“If I was the leader I would change…” How many times have you heard this? It is a myth of many people that a leader can command the world to be new, and everything will fall into place. That we can somehow point out a single flaw and fix it without ever changing anything else. Too many believe that our world and the organizations within it are made up of independent parts that can individually be changed without thought to the larger impact.
An organization is its own ecosystem, and like all ecosystems, it is a balancing act. Being able to stand back and look at how the system works is vital to truly manage the organization. When managing an ecosystem, like our health, it is counterproductive to fix one area and not consider how those changes will affect the rest of the body. Introducing heart medication should be coupled with diet, exercise, and sometimes other drugs to counteract the needed medication’s side effects.
Looking at the places I have lived there are always stories of animals and plants that were brought in to fix one issue and they lead to invasive destruction. Here in Idaho, we are dealing with Pike, Sea Weed, and the wrong type of Wolves being brought in to an ecosystem not equipped to deal with them, and now years later we are attempting to “fix” the problems they are creating. Humankind finds it difficult to learn its lesson. Before making changes in a part of a system the whole system requires study. The impact goes beyond the immediate and obvious.
I see this in organizations all the time. Management sees a problem and reacts in a knee jerk way that causes a kaleidoscope of spiraling issues they never intended or considered. This is because they often fail to really look at how the ecosystem in which they find themselves works. They fail to do the hard work required to fully understand how the parts work together. Like a person heavy lifting but never utilizing cardio or diet change sees their belly get bigger as muscle builds and fat remains, or worse yet they do damage to needed muscles that then take time to repair. Like the dieter that just wants to jump right in many managers want to change their culture without looking at the people who make up their culture, or how the current culture affects workflow. Without studying all the parts, they are destined to break a system further rather than improve it.
Culture is a vital part of our organization’s eco-structure, and we really need to understand it, the people who make it up, and how it shapes the work performed. We also need to be able to shape it to reflect the business we wish to become. When modifying a system, we cannot simply concentrate on the part we want to change, we need to understand how that part interacts with all the other interdepend parts, and I assure you all the parts of our organizations are interdepend upon each other. A change as simple as break schedules or tip processing can greatly affect how our employees perform, their morale/motivation, and how they then interact with our guests. We are not dealing with automatons or cogs in a wheel. We are dealing with living vibrant organisms which interact and depend upon each other to thrive. Introducing, replacing, or removing the wrong ingredient will begin the demise of the entire system, and once gone it is not a thing that can always be revived.
When attempting to understand an organization I always try to evaluate the people first. Understanding the people will lead to understanding the culture. Both of these pieces of the puzzle are paramount to really grasping what an organization is about. It is likely that most organizations within an industry have similar to the same policies and procedures. I know in my own industry I regularly see networks used to share and create the same policies, because really why reinvent the wheel. Polices are not what makes the organization unique. It is the people that make it up. How they live those policies through their culture that really defines the company. All the ecosystems in the world follow the same basic rules of biology and evolution and yet look at the diversity. I cannot judge how to manage and protect a South American Rainforest based just off my knowledge of Apple Orchards in Washington State. Sure it helps to have an understanding of other systems, and the basics of systems before delving in, but in order to really make informed decisions I must first observe. I must study how the parts fit. I must begin a mindful look at the interdependence that exists. If I replace one flower with another, how will this affect the other plants? The insects? The animals? The soil? And if it changes the way insects behave and the soil, how will that affect the other plants and animals? And so on and so forth.
The early people that turned corn from a grass to a crop did not just randomly pick a plant and start planting it. They watched how the plant worked, how it interacted with the things around it, and they began to experiment. They discovered the seeds and pollen create more, and by cross-breeding and selectively replanting they could increase size. They discovered what kind of soil was needed, and what in their ecosystem helped the plant to thrive, and what caused it to shrink. They were mindful of all these things and worked hard to create the food we see today. They understood that they had to create and then protect a healthy ecosystem through cultivation and understanding.
We must do the same as managers when dealing with our companies. If we are to begin a healthy reshaping of our organization we must first observe the system as a whole, then begin testing small changes, which may or may not lead to more significant modifications. We must remain mindful that we are potentially manipulating an entire organization and not merely one small department. Being mindful of interdependence and the delicate threads within our web will guide us toward more impactful and healthier changes. The understanding of our ecosystem will not only bring a breadth but a depth of knowledge in becoming efficient and influential leaders. And this is a standard by which humanity has proven itself throughout history. Of all the animals it has specialized in not just filling a niche, but attempting to study the system and finding both new ways to fit in, and new ways to reshape the system to its needs. If we wish to reshape our organizations in a healthy way we must mimic our ancestors and begin first understanding the ecosystems in which we find ourselves, and then taking the time to cultivate the entire system.
If you enjoyed this you may enjoy some of my other posts found at my Consulting and Human Coaching Page