Monday, April 2, 2012

Excellence and Culture

Oil and water do not mix.

Texting and driving also does not mix.

And at times excellence and culture do not mix well.

As Robert E. Quinn wrote many years ago, “Excellence is a form of deviance. If you perform beyond the norms, you disrupt all the existing control systems. Those systems will then alter and begin to work to routinize your efforts. That is, the systems will adjust to try to make you normal.”

Young leaders forget that all organizations have a macro level culture and a micro level culture. The micro culture always trumps the macro culture in the battle of change. Furthermore, organizational systems will always want to bring you back in a alignment with status quo.

As Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky point out in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, “status quo functions elegantly to solve a stream of problems and opportunities for which it has already evolved.” Overtime, the micro culture becomes deeply ingrained, self-reinforcing and very difficult to reshape.

So when something excellent happens, something beyond status quo, the self-reinforcing nature of an organization’s culture and systems will try to reshape it. Thus, when coaching young leaders we need to help them understand this situation and then explore effective ways to support excellence. The first step is for them to support the people who are working to make this happen. As I often point out, what you feed, grows.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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