Category: OD

The Shackles Of "We Have Always Done It This Way"

Organisations are like elephants – they learn through conditioning.

Trainers shackle young elephants with heavy chains to deeply embedded stakes.

After years of being chained, older elephants never try and leave even though they have the strength to pull the stakes out. Their conditioning limits their movements with only a small metal bracelet around their foot – attached to nothing

Like elephants, many companies are bound by earlier conditioning restraints. “We have always done it this way” is a limit to an organisation’s progress especially in this new era of enhanced speed.

In order to survive in this new society you have to let go of the shackles of the past. Too many organisations still have metal bracelets around their feet. However to make things happen you need to mobilise the support of your people behind your change.

And the process through which to do this: COMMUNICATION. My questions to you or to ask your clients is this:

  • “What shackles are constraining communication flow in your organisation”
  • Isn’t it about time for a relook or a new look at communication practices in your company?

Nothing is New

There is a Zen saying, “To the one wearing sandals, the whole world is leather”. 

So, that is where Maslow got his statement – “If the only thing you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as a nail”.

So, nothing is new.

The art of originality is forgetting where you heard something in the first place.

Who – or What is right? Just a Random Thought


Who – or What is right?

Just because you are right, does not mean that you need to exercise that point or view.

We are not fish who have to take a bait. What is more important- Winning the War or winning a battle?

We have choice, and I think that a lot of people have lost that ability to think about the decisions they make. As Postman & Weingartner said in Teaching as a Subversive Activity….we need to become crap detectors.

Even Anthony Robbins indicated that it is useful to sometimes check your own values and beliefs, to see if they are still relevant.

But anyway, I just thought I would share this story.

An old man and a young boy were travelling through their village with their donkey. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.

As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.

The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.”

They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey”.

The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story?

If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye!

Who – or What is right? Just a Random Thought

Who – or What is right?

Just because you are right, does not mean that you need to exercise that point or view.

We are not fish who have to take a bait. What is more important- Winning the War or winning a battle?

j0409404We have choice, and I think that a lot of people have lost that ability to think about the decisions they make. As Postman & Weingartner said in Teaching as a Subversive Activity….we need to become crap detectors.

Even Anthony Robbins indicated that it is useful to sometimes check your own values and beliefs, to see if they are still relevant.

But anyway, I just thought I would share this story that might help you to decide who to favor when faced with conflict.

An old man and a young boy were travelling through their village with their donkey. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.

As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.

The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.”

They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey”.

The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story?

If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye! Think carefully about which stakeholders are relevant and needs to be pleased.

What Social Media means for Corporate Culture

Social media is making the top-down approach to management obsolete, and that’s affecting the way companies conceive of themselves and treat their workers, writes Soren Gordhamer.

By giving every worker a voice, social media increases the importance of an inclusive and innovative corporate culture, and of leaders articulating a powerful vision of their company’s big-picture goals, Gordhamer writes.

“The old paradigm was individualistic and focused on thriving to be personally brilliant; the new one is much more social, and it involves creating cultures that enhance innovation in all those present,” he writes.

Read more –

Change = D+V+S+C

Here is a simple formula for change that can be applied to the discipline of building, sustaining and protecting an organization’s reputation.

Change = D+V+S+C

For change to happen a business has to:

  • Be dissatisfied with its present state
  • Have a clear Vision of where it wants to go
  • Take the necessary steps to get there
  • Create enough energy (or tension) to overpower the COST required (in terms of money, time and energy) to make the change happen.

Short Powerful Statements…..Makes the Best Mission Statements

Short Powerful Statements…..makes the best mission statements. Over the years I have developed a love for one-liner jokes and graffiti…..and I learnt that those statements have more power than long-winded statements.

Workers of the World Unite!



Who wrote: ‘ We shall fight them on the beaches, on the seas’….Winston Churchill

Who said – We need to obtain venture capitalist funding in order to create a system by which we can raise the competencies of our people so that one day we can invade other planets and establish our financial systems there…

In fact, No one – No it was not Goldman Sachs….

JFk just said: Let’s put a man on the moon by the Year X…

Who said: Don’t push me, Just don’t push me!

Humpty Dumpty!

Anyway, I use this as a revelation exercise to teach the importance of vision and mission statements.

Point: Short Powerful statements work: Ask the general public when they swear, HAHA. They use words that are short, powerful and gets the message across, and sometimes they can follow it up with visual media such as a finger used in a gesture format.


As an employee, individual and citizen of this country we are faced with this dichotomy every day of our lives.

As an employee, you may find yourself at a barbecue when someone turns around and asks you what it is like working for your organisation? Now do you tell the truth – after all transparency and the truth are vital today or do you give the traditional corporate talking head version: “We are a company of integrity, a company of beer and roses?”

As a citizen the South African government expects you to be a proud citizen, an ambassador of this country but on the other hand you experience and deal with crime and corruption every day. Must you therefore be loyal and not speak the truth?

The media is castigated for speaking the truth or apparently only giving their version- for not reporting enough on the good news. Again, truth versus loyalty! How do we balance this in our organisations?

In other organisations, serious witch hunts are undertaken when a mysterious e-mail surfaces highlighting contentious issues and incidents. Again, what do organisations want? Truth or Loyalty?

As an employee what should you do about issues in your organisation? Speak up and get “bombed?” Speak up and be castigated as an “impimpi?” (A spy) Phone a friend in the media? BCC the wrong person? Leave it until it destroys your organisation’s good name? Apply for protection under some act that deals with protective disclosure?

Here are a few questions you should ask in this context and ideas that you can use:

  • What is the state of upwards flow of communication in your organisation? Is the process working well?
  • Are you relying on tools such as anonymous hotlines and other forms of media? Who measures their effectiveness and efficiency? Does your hotline to which people can call in or ask a question work? Can I phone it without fear of negative repercussions? Do you have in place a cross-functional panel which can respond and provide recommended alternates if needed?
  • Do you have an active suggestion scheme operating in your organisation? Ideas are the lifeblood of innovation.
  • Take a close look at the Occupational Health & Safety Act and its communication system. It is a tried and tested system that works well under the right conditions. Can you learn from it?
  • Examine statistics such as exit interviews, internal audit reports, safety records, etc.

Layoffs – The Reputable Way

j0433131 (2) With the news that Standard Bank will review costs which will result in layoffs, I thought it would be prudent to share some thoughts on doing layoffs in a reputable way.

So, you have been called in and told to cut costs by culling the workforce!

Just a simple exercise! FIFO method. First In, First Out. Basing your choice on what value the person has added to the organization.

This is the time for a Red Flag. Stop. Think. How can we part in a reputable way.  This is not just a HR or cost-cutting exercise. This is an exercise that can create long-term damage to your reputation. Rather think of it as an engagement exercise of sorts.

As a consultant I always tell companies to plan any retrenchment exercise with care as it is nothing other than another large scale change exercise, and as you know the only person that loves change is a baby with a wet nappy. My experiences below is based on having advised and implementing the downsizing of a whole company as well as my experiences as a consultant the past fourteen years.

Any retrenchment exercise has not only environmental and company impact but also psychological impact on both the people being laid off as well as survivors and stakeholders. They are all faced with uncertainty. Networks of relationships are interrupted.

I believe that companies should provide options: Examples:

** Avoiding Layoffs … there really are options ..Why not provide business start up training to those people – help them to become free agents to the organization? Allow them to tender their services back to the organization.

** How about running innovative cost-cutting campaigns in the business? Ask staff to come up with ideas and cost-saving suggestions. Make it a large scale awareness exercise and innovative thinking campaign.

** Companies should provide training to people on how to deal with being laid off. Many will take it personally, iro of the current economic climate.

** Managers should be trained with how to manage layoffs carefully and thoughtfully. A question that should be asked is: Are we looking at the human cost of these actions?  Layoffs are not about "headcount"; they are about people. Unfortunately layoffs spread a fear virus that can leave an entire organization weakened and open to attack.

The Fear Virus

Let’s assume that you are laying off 1000 people. Assume that each of the people laid off has close working relationships with just 5 people … that’s almost 5000 "surviving" employees who are now traumatized by watching their friends being laid off.  These people are now living in and acting from fear.  Plus their informal network for getting work done is shredded.  Productivity? Reputation Conscious? Not likely.

Now let’s assume that each of the 5000 traumatized employees spends several hours talking about layoffs and their fears to just 10 co-workers.  Now there are 50, 000 fear-based employees doing their best to do ‘’CYA’’ and avoid risk and management scrutiny. 

And these people as well as the original 1000 laid off people go home and have angry and fearful conversations with their family members, neighbours and friends. They spread messages that undertake a life of its own and become a virus of its own on all the social networks.

Let’s say that each person spreads fear and distrust of organizations to 10 people … now we’ve got a fear virus affecting millions.  At this point it tips and takes on a life of its own, creating environments where people don’t trust management and are not about to take chances, volunteer for new projects or propose new ideas. (Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point)

Would that company have a good reputation?  Forget it! The seeds for destruction is sown!

The same company will have to spend more the next time round to recruit staff and encourage employment (One of the dangers of Reputation Risk)

Here are some other thoughts that may help guide lay-offs in a humane and reputable way:

I firmly believe that communication is the key to successfully implementing any large-scale organizational change.  Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical. 

A former colleague used to write, "Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders."

With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:

  • Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
  • Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
  • Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
  • Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
  • Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change

This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process.  Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds.  It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.

Now let me put the above into practical terms. A few "nuts and bolts” regarding lay-offs that I picked up, being part of a team that had to dismantle an organization:

  1. Give as much advance notice as possible.
  2. Have the lay-offs announced by the person with the highest authority possible, hopefully the decision maker or the top person in the organization to whom the person belongs or, minimally, the supervisor, i.e. someone the person respects or has some personal relationship with. (I believe that Standard Bank did this) For the sake of humanity, such notices should be made in person.  Retrenchment notices are stone-age stuff.  The notification session should be interactive sessions.  Those making the announcements MUST be briefed or trained on what to expect and how to handle various reactions, i.e. give them models like the grieving process (denial, resistance, exploration, commitment), have them prepare questions, etc.  If notification cannot be made in person, then telephone can be substituted if done properly and by the right person, e.g. someone the person has some relationship with.  If individual notification is not possible, it might be done in as small a group as possible, but this is certainly not a preferred alternative by any stretch of the imagination. Follow-up or augment the human notification with a concrete, written set of plans or guidelines that the laid off person can refer to as he or she tries to accommodate the lay-off, e.g. steps that will take place, contact people, how to access unemployment, etc.
  3. If at all possible have a workshop for workers which should be held immediately (within 24-48 hours of the notice) that explains things like unemployment, severance pay, job hunting, etc.  Experts should conduct the session but the leadership should be represented to help clarify how things will be implemented or viewed in the organization.
  4. A good counselling program should be available to the laid off workers, e.g. financial counselling, job searching, starting your own business programs, grief counselling, etc.  If at all possible, a list of job opportunities should be provided.
  5. As much as possible, respect the privacy of those laid off for as long as possible even though that will be eventually lost as transition occurs.  The word will get out but time gives the employee a chance to adjust or get thru some of the grief cycle before having to deal with well meaning co-workers.  Even expressions of sympathy may be hard to take for someone in denial or resistance.   If possible, give the laid off person some time off, but no more than one work day.  He/she will need a support group to help deal with some of the chaos they will experience and removing them from that becomes counterproductive if too long. 
  6. Provide a hotline.  Email offers a great venue because email can be routed to an appropriate expert.  If that is not available, provide a phone or drop box for people to provide concerns, anonymously if they prefer.
  7. The potential for workplace violence is real.  Think about it, very seriously; both from the perspective or prevention and remediation.
  8. Remember, not only the laid off workers will be affected.  Briefings or other forums where they can get information and share concerns are important for them, too.  The culture will be affected, not to mention the formal and informal organization.  Some thinking needs to be given to ensuring proper reconnection of the loose ends that will inevitably take place as people leave.  The people who are left need to feel a sense of regained homeostasis as soon as possible. 

I know many organizations do not deal with lay-offs so compassionately, i.e. notice is made and the employee is supervised while clearing his/her desk and immediately escorted off the premises.  This has changed due to legal restrictions, but the above suggestions will go a long way to show why the organisation regards itself as an Admired company, as it lives up to its brand promises.

The list above is is certainly not comprehensive but some stuff I learned thru first hand observation, I offer them because my heart goes out to the estimated 50 million people worldwide who will be affected this year.

Economically it will not always be possible to put all of the above into action, but remember you want to part ways with an ex-employee in a manner that the company’s integrity and reputation will not be jeopardised.

· For those who know of professionals who will be laid-off, please ask them to contact me. I may be able to assist them with setting up their own consulting practices. For the past twelve years I have run a program called Market your Consulting Practice that have been well received by those wanting to turn their professional knowledge into a personal advantage.

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Minimize Reputation Risk With The Use Of Mental Models

photo_8716_20091014Behavior in organisations is shaped by the ways in which people think about the world around them.

The suppositions that shape their ways of thinking are called ‘mental models’ by Peter Senge. In the Fifth Discipline , Senge describes mental models as ‘deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and take action.’

Lately every article on the Internet seems to focus primarily on the use of social media and the impact of online reputation.

Whilst this is not wrong it is also a mental model, one which is taking precedence on the real factors that impact reputation, namely that of the behavior, performance of the organization and the impressions and perceptions it creates whilst achieving its objectives.

To manage reputation in a business, change has to occur on a deeper and more fundamental level. It is not just about scanning what people are writing or saying about you. It is about inculcating a sense of pride and understanding that a company derives its reputation from its stakeholders and the way it is perceived because of its actions and performance.

I believe that Reputation Managers need to re-examine their mental models if it really wants to build and safeguard a company’s greatest asset. The understanding and changing of mental models is one of the disciplines of a learning organization and is another vital tool to reduce opportunity for reputation risk.

Certain mental models initially shaped the Reputation Management profession and helped people to understand the importance of reputation. Until now, those models like Public Relations served us well. Traditionally, it was believed that the Reputation of the organisation could be managed and protected by a small group of PR professionals using tools such as strategic communication.

But that approach no longer can be the only way. With so many things that impact and influence reputation, a more systemic and organization –wide approach has become necessary to protect this fragile asset and most volatile and dangerous risk.

BP serves as a crucial example. It undertook a venture in the Gulf of Mexico that turned into a fiasco of the highest nature.

It undertook a venture for which it had not thought through all risk and which they now admit, they had no recourse for action, if things went wrong. From a reputation point of view, no amount of PR could stem the negative reputation risk that emerged. In fact, the only thing that will be a tipping point, will be stemming the flow. And, then to restore the damage.

BP even admitted that they did not have the right tools for low – probability high impact events! Other experts called the problem – complacency. Point remains – perhaps their mental models were all wrong. They used methods from the past.

Interestingly I watched a video this morning on oil spills that resonates here for me together with recent reports that BP undertook an enterprise for which they knew there were no remedy.

Watch – History repeats itself – The more oil spills change, the more they stay the same – a must watch video –

The BP case clearly demonstrates the amount of damage that can be done to an organisation once its reputation is damaged. It is particularly significant because the more diverse and physically spread an organisation is, the more it becomes immune to risk, and yet the more it becomes exposed to the possibility and consequences of damaging its reputation.

However as reputation damage can harm organisations of all sizes and activities, why is it the most misunderstood and ill-managed of company’s risk management activities? Is it because there was a misconception in the past that PR after the fact could restore trust in an organization?

Once an organization has done something that reveals or even gives the possibility that its products or services are unsafe or unreliable, or that there were incompetent, corrupt or self-serving people in key positions, no amount of immaculate crisis response or highly paid PR consultants can prevent the fall out – as has been demonstrated by the numerous companies unable to restore market confidence after a crisis. The fallout almost ever leads to loss of earnings, loss of sales, share value decreases and breakdown of relationships, unless carefully managed.

One institution defines Reputation risk as the risk that an activity, action or stance performed or taken by the organization or its officials will impair its image in the community and/or the long-term trust placed in the organization by its stakeholders, resulting in the loss of business and/or legal action/and (loss of face – in a situation of negative public opinion). Essentially all risks and all related components of an organization potentially impact on reputational risk.

Read for examples of companies that got it wrong the past few years.

Reputation management is thus no longer primarily a function of the corporate communication department. To address effectively the variety of risks and complex issues that corporations face today, reputational risk management must be mandated from the top of the organisation and driven and implemented by all key business functions jointly. Ownership of reputation has to start with top management. They will need to make it a priority and set the example through their attention to it and application of corporate responsible practices.

Reputation Culture change will require "executive walk the talk" or culture shaping by role modeling. If the executive team does not live out the values, norms, beliefs, customs, traditions, etc that constitute placing a premium on reputation, then any change in culture or shift in stakeholders opinion of an organization will be a none starter i.e. The Executive team need to change their mental models about managing reputation.

Reputation Risk management also needs a corporate custodian that ensures plans and skills are up to date throughout the organization. Processes must be established, and tools that facilitate and speed up crisis response are critical.

Therefore, Reputation Risk Management can only be effective if it operates holisticallynot as a specialist function to be activated in an emergency but as a major influence on the organization’s actions, behavior and standards. The key to this is to understand that to manage Reputation Risk, a multidimensional approach will be needed that includes the convergence of risk management, reputation management, stakeholder relationship management, crisis management, corporate communications, training, corporate governance and sustainable business practices.

Simply put, to protect the corporate reputation asset, mental models need to change.

Understanding your Company’s Vision


Three men were working. Each one was busy with a trowel, cement and bricks.

A passer-by went up to the first one, who looked very bored, and asked him what he was doing.

" I’m laying bricks", he said sullenly. The passer-by then asked the second man, who looked somewhat more enthusiastic, the same question: "I’m building a church", he replied. Asking the same question to the third man who was whistling while he was working, the passer-by was astounded when he replied: " I am building a cathedral".

What are you building? Why do you work for your company? What is the underlying reason your firm is operational?

We all need a purpose, a vision, a mission – call it what you like – to motivate us to action.

A vision is a rallying cry. It is a short, powerful statement. It empowers people and makes them believe that they can do.

Think about the following:

– We will overcome!

– Workers of the world unite!

– Viva! Amandla!

What is your company’s vision? Is it a rallying cry?

Or is it like one of those typical long-winded corporate statements on the walls in reception areas.

Are you living that vision?

Questions are Powerful Tools for Effective Communication

j0382674 Questions are powerful tools for effective communication. The questioning technique(s) you select can be critical to achieving your desired outcome.

Your choice should depend on the situation, whether you are exchanging information, seeking the solution to a problem, interviewing or counselling.

But before we speak about questions, we need to take a step backward. I believe that we need to first understand the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROBLEM AND A DECISION.

A problem is a "train off a track". Something has not gone the way it was planned or expected to. Problem solving is finding out the reasons why and the possibility of getting things back on track. Decisions are about deciding which alternative is best.

To become adept at solving problems you need to master both analytical and creative problem solving techniques, so that you can ask the relevant questions. For instance there are times when you need to ask objective questions – these are to ask for specific information. "What evidence do you have for that conclusion?" "How have you been handling this process?" "What factors are necessary to raise your Customer Satisfaction Index?"

Problem Solving questions – ask these when you want action ideas. "What should you do next?" "How would you implement the steps we just discussed?"

"Why are we so much better at answering questions than at answering the right questions? Is it because we are trained at school and university to answer questions that others have asked? If so, should we be trained to ask questions?" [Or trained to ask the complete set of right questions in the right way?] Trevor Kletz (Analog Science Fiction, January 1994, p195)

One of the problems with looking for solutions to problems is that we always come to a problem with our years of experience behind us. This can sometimes direct our thinking down certain familiar paths, and we can miss other paths which might lead to better solutions.

When people do this, always tell them this quote – In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few — Shunryu Suzuki

One way to help overcome this tendency is to force yourself to approach a problem from a completely different point of view. Alex Osborn in his pioneering book Applied Imagination talks about "Questions as spurs to ideation", and outlines about 75 idea-spurring questions in his book.

The simplest set of questions comes from the six basic questions:

  1. Why is it necessary?
  2. Where should it be done?
  3. When should it be done?
  4. Who should do it?
  5. What should be done?
  6. How should it be done?

Osborn went on with the following questions:

Adapt? Modify? Substitute? Magnify/Maximise? Minimise/Eliminate? Rearrange? Reversal? Combine?

Start applying these questions to your problems and see what ideas come forth.

In your quest for learning to ask different questions, you should read Michael Michalko’s book Thinkertoys in which he describes the rearrangement of the above questions into the mnemonic SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse)

You should also consider the 7s Mckinsey Framework. My own perspective is that the type of decision isn’t as important, as knowing the questions to consider, or having a good model which shows different considerations to explore.


  • What’s the impact on people?
  • What’s the impact on process?
  • Impact on Technology?
  • Impact on the marketplace?
  • Impact on the business?
  • Impact on Reputation, Trust & Integrity?

The best I believe is a combination of a systematic and creative approach to problem solving and decision-making. Understanding different models of thinking will enable you to look different at every situation or to apply the right question to the right problem.

As someone once said: "Solutions often lies in the question not asked".

Ignore Corporate Culture at your Own Peril

As a keen observer of reputational issues around the Globe, it has always intrigued me that once a reputation risk incident has happened, that the organisation’s culture are often found to be the main cause and culprit.

At NASA (Challenger & Columbia space shuttle disasters) and Andersen (Enron), and even now BP (Complacency), corporate culture was implicated. This means that as Reputation Managers we will need to take a careful look at our culture and its potential danger to our reputation.

This lends itself to the question: “What is Corporate Culture and how can we positively influence it as part of our reputation management initiatives?”

Another question to ask is, is there a relationship between organizational culture, performance and reputation?

The definition offered by most is that "Culture is the way we do things around here." But the other day, I heard this. Culture is how we intuitively do things around here.

In other words its the way things get done without really thinking about how we’re going to do it. And therein lies the reputational risk danger. Like Dr. Roger von Oech wrote in his book – a Whack on the side of the Head. “Where all men think alike, no one thinks”.

Culture is essentially the core beliefs, traditions, customs, and established patterns of behavior held and practiced by members of an organization.

If this is true can culture be pinned to a table and dissected? Can it be reduced to bullet points on a flipchart?

It’s not necessarily the same as the values and mission the company puts in the front of their annual report, or the behaviours and processes outlined in their policy manual, although it can be.

What Corporate Culture is however; is the everyday actions, statements, and presumptions of the people who work there. The unwritten rules. The things that are taken as a given. The way we intuitively do things around here.

If you ask an employee why they do *this* instead of *that* and they respond "We’ve always done it that way" that process has become cultural. If it’s merely understood that you can call your boss by their first name, but you address everyone else of your bosses rank or higher by their last name, it’s culture.

If employees understand that they can question anything that doesn’t seem "right" this can be assumed to be engrained in their culture. If it’s understood that you never question anything, that’s culture too.

Edgar Schein, the OD expert (among others) points out that culture exists in layers.

It is often compared to an iceberg. The level that is visible above the surface is the level of behavior. This is the easiest layer to observe and change but it is affected by invisible layers underneath.

accidentsThe first invisible layer of culture below the surface, according to Schein, is the layer of values:what we care about and what we think is important. You can’t observe values directly the same way you observe behavior but you can certainly infer what they are from the way people act.

The deepest layer of culture – and the hardest one to observe, measure, or change – is the layer of fundamental beliefs.

The three layers interact, of course.

Let me give an oversimplified example. Suppose we have a fundamental belief that employees are basically lazy and that left to their own devices, they’ll just goof off. We’d probably place high values on control systems that allow managers to closely scrutinize employee performance and make sure that employees aren’t getting away with anything. Our behavior would reflect these values. If you asked us about it, we’d tell you that our control systems are just the way our company does business. We might not even be able to articulate the underlying belief about employee laziness that leads to this behavior. While it might not be hard to get us to change some aspects of our control systems, it might be very challenging to get us to change our fundamental beliefs about human nature. (Theory X & Y)

Organizational cultures tend to be self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating. People who share our beliefs will be attracted to our organization; people who believe otherwise will tend to go elsewhere.

Here is an example of how culture can be formed and create reputational risk.

1. Behaviours that produce positive outcomes (not necessarily positive for the organization, but positive for the person) are repeated. Others see the positive outcome and emulate the behavior and get similar results. A belief springs up that this is an accepted way to behave, and it becomes engrained as cultural. This is what we do, even if the written rules say don’t do that.

A practical example is the attitude of self-enrichment by executives in accepting outrageous pay schemes without due concern over the messages they portray. Workers then start to enrich themselves through shoplifting and other wasteful techniques.

2. Behaviours that produce negative outcomes (again, not necessarily negative for the organization, but negative for the person) are avoided. Others see the negative outcome and avoid the behavior. A belief springs up that this is a risky way to behave, and it becomes engrained as cultural. We just don’t do that, even if we are told it’s the right thing to do.

A Practical example would be that of speaking up or whistle blowing. The moment people see how a whistleblower is treated, they will be scared. Like the vernacular in South Africa. In Zulu they speak about an impimpi – being a spy. No one wants to be branded in this way, yet from a risk management perspectives we want them to speak up so that we can deal with issues whilst they are still small.

This procession can eventually lead to a culture that is overall positive and nurturing or negative and oppressive, depending on which behaviours prove rewarding and which prove to have unpleasant consequences.

Most cultures fall somewhere in between. One thing I am certain of is that once a culture is established, changing those fundamental core beliefs is probably the most difficult challenge in OD and Reputation Management.

In most reputation risk root cause analyses, I have found that the culture had a lot to do with the fundamental root cause of the risk that emerged.

To prevent unnecessary reputation risk in your own organisation, I would recommend that you work closely with your colleagues in OD/Organisational Behavior to impact the corporate culture in a positive way.

Ever been stuck in some useless Committee Meeting?


Meetings …a place where they take minutes and waste hours! Meetings…It’s unfair to compare a meeting with a funeral. Funerals have a definite purpose!

I am sure you have heard these comments and more. I was going to give some tips and decided against it. This poem just sums it up.

The Committee – by Phong Ngo

Oh, give me a pity, I’m on a committee
Which means that from morning to night
We attend and amend and contend and defend
Without a conclusion in sight.

We confer and concur, we defer and demur
And re-iterate all of our thoughts
We revise the agenda with frequent addenda
And consider a load of reports.

We compose and propose, we suppose and oppose
And the points of procedure are fun!

But though various notions are brought up as motions
There’s terribly little gets done.

We resolve and absolve, but never dissolve
Since it’s out of the question for us.

What a shattering pity to end our committee
Where else could we make such a fuss?

How can you make your meetings a joy to attend? Think about it! I know many ways how.

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What has the SABC and a Fish Bowl got in common?

The dramas and changes unfolding at the SABC in South Africa can serve as an interesting case study about how leaders destroy the reputation, faith and trust in organisations. Not only has there been negative publicity about the organisation, but now even their nomination process for selecting new candidates for the Board has come under fire.

Prof Kupe, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Wits University and a member of the Save Our SABC Coalition has written an interesting opinion piece about this, to which I would like to add a slightly different take.

I believe that serious questions will have to be asked by those involved in changing the organisation around. It goes beyond just selecting new candidates for a Board.

I would ask: ‘’ What must be done to radically transform the SABC?’’. Obviously the quickest way to turn around any organisation is to get rid of senior management. In this case not only do they need new CEO, but even the Board has been dissolved.

But what about the people in the institution? Did they have no role to play in the fiasco? What did they contribute to the problem of decay and why should they get away with no action been taken?

Perhaps the best way for me, an outsider based on what I read to describe the SABC, is to use the fish bowl metaphor.

070803a5078 The fish bowl metaphor begins with a question. The question is this; "If the fish is sick what would you do, treat the fish or change the water?"

The logical answer is, you would change the water. Why? Because the fish is only as healthy as the water it swims in. The fish is the human cell and the water is the fluids around the cell(s). The ocean has a delicate pH balance of 8.3 and is maintain by alkaline mineral salts. Our internal fluids are like the ocean and are maintained by the same alkaline mineral salts – sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium and calcium. At the present the ocean pH because of global warming has gone from 8.3 to 8.2. This huge decrease in the ocean pH has caused potential health risks to all sea life including the loss of the coral reefs.

The same thing is happening to many of us with body warming, as our bodies are affected by our lifestyles. In the same way I believe that the SBDC is also suffering from the same ailment – body warming. It is not going to help to just change the top fish, even if one author did write a book called Fishes rot from the head.

What is needed at the SABC is a multi-faceted large system scale change intervention. The culture (the fluids) and communication patterns of the organisation will have to be changed.

Culture is often defined as it’s how we do things around here, but the other day I heard an even better definition – It’s how we intuitively do things around here. In other words it’s the way things get done without really thinking about how we’re going to do it. A Stage of Unconscious Incompetence or Competence?.

So, can the culture at the SABC be dissected? Edgar Schein (among others) points out that culture exists in layers. It is often compared to an iceberg. The level that is visible above the surface is the level of behavior. This is the easiest layer to observe and change but it is affected by invisible layers underneath. The first invisible layer of culture below the surface, according to Schein, is the layer of values: what we care about and what we think is important. You can’t observe values directly the same way you observe behavior but you can certainly infer what they are from the way people act. The deepest layer of culture – and the hardest one to observe, measure, or change – is the layer of fundamental beliefs.

What is the driving beliefs at the SABC? It is not enough to make structural changes, intangibles like morale will need to be tackled.

In my opinion, the only way the SABC can be changed around is if we radically change the way people think, act, communicate and participate at the organisation.

Joyce Wycoff wrote in her book “TRANSFORMATION THINKING” that thinking within an organisation is defined as the mental activity of every member of the organisation…all the idea generation, learning and skill development, exchange of information, communication and problem solving that make up the intellectual capacity of an organisation. (Intellectual capital is the sum total of what everyone knows in the organisation).

I just hope that the decision-makers at the SABC will not suffer from the monkey’s dilemma – the unwillingness to let go of something even when holding on, but will effect real changes.

When a monkey reaches into a jar and grabs a fistful of nuts, he’s delighted because he’s got what he wants in his hand. When he can’t get his enlarged fist out of the jar, he winds up not getting the nuts in the jar or the ones that he could get by going outside and climbing the nut tree. If he would just let go of the nuts in the jar, he also might stumble onto the idea of turning the jar upside down and pouring the nuts out!

The "fistful of nuts" syndrome is one of the main reasons that breakthroughs seldom come from the most logical place. Microcomputers were not invented by a major computer manufacturer; cellular phones didn’t come from AT&T; railroads, the major transportation system of yesterday, didn’t invent airplanes, the major transportation system of today. It’s very difficult to let go of something tangible to look for new possibilities.

The late Harry S. Truman said “We shall never be able to remove suspicion and fear as potential causes of war until communication is permitted to flow, free and open, across international boundaries”. To which can be added, “organisations will never be as successful at transformation unless it does the same to its communication and thinking processes”.

“Recession-related risks” a top concern for audit committees in 2008

KPMG has released a report entitled “Recession-related risks” a top concern for audit committees in 2008’’

How companies deal with recession–related risks will either destroy their fine reputations or enhance them.

Recession-related risks include not just financial risks – such as liquidity, access to capital, ageing receivables, and cash management – but also strategic, operational, and third-party risks such as reliance on suppliers and other business partners.

Since reputation can be seen as a strategic risk, what you do and how you do it should form an important part of the decisionmaking process in dealing with recession related issues. I wrote an article on this called Lay-offs:The Reputable Way in last month Powerlines (83) that deals with the human component in a recession.

j0386479Perhaps, now is the time for innovative cost-cutting campaigns.

Ever thought of enlisting your people’s minds and ideas in such a process?

Andrew O Manzini wrote in the book – Organisational Diagnosis- a Practical Approach to Company Problem Solving and Growth that "The solution to many organisational problems lie within the company – itself – with its own people. If you create an environment that encourages people to communicate their perceptions about problems and issues that prevent the company from being as effective as it can possibly be, and then solicit their input about what can be done, you tap a reservoir of talent that is more than adequate"

In a recession, the time to listen to your employees and other stakeholders about how to do things faster and better, has never been more paramount.

So, let me ask you. Does your company have a suggestion scheme, THAT works?

If it doesn’t , it just has no listening capability for capturing ideas!

Footnote: Send me an email for a white paper on how to implement an effective suggestion scheme.