I’ve talked about risk and how an organization needs to create an environment where it is safe enough to try out new ideas. I’ve talked about how an organization needs to be a learning culture where you learn from mistakes and where blame in decision making is detrimental to the health of an organization.
But I’ve always made an assumption, a whopping big assumption, that has coloured everything that I’ve said. The underlying assumption is that the organization wants to change. What if it doesn’t?
Considering everything that is going on in the world right now you would assume, perhaps incorrectly, that virtually every organization wants to change, wants to improve, wants to show that they are still relevant. But that’s a big assumption and in some cases, that assumption may not be true.
If you are in a monopoly situation you may not want change. You may like it the way they are and change, any sort of change, may impact your bottom line. Why would you spend money on something that isn’t going to get you a penny? And while “goodwill” is all fine and dandy, goodwill can’t increase the dividend cheques going out or increase the pension contributions. Goodwill works in a competitive environment as something that can differentiate you from your competitor is a good thing. But in a monopoly?
And what is the one monopoly that everyone has to face? (Well, depending on the circumstance it may be two, three or more.) That monopoly? The government. What benefit does the government get from change?
If you change processes you may be more efficient. If you change structures you may become more innovative. If you change the culture you may end up doing what the citizens want instead of what you want. Hang on, I seem to have lost track of my argument. It appears that they are advantages to a monopoly changing. So why don’t they?
A long time ago I wrote an article on momentum and how it was like the Titanic: you knew you needed to go in a different direction but you need a lot of push to make it happen. Where does that push come from? Well, some of it comes from the upper levels of the organization and a bunch of it comes from the lower levels of the organization. But steering the ship? Actually altering direction? The captain may say turn but it’s up to the helmsman to actually chart the course. The captain may want to go starboard, but if the helmsman doesn’t make the course correction the ship will go straight.
And the helmsmen in the government? Let’s use that hated term “middle management”. It is up to middle management to implement the desire of the captain. If they tell the captain “aye, sir” but fail to do anything, that iceberg is going to rip the ship apart. If they start to move the ship but are too cautious, the iceberg rips the ship apart. If they get confused and turn the ship in the opposite direction the iceberg rips the ship apart.
In order for things to work properly, in order for the ship to avoid the iceberg and for government to actually change to meet the needs of the citizens, everyone has to work together. In particular, the helmsman needs to listen to the captain. If not, then practice treading water because no one’s going anywhere.