>Optimizing Culture For Performance



Strategy + Business (Spring 2011) has an interview with Edgar Schein, the MIT sage of organizational culture.

In it, he describes why it is so hard to change this.

In my experience, organizational culture is key to success.

Why do we want to change organizational culture to begin with?

Sometimes it becomes dysfunctional and can get in the way of performance.

Sometimes, leaders think they can simply change a culture, but Schein disagrees. He says that you cannot simply introduce a new culture and tell people to follow it–“that will never work.”

Instead you have to…solve business problems by introducing new behaviors.”
However, you cannot solve problems or even raise concerns where “in most organizations the norms are to punish it.”

Schein states that “the people with the most authority…must make the others feel safe”to speak up, contribute, and even make mistakes.

Schein goes on to call for people “to work with one another as equal partners“–breaking down the traditional organizational boundaries–so that we stop telling people, so to speak, that “you’re in my lane” or “that’s above your pay grade.”

He goes a step further, stating that the healthiest work cultures are interdependent, meaning that people actively try to help one another solve problems.

What an enormously powerful idea, that everyone has something valuable to contribute. Every opinion contributes to the dialogue–and all employees are worthwhile.

That is my definition of a healthy culture, for the organization and its people.

>Beyond The Stick


Over a number of years, I’ve seen different management strategies for engaging employees. At their essence, they typically amount to nothing more than the proverbial “carrot and stick” approach: Do what you’re supposed to do and you get rewarded, and don’t do what your superiors want and you get punished.

Recently, the greater demands on organizational outputs and outcomes by shareholders and other stakeholders in a highly competitive global environment and souring economy has put added pressure on management that has resulted in

the rewards drying up and the stick being more widely and liberally used.

Numerous management strategists have picked up on this trend:

For example, in the book, No Fear Management: Rebuilding Trust, Performance, and Commitment in the New American Workplace, Chambers and Craft argue that abusive management styles destroy company morale and profitability and should be replaced by empowerment, communication, training, recognition, and reward.

In another book, Driving Fear Out of the Workplace: Creating the High Trust, High Performance Organization, Ryan and Oestreich confront how “fear permeates today’s organizations” and is creating a pandemic of mistrust that undermines employee motivation and commitment.

I can’t help but reflect that the whole concept of managing employees by the carrot and stick approach is an immature and infantile approach that mimics how we “manage” children in pre-school who for example, get an extra snack for cleaning up their toys or get a demerit for pulling on little Suzy’s hair.

As leaders, I believe we can and must do better in maturing our engagement styles with our people.

Regular people coming to work to support themselves and their families and contribute to their organizations and society don’t need to be “scared straight.” They need to be led and inspired!

Monday’s don’t have to be blue and TGIF doesn’t have to be the mantra week after week.

People are naturally full of energy and innovation and productivity. And I believe that they want to be busy and contribute. In fact, this is one of life’s greatest joys!

Leaders can change the organizational culture and put an end to management by fear. They can elevate good over evil, win the hearts and minds of their people, and put organizations back on track to winning performance.

>A Young Adult Chooses To Give Rather Than Take

>Here is a poem written by a young adult who was recently confronted
with a difficult choice – whether to go on a fancy trip to Europe or
Peru, costing thousands of dollars but promising “the time of your
life,” or to spend a week participating in a Habitat for Humanity
project, and giving back to those in need.

I am humbled and inspired by her words and her choice.

In terms of tikkun olam (repair of the world – a Jewish term for an
individual’s purpose in life), this is a great lens with which to view
many of the choices we have day in and day out. Our investments in
people and those less fortunate are often the best ones that we can
make – and those with the highest return, personally and for the
organizations we represent.


“What is a Good Feeling?”

A dream maybe that looks me in the eye,

I try to catch it but it just flies by,

A short second ago there was my chance,

I was even just about ready to dance.

The question is always asked: why not me?!

Why can’t I be lucky!

The sun, the moon, the stars,

Waken me up oh mars.

Shine that light on me,

Guide me to what is happy,

Pearl, silver, and even gold,

It’s now time to think beyond what is displayed and told.

Look beyond the light,

Into the darkness of the night,

Like others, it is even hard for me,

When I even dare to see reality.

The million-dollar beach home,

The shape of a dome,

An in-door pool,

Oh how mighty and cool.

Pshh, ya right!

Just look at MOST people’s plight,

People losing jobs here and there,

This is in no way fair.

Millions of citizens living on the streets,

On disgusting benches supposed to be used just for seats,

It’s time to wake up and see,

People don’t live all rich and fancy.

It’s time to open our eyes,

We shouldn’t live lies,

I want to step closer to reality,

I’m at the right age to learn more about actuality.

I want to help others,

I want to give to families: fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

I want to put smiles on children’s faces,

I want to leave some of my traces.

Traces of charity,

What a rarity,

I want to be one who gives and not takes,

For once in my life I am positive that this won’t be a mistake.

This choice is the right,

And I say this with all force and might,

It’s without doubt a chance to make a difference,

This surely makes the most sense.


>Enterprise Architecture Plans that Stick

>I read a great little book today called Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath about “Why some ideas survive and others die.”

As I read this, I was thinking how very applicable this was to User-centric Enterprise Architecture in terms of making architecture products and plans that stick—i.e. they have a real impact and value to the organization and are not just another ivory tower effort and ultimately destined as shelfware.

The Heath brothers give some interesting examples of stories that stick.

Example #1: A man is given a drink at the bar by a beautiful lady that is laced with drugs and he finds himself waking up in a bathtub on ice with a note that tell him not to move and to call 911—he has been the victim of a kidney heist and is in desperate need of medical attention.

Example #2: Children Halloween candy is found tampered with and there is a scare in the community. The image of the razorblade in the apple is poignant and profoundly changes people’s perception of and trust in their neighbors.

Now, you may have heard of these stories already and they probably strike a deep chord inside everyone who hears them. Well, surprise—neither story is true. Yet, they have lasting power with people and are remembered and retold for years and years. Why do they stick, while other stories and ideas never even make it off the ground?

Here are the six necessities to make ideas have lasting, meaningful impact and how they relate to enterprise architecture:

Simplicity—drilldown to essential core ideas; be a master of exclusion; come up with one sentence that is so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it. In enterprise architecture, keep information products and plans straightforward and on point.

Unexpectedness—violate people’s expectations; surprise them, grab people’s attention; I call this the shock factor. In architecture, we can use principles of communication and design (for example identify critical relationships in the information) to garner people’s attention, and help them come away with actionable messages.

Concreteness—use concrete images to ensure our idea will mean the same thing to everyone. In enterprise architecture, we can use information visualization to make information and ideas more concrete for the users (i.e. “a picture is worth a thousand words.”)

Credibility—promote ideas in ways that they can be tested, so that they are credible to the audience. An example is when Reagan was running for president and he asked Are you better off today than 4 years ago. This brought the message home and made it credible with voters in ways that pure numbers and statistics could not. For architects, the roadmap provided to the enterprise must be credible—it must have the level of detail, accuracy, comprehensiveness, and currency to garner acceptance.

Emotions–make your audience feel something; people feel things for people not for abstractions. In architecture and planning, we need to inspire and motivate people in the organization effectively influence, shape, and guide change. Remember, there is a natural resistance to change, so we need to appeal to people intellectually and also emotionally.

Stories—tell stories that are rich and provide for an enduring mental catalogue that can be recalled for critical situations in later life. Often, architects create isolated products of information that describe desired performance outcomes, business processes, information flows, systems, and technology products and standards; however, unless these are woven together to tell a cohesive story for the decision makers, the siloed information will not be near as effective as it can be.

These six principles spell out SUCCES, and they can be adeptly used successfully by enterprise architects to hone information and planning products that enable better decisions. These are the types of architectures that stick (and do not stink) and are truly actionable and valuable to the organization.

>Storytelling and Enterprise Architecture


Part of being a good leader is having a clear vision and the ability to articulate it.

Harvard Business Review, December 2007, reports that “the ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial in almost every phase of enterprise management.”

How do leaders use story-telling?

“A great salesperson knows how to tell a story in which the product is the hero. A successful line manager can rally the team to extraordinary efforts through a story that shows how short-term sacrifice leads to long-term success. An effective CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company’s mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees.”

Here are some key lessons on how to tell the organization’s story:

  • Action-oriented—“for the leader, storytelling is action oriented—a force for turning dreams into goals and then into results.”
  • Instructional—“many think it is purely about entertainment, but the use of story is not only to delight, but to instruct and lead.”
  • Truth—storytelling is not about spinning yarns, but rather must be truthful and authentic.
  • Heartfelt—“our minds are relatively open, but we guard our hearts with zeal…so although the mind may be part of your target, the heart is the bulls-eye.”
  • A worthwhile journey—“a promise that the listeners’ expectation once aroused, will be fulfilled.”
  • A managed journey—“a great story is never fully predictable through foresight—but it’s projectable through hindsight.”
  • Personalize it for the listener—“everyone wants to be the star, or at least to feel that the story is talking to or about him personally.”
  • Tailor the story—“a great storyteller never tells a story the same way twice…tailor it to the situation [and the audience].”
  • Prepare and improvise—“sheer repetition and practice it brings is one key to great storytelling…at the same time the great storyteller is flexible enough to drop the script and improvise.”

“State-of-the-art technology is a great tool for capturing and transmitting words, images, and ideas, but the power of storytelling resides most fundamentally in ‘state-of-the-heart’ technology.

The enterprise architect must use story telling effectively—the chief architect captures information, analyzes it, and uses this information to tell the corporate story. The architect connects the business and technical dots of the enterprise, identifies the impetus for change, articulates the issues and proposed solutions, builds readiness and consensus, and drives business processes improvement, reengineering, and the introduction of new technologies to enable mission success. The architect must be able to engage listeners intellectually and emotionally to “motivate, sell, inspire, engage, and lead.” The chief enterprise architect must be able to win the hearts and minds of the people across the organization. Architecture is not an ivory-tower exercise and should not develop useless shelfware, but rather the enterprise architecture needs to tell a coherent, useful, and useable story that decision-makers can understand and act upon.