working, systems and processes, leveraging of technology, redesigning structures or shaping the culture in any organization. Tinkering with any of these elements is futile, in the absence of an overriding context provided by the organization’s vision, mission, values and code of conduct.
Whether you are about to launch a start-up, or are working with an organization that is established in a particular sector or industry, it is expected of you to be clear about ‘why’ the organization exists in the first place. Its reason for being needs to be clearly understood and felt by all its stakeholders. If the organization’s raison d’être doesn’t engage our heart and soul, we have a problem.
At the core of any self-respecting and admired organization lies integrity, which lends it vitality and endurance. Integrity is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. It is the state of being whole.” Integrity sets the tone and necessitates that all efforts to grow, manage, and lead an organization be based on a set of ideas and a philosophy that is transparent and leaves no doubt in the mind of all its stakeholders in terms of what the organization stands for.
Any organization development effort which lacks integrity is bound to fail in the long-run and is ultimately unsustainable. In this article, I take the view that an organization thrives when its vision invites a genuine commitment from all its internal and external stakeholders. An organization’s endurance comes from the strength of commitments people, working in it, make to each other, in the service of its mission.
The foregoing may seem far-fetched to many. Quite a few would silently wish their organization’s leadership would take heed, while there are also those amongst us who ardently believe in such ideals and do their utmost to manifest the same in their immediate spheres of influence.
The fundamental premise here is that organizations grow, only when people working in them continuously develop their capabilities and devote themselves passionately to serving its mission. Such a thought will remain a pipe dream if the ruling paradigm for hiring people remains, “We hire people to perform tasks.” Instead, what is needed is a declared intent which suggests, “We hire people to grow them through tasks.”
Unfortunately, several organizations are still driven by the former paradigm. They survive only because they enjoy a monopoly position or some sort of protection from competition. Organizations of this kind don’t inspire, let alone motivate. Instead, they breed mediocrity and subservience to higher ups. They are mostly opaque and people work in well guarded silos, suffering from fear and insecurity.
Such organizations are not developed. Instead, they are deliberately created to benefit the few at the cost of many. Here, the biggest stakeholder is the shareholder and the few managers who serve their interests diligently, neglecting the needs of others they are also meant to serve i.e., customers and employees. Entities of this nature survive by playing on human weaknesses such as insecurity and greed. Making money for personal gain is the key priority without due regard given to strengthening the organization by caring for the environment, the community, its employees and other stakeholders.
In mediocre organizations, working environment is hostile. Members of senior management and the rest do not interact openly. Lip-service is often paid to principles of corporate governance, codes of conduct, policy guidelines and SOPs which are displayed where needed, yet discreetly flouted. Inflated egos rule. A compliant and manipulative culture evolves in which employees apparently do what they are told, but in actual fact, keep passing the buck to the lowest level. Blaming is common place and accountability non-existent. I realize how hellish this description sounds, but millions in Pakistan, and no doubt elsewhere, suffer the indignity of struggling in such organizations.
Thankfully, we can breathe a sigh of relief, as there are plenty of emerging entrepreneurs and business leaders who are nowadays busy developing and transforming their organizations based on the latter paradigm, “We hire people to grow them through tasks.” Even though this is a liberating idea, it is not everyone’s cup of tea, and understandably so. Many of us become victims of our self-constructed ‘comfort zones’. We like to be in a familiar place, doing what we have learned over the years. It can be scary to work in a place that demands excellence and sets high standards of performance. And this is the tough reality leaders need to confront within them and also help others realize that continuous learning and improvement is an imperative of life, and not just a business requirement.
There is no room for apathy in a culture that thrives on principles of excellence. Individuals need to discover and exhibit their inborn greatness in everything they do at work and in society. The main task of OD is to help top leadership in organizations shape, facilitate and nurture a culture that elevates human dignity, gives people a voice, and encourages responsible leadership at every level of the organization. None of this will be possible in the absence of candor and transparency. A culture of compliance is mediocrity. A culture of commitment is excellence.
For far too long we have unwittingly embraced half-truths. This has led to a lot of workplaces becoming mundane. Earning the monthly paycheck becomes for many the sole reason for going to work.
Left hand column illustrates commonly held notions amongst most managers working in mediocre organizations. One of the key challenges for OD practitioners and organizational leadership is to systematically elicit the ‘whole truth’ in all individuals who will be hired or are already part of the enterprise that is poised to become an enduring and admired organization.
Be clear about your vision, mission and values of your organization. Let those who are working with you decide if the idea and philosophy appeals to their inner core. Make sure everyone lives by the agreed values and is fully engaged by its vision.
Playing on human strengths lies at the heart of OD, and integrity is a strength that must not be ignored.