Insights

Breaking Out of the Organisational Urgency Trap!

“Organisational Urgency”.  This is what I refer to as the inclination of organisations that belong to the anglo-sphere part of the world, to want to push through and get a winning outcome quickly, expediently and sometimes at the expense perhaps of taking the time to get a better or more appropriate outcome.
 
On the surface that seems a pretty big call; or is it? 
 
For some time now I’ve been in the unique position to observe the behaviours of people in a number of global organisations in the context of collaboration and working together, and I’ve noticed an interesting pattern of behaviours that also reflects the work and research of Prof Geert Hofstede and his work on cultural dimensions; in particular the dimensions of Short Term vs Long Term Outlook and Masculine (tough, results oriented) vs Feminine (tender, relationship oriented). 
 
The research tells us that anglo-countries are more short term focussed; we demand results now.  So we have a natural drive to get started, to hit those milestones and show results sooner rather than later. Interestingly, another aspect of being short term focussed is that we are quite normative (holding on to past/current values or ways of doing things).  This presents a genuine dichotomy, because in many cases to achieve results quickly there is usually a requirement for change.  But that doesn’t seem to come as a natural or easy process for societies that struggle to let go of ‘the way we do things around here’, hence the need and focus on change plans.  In fact, John Kotter’s eight-step change methodology probably plays a bigger role than we realise in this context.  The first of his steps address the need for a burning platform for change, and a strong guiding coalition that is able to sell the reason for change; I believe that these first steps may have some of their roots in the fact that this methodology was written through an anglo lens, and whether he realised it or not, identified the fact that at a deep cultural values level, we probably do need change to be sold to us.
 
We also belong to what can be described as a ‘tough’ culture, or as Hofstede describes, a ‘Masculine’ culture; one where winning is the focus.  Where the acknowledgement or showing of status is central, task comes before relationships and win-lose is more natural than win-win. 
 
Without even focusing on the nature of relationships that exist between countries or members of global teams, we can see the impact that being short term and tough culture oriented has on the way we work within our own anglo cluster of countries.  In particular it tends to impact in the areas of Collaboration and Organisational/Leadership Approach as shown below:
 
Collaboration:
Do we take the necessary time to fully explore and analyse before leaping to action?  Probably not.  In fact, we like to get in, get started and get those ‘quick wins’ to show we are making progress.   This means that we can miss out on taking the time to understand who our key stakeholders really are, build genuine relationships, and often we uncover ‘invisible’ stakeholders when it’s too late!  And what about assumptions?  When a group is culturally influenced around the drive for results and action, there can be the tendency to act on assumption, rather than take the time to validate and assess our assumptions, or only go part of the way in the interests of getting on with the job.  We tend to see this play out in global teams, when it’s clear that the source of conflict or communication breakdown is cultural, yet we lean on assumption (or stereo-typing) and react to the behaviour we see rather than taking the time to understand what is motivating the behaviour. 
 
Organisational and Leadership Approach:
Similar to the above point, being results driven, and with a strong leaning towards short term orientation, we can see why the maximising of shareholder value and creating competitive advantage are often top of mind in the anglo-sphere; but does this mean we are closing our eyes to the other elements of being a good corporate citizen, such as being an ethical organisation, integrating corporate social performance factors that acknowledge the interplay between the organisation and its employees and the community within which it operates?  Are we potentially missing the opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in ways we hadn’t thought of before?  Or are we just creating more opportunities for the shareholder to ultimately determine the philosophical drive of an organisation which can end badly; think Enron or more recently the 7-Eleven franchise holders who exploited workers to ensure their businesses stayed afloat.
 
At the same time, we also know that in any group there are cultural outliers, whose personal cultural preference is different to that of their country norms.  In this case there will be those who have a preference for the long view, and those who prefer a more consensual (tender) approach rather than the tough win-lose mentality.  Think about how you can identify and leverage these mindsets and abilities to bring new possibilities to the way you do business. 
 
I saw an example of this recently with a client based in Australia which is a part of a French headquartered organisation.  We know that people will usually work with an organisation where they feel their personal values align with the culture of the organisation. In this situation, with France being quite long term oriented, we found in a teaming event for a new global project team, that the Australian and UK team members were as long-term oriented as their French colleagues and this was reflected in the way the team connected and viewed the challenges ahead of them on the project from a longer term perspective.  Of course this can present challenges in a different way when the group has to get traction and deliver milestones in quick fashion…that’s when some Organisational Urgency may be needed!
 
The idea of Organisational Urgency does exist, and it has cultural foundations that underpin the way the people in an organisation view themselves, the organisation and the way they do their work.  The challenge for those working in countries which tend towards Organisational Urgency is to make it work for you whilst at the same time finding ways to step back and reconcile expediency with a more rounded ethical corporate outlook, and balancing the short term desire with the benefits of a long term outlook. 

Ponte Valle Insight: Breaking Out of the Organisational Urgency Trap!

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