The smell of the place

Organizational behavior is the foundation of organizational culture (or “The smell of the place as referenced by Professor Sumantra Ghoshal”).

If you want to understand the activators of organizational behavior, engage the leaders, listen to the followers and stress test the metrics.

There is a lot of blame game in an organization that is failing to meet agreed metrics, in a sustainable way.

If you listen to the leaders, you will focus on the followers and keep wondering what exactly is wrong with them. Never be fooled into thinking that the problem is at the bottom of the pyramid. The reactions at the bottom of the pyramid are always the symptom. When organizational behavior is negative, hold leadership responsible. Do not butter it up or use an elixir. Place the responsibility where it belongs – on the lap of leadership. Is it fair? No. Is it right? Yes. People become (or at least try to become) better individuals when they become parents. Why? They get a better understanding of the impact of modeling. They want to be pointers in the right direction. They want their values to be complemented by words and action. They better understand the power of signaling. To get the right behaviors, they first of all, demonstrate the right behaviors. Leadership is no different. An absent or badly behaved leader, like his equivalent in parenthood, lacks credibility and has to use the whip frequently.

Listen to the followers – What are they whining about? What are they excited about? The talk of the organization is a symptom, yes, but it is the prevailing cloud. How do you get the prevailing talk of a place? Humor. What cracks people up? What brings cheer in meetings? Don’t be so serious. In humor, you get what is really going on. When I go to a new town, I seek comedians and satirists. They are the freest to tell the talk, the truth, the smell of the place and get away with it, because it was packaged in humor. Knowing the truth should only be feedback to leadership. Do not waste time trying to change followers, they are more likely to turn you into a sympathizer. Followers dance to the beat of leadership – in tune or out of tune.

Reassess the metrics on which leadership is rewarded and the metrics on which leadership is sanctioned. Tweak the metrics to show a bias for unmistakable responsibility of leadership for desired organisational behaviors. Save money and time spent on world-class consulting, surveys and workshops. If you must spend on them, let the focus be on metrics and incentives. We all too often, underestimate the power of metrics and incentives. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet fix.

Understanding Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s work on operant conditioning is a good start.

– Osasu Oviawe

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