From Inward to Outward Perspective

There is a lot of conversation these days about organizational culture. What it is. How to develop it. And how to change it. All great topics that make for great discussions. However, I find that little goes beyond the discussion stage. Little is done to implement the actions that are needed to bring about the desired cultural change.

As I read the literature and research on organizational and cultural change, it seems to me there are two perspectives that are not considered enough; the inward and the outward perspectives. By not looking at these two perspectives, organizations leave the individuals in the organization confused and at odds with each other, especially with the formal leadership of the organization.

Desired Organizational Culture

No matter what I read, I understand that most organizations today desire the following culture;

  1. A culture driven by innovation,
  2. A workforce that takes initiative, and
  3. A climate of candor in relationships.

It seems leadership knows what is needed to be competitive and able to cope with a rapidly changing work environment. Leadership understands that in order for the organization to remain relevant, it must change quickly and often to meet the demands of the customer or clientele.

At the same time, organizations believe to achieve this type of culture the leadership needs to command certain actions and behaviors from its employees or members. The leadership is heavily focused on monitoring and controlling behavior. Under the belief that this is how change is created, or driven, leadership creates multiple policies and procedures that are thought to result in the desired organizational culture. Thus, the inward perspective.

Culture Employees Experience

When asked about the desired culture of innovation, initiative, and candor, the employees or organizational members say they too would prefer this organizational culture. However, they report that what they experience is more a culture of;

  1. obedience,
  2. predictability, and
  3. deference.

They claim that due to the inward focus of the organization’s leadership and the inability of leaders to look beyond the internal control of its employees and members, the result is just the opposite of that desired.

When the focus is on maintaining the inward control and being able to predict the outcomes to avoid potential problems and failures, there is little opportunity for innovation. By not focusing on the outward perspective of employees or members, the actions of leadership leave employees or members to be guarded, not candid, and not willing to take the initiative for trying something new and different.

Culture of Silence

By desiring a culture that leadership knows is needed for the future, but acting from an inward perspective of control and compliance that prohibits this culture, the leadership is out of touch with its employees or members. Being out of touch leads to distrust which causes employees or members to feel unsafe to address concerns and hold each other accountable. The result is a culture of silence. The result is leadership wondering why employees or members don’t take the initiative to be innovative or provide the feedback that the leadership needs.

Perhaps what is needed to create the desired culture of innovation, initiative, and candor is for the organizational leadership to shift its perspective from one of internal control and compliance to an outward perspective of their employees or members. Perhaps the leadership could be more descriptive of the desired culture and ask their employees or members what is needed to bring about this culture. And, if the leadership were to listen and demonstrate that they trust their employees or members, perhaps there would be more candid feedback and the employees or members might begin addressing the issues and holding each other accountable for creating the desired culture.

It has been said that desiring something different and thinking that you will get it by behaving the same as you’ve always behaved will definitely not result in the desired outcome. Behave the way you have always behaved and you’ll get what you have always gotten. To get something different requires a change in perspective and behavior; a change from an inward perspective to outward perspective.