The Opportunity Cost of Culture

What’s written on the walls of your organisation?

Focused on achieving small efficiency gains, we often miss that small changes in the way our organisational expectations and values can make dramatic changes in performance.

Not the Process. It’s Us

Many organisations have discovered that employee productivity has increased in this time of isolation, even with the interruptions and distractions. Forced into remote working, they have had to change the way people interact and work through:

  • Better clarity of accountability
  • More autonomy
  • More asynchronous work
  • Shorter, more focused meetings
  • Better use of people’s unique skills and potential
  • Leveraging the collaboration tools available

We are starting to see the benefits of new ways of working and we are also starting to see the opportunity costs of our work culture. Culture is our expectation of what is acceptable behaviour and how our interactions will work in an organisation. Because these expectations can be deeply engrained, we some times don’t see the inefficiencies and the lost opportunities.

If everyone else has meetings back-to-back all day, it can feel like the gold standard of busy productivity. Our expectation becomes that meetings are the work. The fact that little gets done in those meetings just generates more meetings to discuss how to get more done. The new context of videoconferencing has helped us see some of that inefficiency, to question our assumptions and experience a new level of tiredness at the routine.

If all information and all decision making flows through levels of hierarchy to senior managers, we become expert at managing that process and used to the disempowerment, delays and confusion that it entails. Our expectation becomes that decisions happen elsewhere. When we are disconnected from our peers, forced to react quickly on our own or cutting directly through to those who make the decisions we can’t, then we see new potential to work in better ways.

If work, information and accountabilities are siloed, we become masters of our own domain and used to the time that must be invested in defending that territory, negotiating misalignment and confusion. Our expectation becomes that knowledge is power and that the only way to get something done is in a silo we control. When collaboration cuts across those silos, sharing powerful information and aligning work with those best suited to deliver outcomes, then the potential output of our teams explodes.

Most people find a fit between their personal purpose and the work they do. Inherently, engagement should be high. However, these cultural misfits sap our personal purpose and productivity. Our disengagement comes from how we work, not what we do. Making changes that help empower discretionary effort and engagement can also supercharge a team’s performance.

Productive changes in the culture of an organisation can create more than an incremental change in performance. You might be able to make a process 10-20% more efficient with some effective re-engineering work. However, effective work on the prodcutivity of an organisation’s working culture can deliver exponential increases in output. Everyone in the team benefits and those benefits are compounding as barriers to success are removed, people work in parallel to leverage their talents, bureaucratic molasses is drained and as people can adapt to realise new opportunities.

If your organisations culture is not contributing to realising the collective talents and potential of your team, then it is time for change. Changing the culture of a workplace is not easy. However the rewards can be dramatic in purpose, productivity and for the potential of people.

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