A Cultural Component for Transforming Organizations
Dr. William Hutton
JMJ Summit Services, LLC
The hard truth about managing either a strategic reorientation or a significant organizational transformation is that the organization’s culture, groomed and supported by management over a long period of time, is frequently a major barrier to operationalizing the required changes. There are, however, a number of strategies that are helpful in mastering the culture change process. One that cannot be discounted or overlooked is the management of the mentoring process.
Organizational psychologists and behavioral researchers have shown that new recruits of an organization, as well as personnel subjected to major job realignments, adjust more effectively and become comfortable in the new environment earlier when mentored by positive role models. Our own recent research on strategic reorientations of LDCs (see the April issue of P&GJ, “Makeover of LDCs, Underway but Where is it Headed?”) supports the notion that, to a considerable degree, the success or the floundering of a given organizational transformation hinges largely on the thoroughness of the cultural adjustment plan and the operationalizing of specific change strategies. The cases we have studied indicate that it is even possible for the cultural barrier to gain strength against the transformation when the process is protracted over a long period. It follows then that the transformation plan and the tools to impact it must be clearly understood and managed to induce the organizational impact that is intended by leadership. Formal, planned mentoring is one tool that leadership needs to consider in the transformation process.
Mentors, Selecting and Growing
A critical first step is for organizational leadership to identify, within the ranks, what researchers at Booze Allen Hamilton refer to as “early adopters”. These individuals are change drivers and role models for others in the organizational community to follow and emulate throughout the transformation ...they are mentors. Research also suggests that it might even be necessary to develop and grow mentors from within the existing culture. Since strategic reorientations involve migrating the culture of the organization from the old way of doing things to the new way of doing things, those chosen as mentors must be individuals who possess a thorough understanding of the old culture but they must also have a willingness and capability to steer others in the organization to the new culture.
The mentors, once instructed, work in conjunction with the formal leadership of the company to transform the culture to fit the new strategic orientation. There is a direct and powerful association between company vision, mission and culture and therefore, failing to adjust the culture will have a detrimental impact on strategically reorienting the organization.
Who are the mentors? They are those who are either formal or informal leaders within an organization that are considered to have power and influence over what, how and when certain things get done. They are typically the keepers of the cultural fabric. They know the workings of the organization and they know the values system under which the organization operates. Mentors are indeed invaluable to the organization as they instruct on issues of protocol, communication style, conflict resolution, socialization and operational values. Mentors are known in most organizations as the unpaid helpers of the newly recruited and/or reassigned. They voluntarily help the newcomer and instruct on the “lay of the land”. Every organization has these people in their midst. Transformation leadership must find them and leverage their influencing powers toward the embracement of the new culture. The mentor is instrumental in assisting the leadership in the effort to communicate and implement the vision for the organization.
Mentoring, the Process
Bookstore publications and some professional journals signal to us that leadership requires vision and mission. This vision and mission process is strategic and value based. In fact, more and more attention seems to be given to the aspect of value based vision statements. We are told that leaders must connect to those they wish to lead and the better their ability to communicate an impassioned validating purpose for their organization, the better those under their leadership are likely to respond. Furthermore, the researchers in organizational behavior and organizational design tell us that the leaders vision and passion for the vision are directly connected to the cultural fabric of the organization. This fabric, as we know, are the real values, behaviors beliefs and behavior sets that often make the difference as to whether people “fit in” or not with the organizations goals and objectives.
Mentoring is more than providing counsel and advice to others. It involves teaching skills of the trade, profession and job. Mentors are usually considered highly skilled and experienced individuals who have the ability to transfer their total sum experience to others. They carry a considerable responsibility within the organization but they seldom realize their actual impact. Without mentors, fledgling individuals must learn “the ropes” on their own. Learning the various values and reading the clues within the organization can be very inefficient at best and seriously detrimental to the individual if the learning process takes too long. Given that the sensitivity levels of people vary greatly, some individuals can survive a non-mentoring culture and others are doomed before they begin.
The mentor is usually a willing participant. In fact, in most instances the mentor is not assigned to the mentoring task, their natural inclinations to lead and help others is sufficient for them to perform the guidance process. These extraordinary individuals are frequently driven by their own personal value system to assist, care and show concern for others. Their personal code dictates that they mentor others. They span the divide between formal leadership and struggling employees. Sometimes their reward is strictly personal, occasionally they are recognized for their efforts by the organization they serve but they are always appreciated and recognized by the individuals they help.
An organizations value system is a reflection of the organizations “personality” or is it the other way around? When values are formalized, they take shape in mission statements, strategy plans, organizational objectives, employee manuals and formal communications to employees, suppliers, customers and other company partnering relationships. Informally, values are communicated through behavior and conduct. Of particular importance, as the researchers tell us, are the behaviors and conduct of the leadership of the organization.
What is the substance of these value systems? Highest on the list of the visible values are the formal communications. Many Mission and Vision statements of companies and organizations today speak directly to how relationships between employees and their management are to be conducted. It is also common to include statements about entities that the organization is working with including customers, suppliers, distributors, community organizations and charitable organizations. Words such as integrity, mutual respect, fair dealing, understanding, compassion, business ethics, care, concern, permeate the language of the documents.
Informally, the mentors put values into action. These behavior sets and belief systems are the real life “seasoning” of the values based upon the mission statement “recipe”. They give life to the culture of the organization. Mentors instinctively understand “how things are done” in the organization; therefore, their counsel to new recruits and other receptive individuals is instrumental to individual success.
Some of the value system takes on a near spiritual context in terms of its intent. This is certainly where the leaderships’ passion is often heard loud and clear. How a customer, for example, is treated, what behaviors and procedures are to be used to interact with the customer can almost become evangelistic in its’ message internally. Likewise, internal interaction processes such as team play might be just as intense in the rules of behavior. Mentors understand these cultural elements and have the ability to instruct others in the value system.
Mentoring is usually not a formal responsibility for those who are so endowed. In most settings, the mentor is a willing volunteer even when recruited by formal leaders. The extra effort they expend to mentor another in their ranks typically extends from their internal sense of responsibility. The rewards they reap are seldom in the form of compensation. They do what they do because they are driven to do it by some internal force and their belief in the mission, vision and reorientation of the company. Some mentors consider their efforts to be a responsibility they have to their fellow employees to make the organization a success. Organizational leaders need mentors in their ranks, they often fail to use them properly and more often forget to reward them for their contributions.
Dr. Hutton is an organizational psychologist who specializes in organizational transformation, Technology Transference, Leadership & Mentoring, and Organizational Design and Behavior.