Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Organizational Introspection Is Crucial To Growth And Innovation!

Organizations that poach employees from another, hoping to emulate and embed its cultural secrets are often only able to get a data-dump of references and programs. It soon becomes apparent that they couldn’t really poach or replicate the innovative spirit that created them for our organization.

One critical element of a culture of “continuing and never-ending improvement” is what we always called a “post mortem” in two of the three community/destination marketing organizations for whom I was an executive during my now concluded four-decade-long career in that field.

The “post mortems” I’m referring to involve a group-unwrapping of “what worked”, “what didn’t work” and “lessons learned” during a project or initiative. However, “post mortems” aren’t easy.

Like some people I’ve met, many organizations aren’t at all introspective. They may be similar to the 70% of Americans who are “dysfunctional when it comes to issues such as blame or credit” as described by the authors of Managing Yourself: Can You Handle Failure published month before last in Harvard Business Review.

By using the word dysfunctional, the authors explain why such a significant portion of the workforce - including management who carry old “tapes” from their upbringing – struggles with “post mortems” such as we used to hold, because they are quick to blame themselves or quick to blame others but deny responsibility or blame others unfairly and harshly. I’ll add to their list those who always interpret a question as a criticism.

Based on my personal experience over several decades, many people don’t readily grasp that “post mortems” are never about “who.” These sessions are about unwrapping and understanding the “what, how, when and why” so that successes can populate future efforts going forward and missteps of the past are far less likely to be repeated.

One of the co-authors of that article, Ben Dattner, is also the co-author of a useful book published the month before Managing Yourself appeared entitled The Blame Game – How The Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure. I didn’t realize I had read a relatively new book at the time until I caught a comment during errands on a radio interview last weekend.

Part of the reason so many people have trouble distancing themselves from an evaluation such as a post mortem can unfortunately be traced to various types of coercive parenting as summarized in a recent blog about an article by M. Sue Bergin. Of course, it also doesn’t help when our political discourse seems so often grid-locked around issues of blame.

But making it even more difficult in today’s workplace are the unrealistic expectations for praise that begin now with pre-school graduation ceremonies, making it even more about “who” and not “what.”

Many people in the workplace and management, especially those with praise-addicted and fragile self-esteem, would do well to read a new book published a month ago by Tim Harford entitled Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure and reviewed so well in a blog post last week by David Brooks, also author of The Social Animal.

The column reminded me of a now-retired Dr. James Reason’s Human Error, a book I read when it was first published not long after I moved to Durham two decades ago. While Reason dealt mostly with life and death issues like airline safety or medical mishaps, the organization I led here, in a former life, was fortunate to adapt and embed his techniques and findings to improve systems and processes involved in destination marketing.

More than 50% of any type of work is actually project management and that involves systems and processes, work-structure-breakdowns and other things that improve consistency and enhance productivity but also help limit errors which Reason always broke down into slip-ups, violations of protocol or things that were done by the book but had unintentional consequences.

“Post mortems” are also important because studies have shown that it is much easier for the people involved with a project or initiative to get to the bottom of how to improve them; but they are also in the best position to root out anything that may preclude things from being fair to all concerned or have the potential for unethical behavior.

Organizations that don’t religiously conduct spirited “post mortems” immediately after the conclusion of projects and initiatives or even just mistakes are missing out on crucial information that can be used to improve performance and stimulate innovation.

But the first step in any “post mortem” is to always remind everyone involved that the introspection is never about “who” but only about “what, how and why.”

Who knows, the same advice may help more people open up to personal introspection as well.

1 comment:

seo reseller said...

I agree with you. Introspective allows us to see what is working and what is not. This allows to make changes for the better.