This week we feature a great reflection piece on organisational culture that was first published in HBR. 

I was especially struck by the comments the authors make about the tensions 
that can make the culture move in a different way from that intended. I have come across this many times. 

One notable occasion was when I was working on a lengthy project in the nuclear industry. They had a policy there that they thought was well embedded on full and open disclosure to all stakeholders. 

What emerged however at a workshop I ran was that there was a tension around how this was practised. Whilst it was clear to everyone that people gave full disclosure in discussion with other specialists, others thought they should tone down their answers to non-specialists. I was struck that one person who held this viewpoint was the recently appointed commercial director. This was quite at odds with the CEO’s desire to recognise that non-specialists won’t know the questions to ask so to make sure they are given all the information and explanations. 

This serves as a salutary warning to identify tensions in the culture and to discuss these. Some great ‘what if’ questions and discussions around these tensions could have prevented this Commercial Director from being a bad hire, which he turned out to be. 

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Janice Caplan

© Janice Caplan 2019