Building the Confident Organization
For millennia, humans have lived in communities of around 150 people… until the 1880s when, following the second industrial revolution, we saw the birth of massive organisations of tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of people. The answer as to how to coordinate people’s actions on such a vast scale was Scientific Management – systems and processes. Whilst the benefits to society have be vast, we have created impersonal, bureaucratic structures where people often don’t care about the firm or each other.
This has led to many examples of organisational inertia – where we carry on with behaviours without thinking about why we do them, sometimes even when we have evidence that they are wrong. This is being exacerbated by a disease called ‘hurry sickness’. As they say in Florida, ‘When you are fighting off the alligators, it’s hard to remember you were trying to drain the swamp’. We don’t cope very well with complexity and organisational life has been getting increasingly complex and ambiguous.
One of the key dimensions we need to consider is the spectrum between over and under-confidence. Over-confident organisations are arrogant, grandiose and complacent, often believing that they have a right to continue to be successful. Under-confident organisations feel like victims and can often become passive. The great organisations emerging in the world today spend more time in the middle of this spectrum.
So, what are the behaviours of truly confident organisations? The following are some of the key research findings:
- A strong sense of shared purpose – why should someone join this organisation? Why should our best employees stay loyal?
- Leaders act as effective role models of the behaviours they want from others
- Everyone not only understands who we are and where we are going, but feels that they can do things that they are good at that will help us achieve our ambitions – we can play to our strengths
- We collaborate. This means we look after each other (as we used to do in small communities), but also that we challenge each other – having the courage to confront the difficult conversations
- Trust – if you treat people as adults, they behave as adults. One way or the other, your attitude to people creates a self-fulfilling prophecy
- 2-way communication – often the best ideas come from far, far away from the executive suite. Senior managers need to listen to employees, rather than simply ‘cascading’ information down the hierarchy
At its essence, confident organisations are places where people feel energised and engaged, willing to take personal risks in the cause of greater organisational success.
Event: "Building the Confident Organization" by Visiting Professor of Leadership Richard Jolly