Possibility is perhaps the most beautiful word in management. There are organizations in which possibilities seem exhausted, work is an extrapolation from day to day, people do their jobs, perhaps well, but there are no expectations of going outside the borders of the job.
I call these cultures ‘monochrome’. In monochrome companies, all the colours of life have been filtered and have been harmonised, so all is rather predictable. Some of those monochrome cultures actually dwell in technicolour brands for the outside world, but the possibilities of colour have been suppressed inside. They also tend to have lots of process junkies, who need treatment, no management.
It’s hard to change a monochromic environment. People seem to wear psychological sunglasses. Any suggestions of revising default positions (in management, leadership practices, culture change) are met with defence, as if a flotilla of Vikings had been spotted in the horizon.
Change in monochrome cultures almost never takes place at the core of the business. The only hope is to open some windows in the periphery so that the sun and the colours can get in. ‘Core people’ are usually very busy refining their defences, particularly at central corporate functions, the modern corporate Royal Court (or the Vatican’s Curia) which self-declared roles are protection and filtering of disruptive contaminations.
For years, middle management in organizations has been demonized as the culprit for all information blocks and defence building. My experience is that those who demonise that layer (usually named as ‘they’) have a lot more to answer themselves. By suppressing possibilities, distributing sun glasses, and closing the doors and windows (and only some people have the keys) The Protectors bring a predictable monochromic future.
I very often see the disconnect between a technicolour company for the outside world, with their CEOs going on TV preaching innovative disruption, values and high purpose, and their monochrome cultures inside where process junkies remain addicted and untreated. This dichotomy has always been a bit of mystery to me. Similar to the one seen in many ‘commercial’ and ‘sales and marketing’ organizations, supposedly full of experts on those disciplines, that, however, can’t market or sell a thing inside to employees.
The process of infiltrating monochrome cultures is a fantastic challenge. When the tapestry of colours gets is, it is a real joy. But winters are longing for spring. Bring in people at all levels, including c-level, who can spell possibilities. Tell the Global Functions Courtiers that there are not Vikings after all. Stop blaming the middle, look up a little bit instead. And, if you are up to it, start some insurrections inside.
Above all, avoid monochrome cultures. Black, or pink, or indigo, but one colour. You’ll suddenly see possibilities coming in. Instead of those Vikings.
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