How do we manage and keep our business organizations motivated, focused and productive, in this new volatile and less predictable world? How do we create a sustainable organization in the long term?
Companies that are not able to grow their P&Ls top and bottom line, or in some cases even when growth is there, they have lost or don't have a vision on the future of the business, are in my experience always dealing with stressed and not engaged teams. In ecological terms, we are dealing with an unhealthy ecosystem, an environment where you have poor collaboration or not at all, and where the level of human energy is low, negative and polarized.
I firmly believe that the dynamics of an organization are not too different than those of a biological ecosystem, or "the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit." Ecology teaches us that sustainability is how the natural interaction of the components of biological systems, allows them to remain diverse, productive and healthy, which in technical terms is defined as "the capacity of ecosystems to maintain their essential functions and processes, and retain their biodiversity in full measure over the long-term."
The concept doesn't change when we move to other type of ecosystems, whether economical, political or business.
As a manager and a leader of an organization, whenever I start a restructuring, take over the integration of different business units after an acquisition, or simply when I'm called to manage a new company, the first aspects that I always analyze and make sure I understand well are: the culture, the level of cooperation and the amount of stress of the organization. These three components are the key elements that always help me define the level of healthiness of a business environment.
What is the methodology that I follow, to understand and analyze these important components?
In this article I'm going to talk about the importance of the cultural aspect, and how I'm tackling it.
Culture is defined as "the beliefs, customs, arts, of a particular society, group, place, or time", and encompasses "the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group". From the definition, we can understand how, at the base of the cultural aspect of a society or a group, there are social, psychological, and spiritual, characteristics of the human beings.
Given the fact that we constantly move from one part of the world to another, all these are very important characteristics of our society. Every time that we land in a different geography, whether for leisure or business, we immediately feel the differences, and most of the time struggle with them. From the most simple things like the food, to the most difficult ones like communication, we are often in front of what we call a cultural clash.
If these kinds of feelings are true when we take a quick trip to a different country, they become a source of strong tension, when we have to negotiate a deal, manage a business, or implement a project of change management.
What I have developed over many years of extensive travels managing business relationships in different part of the globe, is a way that allows me to quickly empathize with people, and easily comprehend the new environment.
The best approach to get a deep understanding of the culture of an organization is to spend quality time interviewing the people individually, by department, and the team all together and upwards to the top echelon of company leaders. This is not a process only based on formal business interviews and reviews, but really a social interaction between human beings. I like to define it as a human centric approach. The conversation is about life, family, team dynamics, personal and customer's relationships, hobbies, passions, and dreams.
In my article, "An equestrian way to mindfulness", I talk about my experience in connecting with horses in dressage, as a way to improve my life -- work balance, and a help to keep me close to the profound human values when managing teams and people.
I often use my equestrian experience, to help me in implementing this person centered approach. I can translate the process I use of working with my thoroughbred Moto, in exploring and getting to know all the elements of a new organization, putting together a plan, and then to introduce changes.
My dressage practice with horses, allows me the opportunity to explore how the aspect of culture helps the horse become more socially connected. In the past two years of practice with Moto, I learned a lot about the DNA and the culture of this particular breed. Thoroughbreds are by nature very energetic and have a strong work ethic. At the same time they are always concerned of every single thing that occurs in the environment around them. For this reason, every time we walk into an environment together, the training arena or outdoors, we explore the things around us together. This is a routine that we do every time. First we make sure that we notice every single detail part of the context we are in (even a vase of flowers in a specific spot), then we acknowledge it, and finally we start our training session only when we are confident of the space around us.
This is a process that requires patience, and a constant dialogue overtime. It is very similar to the routine I follow to understand the dynamics within a business organization. You first walk in and you look around, you start to talk to the people and sense the level of energy, the issues and the opportunities. How do people think, why is that they suffer or what is that makes or would make them happy. Who are the ones that can be part of a change management team, or that are more useful in other functions. The only way to discover this quickly, like I mentioned above, is to spend time exploring with mindful attention, the social and cultural elements of the environment.
In a world where technology allows open connectivity between a huge number of social communities and web tribes, where people from different parts of the globe are always connected expressing their social and personal opinions with almost no boundaries, we need to integrate an understanding of the culture into our leadership approach.
In the next article I will be exploring the second component of the methodology, which is the importance of using what we have learned from the business environment, to establish and enhance a higher level of cooperation.