We talk with Paul Gibbons, about Organizational Culture and best practices.
- Link to Paul’s podcast Think Bigger Think Better http://paulgibbons.net/
- Link to Paul’s book The Science of Organizational Change http://paulgibbons.net/
Rajarshi: Hello everyone, this is Raj here from GroSum and I welcome you to another episode of GroSum TopTalk. To begin with, we at GroSum, appreciate the support we’ve for GroSum TopTalk, all the influences sharing their insights, people commenting on it, people sharing it, and this is why we value GroSum TopTalk a lot. It becomes a curated center of great learning and resources. And today I have with me as my guest for TopTalk Mr.Paul Gibbons. He specializes in change strategy, helping business navigate ethical challenges. He has a podcast “Think Bigger Think Better” and also book “Truth War” towards which I would like to explore more about it. And he is an expert in organizational culture and employee engagement. One of the key things, which I really look forward is that in the previous years his consulting and coaching practices has included the design of a multi-billion dollar transformation leadership programmes of Fortune 100 company. So this is going to be an exciting TopTalk.
Paul: So, just a couple of things, I wrote a book on organizational change called “The Science of Successful Organizational Change” because I thought that so much of what was written about organizational change, organizational culture, organizational engagement was sort of science was sort of consultant making things up and business school professors making things up. And so I was concerned that we have more scientific thinking in the Business world. So that book is called The Science in Organizational Change and my podcast “Think Bigger Think Better” is one reason science, rationality, decision making or more than just for business people, but for consumers who are bombarded by misinformation and citizen voters particularly, well, maybe not entirely in the United States, but who are bombarded by misinformation and frankly, lies from the internet. We’re supposed to make a smarter, but right now anybody with the keyboard could become a self-proclaimed expert on something and so other than give us higher quality information, the internet provides us the opportunity to really get false information as well. So anyway, thank you for the introduction.
Rajarshi: That’s a very interesting thing you just mentioned about the book because I think a lot of big social networking giants, and as we’ve seen in the recent news are fighting fake news because there’s depth of information. It was supposed to make look smarter, make smarter decisions. But these decisions are changing the way politics run the government run on probably influencing people more than anything else.
Paul: Yes, and the problems of the populist leaders, some people could criticize their own printer, I don’t know, but he’s certainly not the worst example, Trump. Starting in the Philippines, there’s an authoritarian class style leader in Hungary and France and England in the Netherlands and Austria. And so there’s a new one cut ride, Brazil, they call the Brazilian Trump. So, the populist leaders make use of the fact that the Internet allows you to stoke people’s emotions and step the rationality, their capacity for rational thought. And so that’s my real worry about that.
Rajarshi: Sure. I think that you’ve made a lot of meaningful points there. I think I’d move to what earlier, my colleague, Samawat, sent you. A lot has been talked about the organizational culture, but I think we’ll start with one of the basic things and think I’ll be able to find an answer from you as well, or the best possible version of it. So what does organizational culture mean to you?
Paul: Well I don’t think the definition is any different than other experts on it. It was defined very well in a book from the 1960s by a guy called Edgar Schein. I think the book was titled, really boringly organizational culture. So it’s set of really short definition, is the unwritten rules of the game. It’s a manner of speaking how we speak to one another, how we challenge one, another, communication preferences, it’s habits and rituals in an organization, things that you wouldn’t notice if you are inside the organization. But if you come in from outside the organization, you might think “buddy that’s unusual.” When you change businesses, when you go from one business to another, you can see some things that look alien, but just it people don’t notice. They just part of what people do. It applies to things like email and how quickly respond to the level of formality we have from one another. So, to break it down into really simple terms, it’s rituals, symbols, norms, about the way things are done. So unwritten down rules about the way things are done. And so that’s a fairly reasonable definition for your followers.
Rajarshi: I think I never thought of it that I think the simplest way, how an outsider sees when they come to your company, how you act and how you behave.
The next thing I want to talk about is the strategy. I think there’s a very famous saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. So, how probably the strategy should be set for better employee engagement or you say a better organization culture and what would you suggest a practical example, or especially for companies working in different working environments. What would be your suggestion for that?
Paul: That culture eats strategy for breakfast, it’s a bullshit thing that people say. There’s some truth to it. So the strategy company, products, markets, direction, vision is what the company is about, and there’s some truth to it. So I ran a small consulting firm, and I was very aware that the people that I was hiring, that was my strategy. If I hired someone with a certain kind of expertise, we were an entrepreneur firm, they would nudge the strategy in a particular direction. And so when you’re a small firm, if you hire it can work both ways, but very often the people you’re hiring are the future of the firm. And if you’re running a firm, they will have a say eventually in the future direction of the firm. So there’s some truth to the fact that your people strategy determines your organizational strategy. In smaller entrepreneurial firms, the people you hire are the strategy of the firm to some extent, and the other thing is just culture lead strategy. It’s not really a meaningful thing. So, the causality is bi-directional is both directions, and that’s kind of why. And in the Business world, the cognitive biases that people have, they like to only think of unidirectional relationships. They don’t like to think of complex bi-directional causality. And so your strategy will determine also your culture. If you’re a firm that’s hiring people who are programmers or lots and lots of engineers or something like that, there’s a certain culture that engineers have. And so you would be surprised, surprise pretty close to your strategy if you’re running a development organization, for example. So it comes to both ways. Strategy determines culture and culture, partially determine strategy. And again, it’s one of these oversimplifications a lot of clicks and likes on the internet. And it just false as it is true, there’s some truth to it, of course. But I don’t enjoy remarks like that because I don’t think they provide any profound insight.
Rajarshi: I think that was very apt. One of the things which are really found especially in human resource, and is that people use just abstract terms to define something. They don’t know the meaning of it, they don’t know the implication of it but they might just use it just for the sake of it.
I think this one thing which I really being thought about is the use of psychology. Psychology is now used in a lot of Sales method. So, how psychology plays an important part for the HR/CEO to set a right culture at the organization?
Paul: Obviously, any organization that’s composed to people, nowadays, most organizations are composed to people. So they’re composed to people and then psychology, which is the study of mind and behavior, it’s critical. And we’re interested in organizational psychology, the study of mind and behavior at work.
That’s a very serious academic discipline with thousands of professors around the world in organizational psychology, understanding the role of incentives, understanding the role innovation, engagement, the link between motivation and performance. It’s not a straightforward link at all. It was thought for a long time that if you had highly motivated employees, which it’s still a myth that exists. If you motivate employees, they’ll perform better. It’s not a straightforward cause and effect link. We all want happy motivated people around us, but it’s very easy, the mistake that, so how does that cause mistakes? So the mistakes that people make in organizational psychology is, or one big one is to think that if you motivate people, the performance of the company will increase. But the performance of the company, let’s take a call center, our team of engineers, it determines the performance, the output, the relationship between the input and the output, the mathematics of that. It’s gonna be determined probably by motivation. Okay. It’s one thing, but it’s only one of 500 variables, 100 variables. How it is the product, how good is the management? Are we in the right space? How good is our team communication? How good is marketing? How effective of senior leadership? How good our operational practices? How good or our IT systems? So, take this call center, if you try and increase the performance of a call center, by motivating people with a carrot or a stick, right one way or the other, some sort of way today we try to motivate with carrots today.
That does an aloft, companies are trying to move from that I stick approach and then bring to Valero, and now they’re having the ingredient and needs people.
Take this not performing call center say, this is a true story. It’s from my book, they wanna bring someone to motivate the employees. They think, oh, we’re not producing, we’re not making enough money. We wanna motivate the employees. But it’s a very convenient thing for management to say, this a problem is with Employee Motivation, the problem can be any number of those different things. It could be a shitty product, it could be bad marketing, it could be a bad strategy, it could be bad in leadership, it could be bad it systems. So when you go into the employees and say, oh, well, you’re not motivated enough, you’ll need some incentive scheme to motivate you because that will help us produce better, the employees will think, no, it’s a terrible product and we have a bad strategy. And why are you trying to beat us with a stick or a carrot when you need to get your own act together? And that’s the most de-motivating thing in the world, is to tell people that they need to be more motivated when in fact, they’re not in chemistry. That’s a metaphor called the critical reagent. They’re not the thing that’s holding back performance. What’s older by performance is something else, but what management is doing are blaming the people. That’s the problem.
Rajarshi: I think this is more of a global phenomenon. Like you said in the call center example, but it might be a digital marketing company or investment bank.
Alright, what are the innovative ways companies can look to have a better company culture? If you can share any best practices?
Paul: So what I say when I say I’m not a Christian, but there’s something in the Christian Bible which says before you try and take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye, take the plank of wood out of your own eye. Strike Out the mote from your own. So before you would strike out the mode from your brothers, strike out the mote from your own. Typically, if you’re a leader that wants to change the culture, it means to get your own shit together. So in other words, you have the most powerful determinant of organizational culture is organizational leadership, and you can’t move culture to any faster than you move yourself. You can’t change the culture any faster than you paint yourself. That’s the thing that leaders find most difficult to get.
A different culture starts at the top culture and leadership as this guy Edgar Schein said in the 1960s or two different sides of the same coin. You can’t change the culture without changing leadership. And I don’t mean differently. Although that’s one thing that you can do. But the other thing you could do is change your road behavior model, the sort of culture that you want employees to follow. People will watch what you do much more carefully than they listen to what you say. And a lot of the times people try and change the culture by changing the words that come out of people’s mouths. That’s not interesting. What’s interesting is behavior. You could say it’s called walking the talk or something like that. You could say behavior eats strategy for breakfast. That’s not any more true. The last thing, the behavior is what matters.
Behavior that prepares strategy if it’s the words that are written down on a paper is a pretty useless thing. It has to be part of the behaviors which in organizational alignment you talk about change management, the behaviors of people in the organization have to align with the strategy. Again, the arrow causality goes worth was because the behaviors set the strategy. How does the management team work? How do the leadership teamwork? How do they set strategy all their behaviors, their strategy behaviors you could call them are what makes a difference right.
Rajarshi: Thank you so much. Hardly, I come across speakers who are very frank, who speak their heart out. And I think you just did. Thank you very much. I really appreciate your time and input. Thank you so much, Sir!
Paul: My pleasure Sir! Good luck with GroSum. Let me know if I could do anything else for you.
Rajarshi: Have a good day! Thank You so much.
Paul: Okay, Bye-Bye
About the interviewee
Paul Gibbons is an author, speaker, and consultant. His “beat” is helping business leaders use science and philosophy to make better strategic decisions, implement change, innovate, change the culture, and create workplaces where talent flourishes. His most recent book, The Science of Organizational Change has been hailed as “the most important book on change in fifteen years.” Between writing projects, he consults, coaches, and speaks with businesses such as Microsoft, Google, HSBC, KPMG, and Comcast.
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About the host
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