2020.04.30

Crisis as a Driving Force of Cultural Transformation

By Caroline Ménard and Guylaine Grenier

Newsletter

Could the current crisis constitute a means to accelerate cultural transformation in our organizations? Moreover, in society as a whole?

Odds are that when we pull out of this crisis – even with the best of intentions – we will want to fix and improve everything that proved inadequate and put in place a “new system”.

But adopting a continuous improvement stance would be tantamount to willful blindness and could be interpreted as a lack of courage. We would first need to recognize that we are witnessing symptoms, manifestations of the decisions we have made in the past. And those decisions were driven, on a conscious level or not, by our value systems and beliefs. Those constitute the underlying motivations of individual and organizational strategies. They show who we are, individually and collectively.

This disaster and its resulting confinement are quite revealing. But what comes next? What will we do differently? Once we recover from this “disturbance”, will traffic jams simply return? Will our newly developed solidarity crumble? Will political games and posturing again rule management committees? Could we use this opportunity to turn things around?

Drawing lessons from this crisis

We believe that today’s leaders live in a constant state of uneasiness, somewhere between the known and the unknown, and will need to remain there, to face adversity and chaos, if they wish to effect real change. Such a breakthrough will only come to those who will broaden their state of consciousness, develop an ability to understand the overwhelming complexity of our new reality and to identify options still invisible to most.

We need to learn from this unusual experience if we want to change things. How far are we willing to go in reassessing how we manage our businesses, how we exercise our leadership? Moving forward, what values will constitute the building blocks of our organizations? Will we be ready to challenge the current workings of global business? How do we want to contribute? What obstacles will we face?

Becoming a key player in this unprecedented cultural transformation

It is our firm belief that leaders and organizations must simultaneously reinvent themselves: any transformation will only be equal to the ambitions of its leaders. And whatever got us where we are today will not cut it in meeting the new challenges society is putting before us.

We remain convinced that this is an extraordinary opportunity for us to reassess our fundamentals, both individually and collectively and to change directions.

We must avoid sidelining any cultural transformation. On the contrary, as leaders we must take action and take advantage of this fertile terrain to experiment and speed up initiatives.

Whether we like it or not, to succeed at transformation one must be keenly aware of a phenomenon know as homeostasis. This force will work against you to maintain the stability of the system, in other words to keep everything as it once was. Our organizational identity and what we hope to achieve, to create, how we wish to contribute and those values we wish to promote will all constitute essential elements to consider in transforming ourselves.

As leaders, we must take a good look at ourselves and our organizations. Doing so will allow us to develop our self-awareness through our actions, in order to stay true to our values and remain connected to ourselves and others.

Here are a few practical tips to accelerate transformation while maintaining a necessary balance:

Getting a bird’s-eye view in order to improve individually and collectively

  • Ask that a team member temporarily pull away from the discussion during meetings to focus on how we are working together. His or her mission will be to observe group dynamics and patterns and then share observations with other team members. The immediate feedback will constitute a learning experience for all and encourage us to do better and maybe even do things differently during the meeting. For example, if signs of resistance appear, such as unwanted nonverbal behaviour, or if things appear to be left unsaid, you may want to directly solicit input from those individuals. This might be an appropriate tactic to bring the group to have a “real” conversation.
  • On an ad hoc basis, inviting a “meta”1 to your management committee meeting is a must. Agreeing to let someone witness how you exercise your leadership in a team setting may initially be a bit uncomfortable. However, leaders must first be aware of their thought patterns and of their behaviours if they wish to improve. In that sense, the “meta” – the custodian of the process – will ensure that we maintain a keen awareness of our chaotic environment, often fraught with blind spots and numerous and weak signals which may provide important lessons.

Creating forums to converse and broaden our world perspective to make informed decisions

  • Set up groups of let’s say between 10 and 40 individuals with wide ranging profiles. The object of the exercise is to create a dialog and not to provoke discussions. We are not looking for solutions, nor are we searching for consensus and we are certainly not trying to influence  and convince others. Proceeding in this manner will promote co-construction and allow us to give new meaning to a matter which concerns us or might even have divided us at the outset 2.
  • This exercise which encourages us to speak out and listen comprehensively will allow us to better understand our thought patterns and reconnect to our values, assumptions and feelings. To move from a system of ignorance to one of collective knowledge, we must first open ourselves to a diversity of opinions, experiences, beliefs and consider “other” options.
  • In a spirit of co-coaching, engage with other leaders in a process of mutual assistance, thus creating for each other an opportunity to evolve and improve collective work practices. Co-development and co-coaching constitute a befitting way to learn as a group. We can share past experiences involving significant issues and their resolution, we can tell each other how we perceive ourselves and others, we can explore individual and collective “blind spots” and dare express new opinions or solutions in the pursuit of our goals. In a proper setting, members of such a group will thrive and develop a strong sense of trust, while transferring lessons learned over time to a broader community of leaders.

Promoting a “learning” culture in the organization

  • Co-create a living mural to capture and memorialize your experiences and how your organization is evolving. The object is to utilize these observations to learn through actual experiences. The living mural is made up of ideas, comments emanating from employees at every level and occupation in the organization. This tool will help foster relationships, highlight the diversity and depth of the ideas and emotions being displayed, what we’ve learned through the experience and emerging practices. Used efficiently, this process will teach us how to “learn” and may become an enduring tool to further organizational transformation.
  • Facilitate an exercise to reflect on how we can reinvent ourselves and find a new balance in these times of transformation. Reflecting on what we want to maintain, stop doing or develop is a normal occurrence for managers and doing so is certainly still relevant. However, limiting ourselves to these questions, however important, will not allow us to strike a new balance in our organizations. In addition to making choices, we will need to closely measure and monitor the impacts of theses choices if we wish to maintain a continued balance as we move forward.

So how will we strike such a balance? One thing is certain: we will not get there if we continue to work in silos and follow the same patterns and ways of doing things. We are undoubtedly amidst an important cultural transformation. Finding new answers, better aligned with global thinking and the increasing complexity of our ever-growing world, will only happen if we do it together.

We are now relaunching our activities in Quebec and pressure is steadfastly increasing across our planet to get people back to work.

To this end, we have one final thought. Beyond carrying out a lacklustre post-mortem analysis of our ability to manage in a time of crisis, what gutsy move will we make to impact our organizations and society as a whole? And will we dare make a difference?

 

Guylaine Grenier, Professional Certified Coach – for individuals and teams

Having spent some 25 years as a consultant in businesses undergoing transformations, Guylaine now focuses on accompanying daring executives aspiring to become leaders who will address the current challenges of today’s human, organizational and societal transformations.   

 

1 The term “meta” is widely used in coaching. It implies an in-depth focus on a specific matter (for example, communicating on the subject of communication). The idea is to reflect observations to model behaviours or ways of being.

2 If the notion of dialog is of interest to you, you may wish to consult: “Vivre en dialogue à l’ère du texto” by Marie-Ève Marchand, Doctor in Adult Education, specializing in dialog in organizations, in Presses de l’Université Laval, 2019, pages 6 and 24.