POLITICAL LANDSCAPES (cont)
☛ The Weeds – where personal influence & informal networks rule
☛ The Rocks – where power rests on individual interactions & formal sources of authority
☛ The High ground – which combines formal authority & organizational systems
☛ The Woods – the organization’s implicit norms, hidden assumptions & unspoken routines.
The HIGH GROUND – Organizational, formal
This category of political terrain is about the rules, structures, policy guidelines & procedures that form the basis of political activities. They benefit by providing a check against the whims of individual charismatic or autocratic individuals – which provides guide rails for the Rocks.
This isn’t the “moral high ground,” although it’s useful for legal & ethical reasons. Rather, it’s a functional political process of control systems, incentives & sanctions that keep the organization on track.
However, rules & procedures can make a company overly ‘bureaucratic’, used as a political device to stifle anti-establishment ideas, preventing needed reforms & improvements.
In contrast, creating a ‘working space’ outside or along side of habitual norms & routines is vital for innovation & growth.
If a company finds itself stranded on a too rigid High Ground, then feedback from clients, customers or end-users can highlight difficulties which point out how the current structure of doing business is hampering it.
Since organizations with a dysfunctional High Ground tend to be risk-averse, savvy leadership must emphasize that -not changing- can be even riskier than trying something new.
EXP : A public agency was hampered in stopping potential fraud because of slow-moving processes & formalized steps. It meant that millions in tax revenues were not collected at the end of the year.
Actions: Senior leaders set up a dedicated task force outside the formal organizational structure to solve the issue.
Results: After the first year, the problem had been reduced by over 50%, reaching a 95% recovery rate by the second year. The organization then changed its official processes to match the improved methods.
The WOODS – Organizational, informal
Organizations also have implicit norms, hidden assumptions & unspoken routines. These informal guidelines & procedures can provide cover & safety for individuals, or be a bewildering place where good ideas & necessary changes get lost.
Strongly implicit norms define what’s socially acceptable & unacceptable in the organization, so they’re never even questioned.
EXP: One study identified the unspoken ‘normalization’ of unacceptable emotions, & so remained marginalized or ignored.
Other studies listed industries where “emotional norms” specifically dictate how workers are to behave & respond to their tasks, such as the ever-smiling flight attendant, or the ‘good cop / bad cop’ routine for bill-collecting.
Some organizations get lost in their Woods.
EXP: A large telecom company in the middle of a restructuring exercise needed deep cuts to bring it through a debt crisis caused by falling revenues. The Senior Director who developed a plan to save the company – never once discussed the necessary job cuts with the board – because the ‘idea’ of cuts was not to be spoken aloud.
The Woods challenge is such cases is to bring implicit rules out into the open. Fresh eyes will often identify things the locals miss (“Does a fish know it’s wet?”)
‘Dumb questions’ can be asked of clients, recent hires or temporary contractors about their observations & experience with the company. Benchmark information from surveys & specialist / experts can also bring hidden organizational assumptions & behaviors to the surface.
Once the implicit assumptions are visible, employee teams can be asked to consider whether they’re helping or hindering the company. EXP: A consulting firm, working with a newly merged, international telecoms company, conducted a simple exercise : each of the two entities were asked to describe their own cultural norms & those of the other party. It quickly generated truths & myths that could then be discussed & used to iron out any blockages to operational success, as they rolled out their distribution & cable network – the key to capturing subscribers.
FROM: Michael Jarrett Senior Affiliate Professor at INSEAD.