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Culture: A Product Of Organizational Structure!

Most people already know that culture is key to any transformation process and an essential lever for business success and growth. However, they are still unaware of the fact that organizational culture is a consequence of its organizational structure.

In order for HR to harness an engaged, collaborative, empowered, employee-oriented, innovative, and creativity-centric culture, it must first establish its organizational structure based on Open Systems Design Principles, namely, an enhancive and tropophilic structure, instead of the typical restrictive and tropophobic dominant hierarchy i.e., bureaucracy.

Yes, organizational culture (any culture) is a consequence of its organizational structure.

When was the last time (if ever) that you determined what is your organizational structure? I thought so, almost nobody does. Why not? Because most people (including CEOs and HR managers) have no clue about it!

CEOs and top management (including HR people) have been way too busy dealing with symptoms of toxic cultures and a myriad of organizational phenotypes to even think about their organizational structure, let alone about Open Systems Design Principles.

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Most CEOs and HR people want to be happy with a workplace “designed to promote collaboration, creativity and autonomy,” ignorant of the fact that knocking down walls in their workplace and creating “lots of social spaces to encourage greater interaction among colleagues,” changes nothing about their organizational structure or design principles. Even if no one has an office, not even the CEO, does not help to build a “culture of openness”, where everyone has an equal voice. These are mere attempts at addressing the symptoms of typical restrictive and tropophobic structures, namely, bureaucracies, but does nothing to build a positive culture, on the contrary, these futile attempts only increase cynicism and apathy.

In a similar vein, any policies and programmes aim to support creative and critical thinking, enable empowerment, and build trust, will only exacerbate the toxicity of these restrictive and tropophobic structures. Not having fixed working hours so that employees have greater control over their time seems, indeed, a commendable effort. However, developing an open culture requires much more than having control over one’s time, or having leadership teams holding regular townhalls and “dialogue sessions” to “build alignment and to drive engagement”. Giving employees “the power to choose” does not make them necessarily feel “empowered and engaged”. In order to not only feel but to know that they are truly empowered, employees must have the ability to choose over their own work, without a supervisor or manager breathing down their neck. Control and accountability should occur at the level at which the decisions are taken. “Pay to obey” no longer applies!

Clarity of purpose, goals, rules and regulations cannot materialize within restrictive and tropophobic structures. Engagement is not about face to face interactions with shared experiences. This is why team-building events like annual corporate dinners, sporting and leisure events, town-halls, feasting sessions and more, are just fun but a total waste of resources! When employees share experiences together and have a better understanding of the challenges of their colleagues but are restricted by their organizational structure, they tend to become more cynic and apathetic.

It’s not enough for employees to understand their purpose. Having a strong purpose does not provide meaning to the work that people do if they know that they don’t have the responsibility over their own work.

Coaching has become big business precisely because the “experts” keep exacerbating the symptoms of restrictive structures while fooling themselves and everybody else.

Flexibility, in terms of from where and when people work to the way they dress, is nice, but does nothing to change a restrictive structure, despite a myriad of fancy programmes e.g., FlexSpace, FlexDress.

The need to encourage an open and collaborative culture within the company is a clear symptom of a restrictive organizational structure because this type of culture would emerge naturally as a consequence of Open Systems Design Principles. Your are just wasting valuable resources by trying to engage your staff through “smart” avenues such as:

-Open office and work stations.
-Quarterly staff communication sessions.
-Questions and answers via an online platform, etc.
-Regular employee review conversations.
-Informal gatherings.
-Employee wellness programmes.

The benefits in developing your human capital are obvious. Companies invest considerable cost and effort in attracting and recruiting talent and yet, they fail to truly develop and train them so that they can contribute their best to the organisation. Spending thousands of hours developing your employees in many areas, e.g., leadership, creativity, digital skills, etc., will not help your people work smarter and more efficiently unless you first change the restrictive DNA of your organization.

In a similar vein, introducing programmes “to drive internal mobility and to support employees in their personal and professional development,” will not help your people stay agile and adaptive without transforming first the restrictive nature of your organizational structure.

“Happy and engaged employees” would indeed be the best spokespeople any organisation can hope for, but you rarely find them! Yes, this only highlights the pervasiveness of bureaucratic (restrictive/tropophobic) structures.

With intelligent automation, artificial intelligence and other disruptions, people development is a business imperative. But people will not be able to enhance existing skills or acquire new ones (e.g., complex problem solving, leadership, critical thinking and creativity) until the restrictive DNA of their organization is transformed.

Developing human capital at the phenotypic level does not result in a sustainably engaged and effective workforce. As automation and digitalisation transform the work landscape, you need an environment conducive to sustainable learning.

Building adaptability and resilience, is not good enough any more because both are reactive and, therefore, they are one step behind change and, hence, are doomed.

The biggest challenge may seem the attitude and mind-set of the employee, e.g., Millennials. However, attracting candidates with a positive attitude coupled with a strong desire to learn will not contribute for talent development within restrictive structures. Another challenge, to foster a learning and personal growth culture within the organisation, will not work either until/unless the restrictive DNA of the organization is transformed.

Inculcating a mindset of learning and growth is not necessary within enhancive non-dominant hierarchies because people naturally embrace challenges, profit from obstacles, and learn from setbacks and feedback within enhancive and tropophilic organizations.

Leaders and people managers do not need any “ability” to establish this positive mindset of learning and growth in their people. They only need the knowledge to transform their restrictive/tropophobic organizations and watch a positive mindset emerge by default.

Yet, too many “experts” insist that to deal with the complex workforce challenges of today, organisations “need leaders and people managers capable of generating personal and organisational transformations,” the so-called “Transformational Leader,” but fail miserable to do so because they focus on the symptoms of their toxic and tropophobic organizations while leaving the malady intact i.e., their restrictive and tropophobic dominant hierarchy.

It’s not surprising that less than 10% of leaders have the appropriate knowledge/capabilities to successfully drive personal and organisational transformation because most leaders have been developing, growing and nurturing the wrong capabilities by the hand of ever-more profitable consulting companies.

To foster a culture of freedom and responsibility, where people feel proud of what they do by fully understanding their business instead of simply setting up and following rules and regulations, an enhancive and tropophilic non-dominant hierarchy must be in place.

JC Wandemberg Ph.D.

President & Founder

Sustainable Systems International

About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant and stocks trader, keynote speaker, published author, professor, and analyst of economic, environmental, social, managerial, marketing, and political issues. For the past 30 years Dr. Wandemberg has collaborated with corporations, communities, and organizations to integrate sustainability through self-transformation processes and Open Systems Design Principles, thus, catalyzing a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.

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