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Adaptive: Work climate and culture are not the same

Posted by Stephen Parry on Jul 30, 2015 5:56:27 PM

I get calls from companies these days who are struggling with the amount of discontinuous change caused by technologies, new business models coupled with unprecedented pressures to upgrade the skills of people just to keep up let alone excel.

In addition the way organizations have to connect to other organizations around the world, even for temporary purposes simply to maintain daily delivery, have blown apart the whole notion of nice, solid steady value streams.

collabThe implications of all this constant, rapid change are profound and far reaching for the management of staff, the work design, measurement systems, people development and reward systems. Simply put, the old management models and thinking are obsolete.

Adaptive Management has now come of age with its fixation on the customer while enabling staff to continuously innovate and change the business. It’s an on-demand, continuous change system but unfortunately some businesses settle for far less by using Lean and Agile just to improve a few processes. That’s fine, but there’s so much more potential.

Some years ago, an adaptive organizational transformation typically took about four years. But my organizational transformation process is now down to eighteen months because we use a diagnostic based on behaviour and something called 'the work-climate'. It has significant implications for how we design, build and operate organizations.

What is this behaviour-focused diagnostic looking at?  Well, we start with the work climate. Social scientists have been looking at work climates for many years and have demonstrated the effects of attitudes on certain work outcomes.

It was a revelation to me that we could actually understand the impact of the operating strategy, the structures, the managing practices and how we make decisions by examining the perceptions, feelings and behaviours of staff at every level of the organisation. The data provided a deep insight into the disconnects and misalignment of management thinking and pointed to alternative better approaches.

An adaptive trusting climate drives collaboration. Everybody thinks you can put people into a room, have them band together to solve a problem and that’s collaboration.  It’s not.  Collaboration is all about reciprocity.  Do you trust me and can I trust you?  If so, we’ll get along and be able to collaborate as long as we are connected to the real needs of customers.

An adaptive work climate needs to focus on 'engaging'- how we understand the deep needs of customers, Learning- how we collaborate end to end to meet customer needs, 'Leading'- how we devolve decision making to the point of interaction with the customer and lastly 'improving' - do staff have the authority and the methods to change how work is delivered to customers to meet their needs.

Is there good leadership? A challenging environment?, Enough freedom and decision making?  Do we share intelligence within our team? Within our function?  When do we see our senior management?  All of this gives rise to the work climate.

Work climate is entirely different to culture.  A culture takes a long time to establish, but once ingrained, proves very difficult to shift. The twist is that all cultures start off as a work climate that have sustained for a long periods of time.

Work climates can change very rapidly. There could be a good climate in an organization but when a new manager enters the mix with a strict focus on the numbers restricting freedom and locks everything down the climate changes rapidly but has the culture of the organization changed?  Probably not.

But if that manager keeps going like that for a sufficient length of time, it becomes ‘the way we work around here’.  So the toughest challenge for Adaptive transformations is changing the climate long enough so it becomes the culture.

It could be a toxic climate or a really productive climate but the secret to creating and maintaining an adaptive climate is management trustworthiness - can staff trust you?

Building trust between managers and staff is the path to real Adaptive organizations. Trust allows freedom, choice and the power to do what matters for customers through the willing contribution of staff and managers alike.

Stop trying to change cultures and start trying to change climates.

Topics: Uncategorized, Customer Value Principles