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The costs of cultural conformity to your organisation...

When I worked in public services, directors talked about the culture of their organisations as one of learned helplessness, a condition in which employees become passengers in their employment experience. They accept and perpetuate the notion that their job is just to turn up and do as they are told, they are discouraged from questioning and challenging and eventually stop even noticing the areas in which things might be improved. The hierarchy in turn then responds by becoming even more top-down and directional and so the condition is perpetuated and reinforced.  

The problem is that when questioning and challenging are seen as risky behaviours, not only are blind eyes and deaf ears turned away from incidents of wrongdoing, but innovation is stifled, and the enormous potential that exists in each and every member of the workforce goes untapped. The greatest gift that we as humans possess, our minds, our ability to think, question, and reason, are effectively wasted as we become locked into organisational cultures that reward us for our sameness and passivity and discourage displays of difference or independent acts of improvement. 

We are naturally questioning, enterprising, and curious beings, our ability to innovate is what has taken us from fighting around the campfire for the scraps of the hunt to living in the technologically enabled world of comforts many now enjoy. We are born curious, but the public sector does not provide a naturally innovative operating environment, so the conditions for improving and innovating need proactively nurturing. When cultures are explicitly hierarchical, defined by arse-covering, point-scoring, blame, denial, and fear, innovations cannot thrive or innovators survive. Risk-averse cultures become wilfully blind to the world around them and fail to see that the real risk is to continue on the same path. The safe short-term option is very often the riskiest and most harmful in the long-term.

Trusting cultures in which people feel safe enough to share observations and ideas, and are able to offer positive challenges, cannot be created overnight. Real trust is built on consistently observed deeds, not words.  The behaviours contained in the four widely recognised components of trust, Integrity, Intent, Capability, and Results, must be understood and exercised for trust to be built. This is an area I have a wealth of experience in...

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