How to look for the enemy? It is there.
It is in the form of divisional silos that don’t talk to each other much. It is in the form of an over-inclusiveness culture that needs fifty people to make a decision that could have been made by one person, two or three months earlier. It is in the form of monthly reports, quarterly reports, horizontal reports and vertical reports reproduced in gigabytes of powerpoints that nobody really reads.
It is in the form of reams of poorly written strategic plans that create a false sense of order but nobody believes in. It is in the form of massive 360 degrees feedback annual processes that paralyse the organisation. It is in the form of slow-paced project teams composed by team members of a non-real-team, acting as semi-powerless ambassadors of somebody else, usually sitting in a functional discipline where things are really cooked. It is in the form of between-team-meeting-slow-down cultures that focus on the team meeting as a climax of activity and forgets that teams and meetings are two completely different words, the former being a 365 day affair and the later perhaps a day or two repeated.
It is in the form of culture of aversion to risks, reinforced by the relentless promotion to the top of those who have never made a mistake because they have not done much. It is in the form of loose systems of accountability where it is difficult to know where the buck stops, under multiple layers of safer “shared responsibilities”. It is in the form of R&D/Product Development leaders who think that any dollar spent on organisational issues is a waste, or nothing to do with them, or it ‘is’ an HR budget, or something to put in the same basket as travelling and training, that is: “ready-to-cut” as soon as they have to find “some savings”.
It is in the form of HR policies that treat all R&D/technical people as a single race ignoring the fact that maybe good scientists may make very poor managers and that they should have the option of staying on a scientific layer without being considered unfit to get big bonuses. It is in the form of stereotyped, reinforced and pervasive assumptions such as “you can either have speed or quality but you have to choose because they are incompatible”. It is in the form of “trans-cultural blaming” as an all-seasons explanation that usually hides managerial incompetence.
These issues do not figure in any usual-suspect slides in industry conferences. In fact, over the last years, the organisational language and associated themes have if anything faded from industry fora. There are notable exceptions amongst R&D/technical leaders and some of them are really worried about their organisational abilities, even if this is something that they don’t necessarily want to ventilate. A client and good friend who leads a large European R&D organisation told me recently about his frustration when he joined the company. He thought he had joined four or five different companies, that was the nature of the silos in R&D. He was pessimistic about his ability to break those silos in the short term. He thought it could be done but only after a massive cultural change over several years. I politely challenged him and suggested that he didn’t have the luxury of “those years”.
Can we talk about how to change this in the next part?