It Brings Down Planes and Organizations

The statement that culture eats strategy for lunch (or breakfast – depending on your source), has been attributed to the late, great Peter Drucker.

In Good to Great, Collins develops the analogy of an organizational fly wheel.  He writes about the amount of focus, time and effort that goes into getting the organizational fly wheel turning.  Now imagine that fly wheel as the culture of your organization.

How does this bring down planes?

In a cockpit, much coordination and communication is required.  The captain is dependent upon a first officer, cabin crew, and sometimes a navigator to make sure the plane reaches its intended destination safely.  If you have read any of the other Cirrus Business Group posts, you know how much emphasis we place on creating professional trust in the culture of an organization.  An airplane cockpit is an environment dependent upon trust – trust in the crew, the mechanics, the airframe, and the air traffic controllers.  It is impossible for the captain to see everything that is going on from all the necessary perspectives at any given time. To get the plane safely to the destination (the strategy) there must be a culture of trust and an appreciation for pointing out errors or new information among the flight crew and supporting parties.  In other words, although the captain has the ultimate say, the rest of the crew better feel that it is their duty to put the lives of the passengers above titles and egos and speak up.  The captain must be willing and grateful to receive this information.  The more dynamic the environment, the better this team must perform.

It will likely be some time (and we may never know) whether or not the high power distance culture of Korea caused the recent Asiana flight 214 crash, but let’s assume that the flight crew was not incompetent.  When I heard the news report, my mind immediate went back to the observations Malcolm Gladwell made about the 1997 Korean Air flight 801 crash.  In high power distance cultures, there is a general feeling that the person with authority or in control must be right regardless of your own perception or understanding because he or she is in charge.  It is considered a high insult to question authority in front of others.  Even questioning authority in private can have long-term ramifications.  So, subordinates keep quiet.  Even if it means the approach glide slope is too steep or will miss the end of the runway.

How does this bring down organizations?

You may already be ahead of me here because of my brilliant airplane analogy  but in the spirit of clarity here we go.  Most “leaders” take pride in saying that “they hire people smarter than themselves”.  However, these same leaders often create a culture that discourages those very people from raising difficult questions or pointing out inconvenient facts.

All of this undermines trust.

There is a reason there is more than one person in a cockpit and the support of air traffic control from the ground.  It takes a well functioning team to get an airplane to its destination safely.  Your organization is no different.

Have you been encouraging a high power-distance culture by undermining organizational trust?

When was the last time you had someone on your management team disagree with you…to your face?  How long has it been since you had a healthy, heated debate in a meeting?  What was your reaction?  If it was anything other than gratitude for the passion and debate, you are creating a high power distance culture.

I am not encouraging insubordination.  I am encouraging you to promote honest, passionate debate around issues, strategy, new team member hires, and the other things that have the potential to crash an organization.

If you have been guilty of undermining trust in your organization, you need to call your team together, acknowledge the issue, and ask their forgiveness.  You also need to ask them to hold you accountable going forward.

While they will likely receive the acknowledgement and conversation well, don’t expect the culture of trust to change in your organization overnight.  Culture has inertia.  However, if you will persist and your team sees consistent effort and reinforcement on your part, it can be done.

You hired them for their knowledge and insight.  Without a culture that reinforces trust, you are wasting your money.

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