Many studies reveal a simple human truth: we most often choose what is comfortable over what is most beneficial.
I’d like to consider this truth in light of the natural tendency of the social human to create bureaucracies. Even the most socialistic countries become bureaucratic entities. By nature, and arguably the driving force of a bureaucracy is to perpetuate its existence. In other words, as a bureaucracy becomes bigger – a business, a school, a government, a church, an association – it becomes LESS inclined to take the necessary steps to lead to a change or even a transition. Given that bureaucracies themselves are made up of people, the bureaucracy itself reflects similar psychological and behavioral tendencies as the individuals within it. (See more about Joe’s thinking on “the individual and collective mind”of any organization.)
Agility Gets Tougher With Age
As individuals that grow older and become more established, aren’t we by-and-large less likely to consider and adapt to a whole new way of thinking and acting? The more our thoughts, perspectives and actions are habitualized”, the less comfortable we are with letting them go, EVEN when it is in our best interest to do so. I often point out to leaders pondering organizational changes that we as humans (which includes the employees they manage) are more inclined to choose to keep our current, familiar pain than face the uncertain, unfamiliar pain that is essential to successful transition. (I am often brought in to help shift the thinking, so the necessary behavior follows for success.)
Perhaps that is why, in the face of this timeless human truth, successful organizations more consciously strive to embrace ‘agile’ thinking, systems, and processes so they can continue to evolve with the inevitably changing and fickle markets they serve. Since the 1990s, we see the increase in popularity of agile methodologies including product development, project management, and even agile manufacturing.
How to Consciously Exercise Agility in an Organization
“Left to our own devices, we do things of less and less importance to the customer.”– Ron Zemke, Service America
Left to its own devices, a bureaucracy is on a crash course to render itself irrelevant to the very people it is supposed to serve. One of the ways an organization can learn to fight this debilitating aging process is to commit to its agility with daily “exercises.”
Agility Exercises (and Mindsets)
- Encourage those who come up with new and different ideas, and reward those whose ideas make a positive difference.
- Discourage discussions of why things won’t work, and instead talk about how things couldwork. Ban the expression, “but that’s the way we’ve always done it…”
- Dream big! Encourage your employees and leaders to bring solutions to the table, not just point out problems.
- Ask the customer to analyze and redefine your product and or service and have the courage to openly listen and actively respond. (Almost all successful companies will admit they became successful by doing this, yet as they grow older most will abandon it.)
Just like human beings, organizations need to be vigilant in guarding against their natural aging process and becoming too set in their ways. Remember the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus,
It’s been proven that hardening of the attitudes, stiffness of the joint chiefs of staff, high brood pressure and loss of vision and hearing can be greatly reduced with proper and regular exercise.
As the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”
© Joe Caruso and Caruso Leadership, 2019. Reprints available with permission.