When the internal marketing organizational change efforts doesn’t match either the lived organizational culture, or the culture that happens to be stated in quotes on the wall (or the masthead) you’ve got a problem.
The issue isn’t that executives and middle management don’t see eye-to-eye. That will happen in any organization where goals are not transparently shared. The issue isn’t that entry level/front line employees are asked to do more with less. That will happen in tough economic times, particularly if your organization is a nonprofit, or it has been a bad quarter. The issue isn’t that middle managers feel as though they are placed in positions of authority where they can always say “no” but where they can rarely say “yes.” This has been happening ever since the time of Hammurabi.
The issue is your organizational culture, your internal marketing structure (or lack thererof), and the fact that your executives are not operating inside a metric of trust and openness, but instead are measuring success one quarter at a time.
There are just as many ways out of this as there are into this bind, but here are three from a conflict engagement/management perspective that could be helpful:
Your organizational culture needs to change intentionally—I don’t hold to the idea that culture is fine and that products, services, or processes just need to be overhauled. The culture of the organization is either fragile (but believes that it is robust), is robust (but has elements of fragility in it), or is antifragile (with no elements of fragility or desire to go toward robustness). The fact of the matter is, when the culture that’s lived deviates too much from the culture on the masthead, or in the external marketing, the gap between lived reality and fantasy gets filled with competition, low morale, low motivation, high conflict, and constant storming. All of which lead to an eroding culture, as surely as rain washes away the sand.
Your internal marketing structure needs to change intentionally—How you market change efforts to the people being impacted most directly by those efforts (i.e. the employees) matters more than the efforts themselves. Without buy-in, the outside trainer, or consultant, comes in, makes recommendations for changes, and works closely with the people and hears “We don’t have the power to implement that change here.” Or, “The people who should be hearing this information and getting these recommendations are not in the room—and we can’t talk to them.” Internally marketing organizational change to the people being impacted by that change, has to go beyond a Friday afternoon/Monday morning notification email, followed up by a supervisory conversation whose tone and direction is that of a mandate.
Your executives need to “buy-in.”—Optics matters more than employees, managers, supervisors, and even executives think that it does. Role modeling may be the foundational aspect of all leadership, but if the people with positional authority aren’t actually engaging in role modeling the discrete and obvious, changes they desire to see in the people tasked with responding and reacting to their authority, then all the change talk is merely that. Talk. People follow who they see leading.
When middle managers are driven to tears, frustration, thoughts of quitting, and even more, because they feel powerless to implement the changes they can observe are desperately needed, organizations need to change their cultures, not by changing who is in positions, but by challenging the organizational process that got them to that point in the first place.
Accomplishing this takes open communication with courage, curiosity, and compassion. And those traits are what fill the gap between what’s on the masthead and what’s lived in reality.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org