The moral high ground

How did Donald Trump get to be president? How did Brexit happen? Why is culture change so difficult? Why do we complain about the amount of regulation in our society?

After 23 June there was disbelief in Europe that the United Kingdom had voted for Brexit. They couldn’t believe why or how that could happen. Now, there’s disbelief again that Donald Trump has won the American presidential election.

We see the European ideal creaking, we see the same in America and a rise in nationalism everywhere, and a growing intolerance. Or is it just exasperation?

A reaction against a liberal elite

We have seen increasing regulation of ever more aspects of our lives as our society is becoming more liberal, and more concerned about the rights of minorities and individuals. We feel constrained, and unable to express an authentic opinion without the risk of offending somebody or being held to account to one of the arcane laws and regulations by which we are bound. We recognise that the rights of the individual are important and let’s be clear, we should, wherever we can, look after those who are unable to help themselves. Yet in our schools, our teachers avoid touching a pupil when they have a cut knee. As a father, picking up a crying child and comforting it is natural to me. But I risk someone who doesn’t know me wondering if my intentions are sinister ( I can’t use the ‘P’ word for risk that search engines might block this post). It’s absurd and saddens me.

Now we are seeing a backlash. Perhaps this started with the Arab Spring. It certainly is apparent throughout Europe and America. A backlash against an elite and an establishment that doesn’t listen –that thinks it knows best – and nanny state. Whether we like it or notTrump won because he reflected voters thoughts and fears. Hillary Clinton lost because she was seen to be establishment through and through and people are fed up with that. They want change in America, and in the United Kingdom, and in large parts of Europe. For both Brexit and US election, it was a case of wrong answer to real concerns. But given no other answer was achievable, both results are understandable.

So far any response by governments has been to add layers of complexity and regulation, thus exacerbating the problem and accelerating similar results.

Is business any different?

That macro view is reflected quite neatly in the micro view of a firm. Huge amounts of time and effort are put into creating, changing and maintaining a firm’s culture. Always with mixed results at best. Always management are perplexed that their good intentions are not enthusiastically adopted by everybody in the organisation. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as my father regularly told me.

Management says it wants a flatter hierarchy, more collaboration, more involvement and devolved responsibility throughout the workforce. Everybody accepts this is badly needed given the changing role of work and the need for devolved and smaller teams who can act in an agile, resilient and flexible way to respond to market needs quickly. But nobody asks anybody outside management in the organisation how to achieve this – so ironically culture change is often another example of top down management. If culture is so difficult to achieve, then strategy will be more so, as one follows the other. Peter Drucker said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. As usual, he was right.

Management still aren’t getting it

The same issue is prevalent in corporate objectives and recruitment policies. The marvellous Morning Star case study shows how a flatter organisation can work extremely well. Yet, if you listen to the videos, everybody only talks about corporate objectives. Nobody ever talks about how their personal objectives are fulfilled. As I have said before, nobody in the history of the world ever turned up to work to fulfil a corporate objective. They have only turned up to fulfil a personal objective by the means of a corporate one. It’s a trade-off, and management still aren’t getting it. Management still don’t find out in detail what someone’s personal objectives are during the recruitment process. And for existing teams, corporate objectives are imposed by management, so it is amazing that any are achieved at all, given that management has not found out what its team’s personal objectives are. It’s a constant struggle to hammer square pegs into round holes with limited success. The recent votes point to individuals feeling disenfranchised. No better illustration is needed for firms to realise they need to properly engage with their people.

How to get true culture change

Culture starts with personal and business objectives being in some sort of alignment. And surely that’s the only way that cultural change can happen and be maintained, because then all the individuals are engaged and motivated for their own ends and those of their peers to maintain that culture. If management would like to discover their team’s personal objectives, we have a tool that does exactly that.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners generally get this. They don’t want a plethora of rules in their business. They just want to get on with it. Big businesses and governments please note. Dismantle regulations, listen to people, and you might just stay out of the game. During the Wars of the Roses, somebody asked the Bishop of Norwich how he managed to lead an army of the men of Norfolk, who were notoriously independently minded. Paraphrasing, he said “ I find out which way they’re going, and I walk in front”. Leaders and managers please note – good ones ask questions, not issue pronouncements.

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