Organizational culture has become a hot topic in the popular business press. Recently, GM’s culture has become front page news with calls for greater transparency and open communication, and with claims that culture is what got the company into trouble with government regulators and customers.
It’s easy to talk about culture, and blame culture, and say that culture should be changed. It’s quite another thing to actually create a different culture, especially in old-line, hierarchical manufacturing organizations like GM.
One way to transform culture in this kind of organization is for leaders to start inviting honesty from each other. A story is told about Mulally at Ford Motor that exemplifies this shift. Shortly after he was hired as CEO and had his first meeting with his executive team, one of them said that he was going to delay production of a new vehicle. Everyone around the table feared that the executive would be fired, which would have likely been the case in the old Ford. To their surprise, Mulally praised the executive for what he had done and this led to more executives communicating problems when they occurred.
Honest and open communication allows for collaboration which is critical to good problem-solving and decision-making. Miki Kashtan, author and consultant, writes in the New York Times:
When leaders commit to involving the whole group, organizations are transformed. Although collaboration — or “laboring together” (collaborare in Latin) — isn’t easy, it becomes easier the more we welcome differences and even conflict in service of a larger whole. The results are higher trust, increased productivity and rich creativity.
Of course, there are always risks in asking questions for which you don’t know the answers from people who may or may not want to collaborate. It’s possible they will tell you something that you don’t want to hear or something that will open the door for others to say something you don’t want to hear. Maybe what they say will create conflict or require you to take an action that will be uncomfortable for you to do.
These are possibilities. However, knowing the truth and driving out fear and worry from the culture will result in a highly productive work environment. This means collaborating with stakeholders and showing them the respect that they deserve.