Generally speaking, I have a low regard for most organisational cultures. (My favourite definition of ‘culture’ is that it is what’s left after you have explained everything else.)  I’m convinced that organisations are, wittingly or unwittingly, designed to under-utilise peoples’ talents, discourage creativity and risk-taking and to foster deference and unquestioning obedience.  This is why I became self-employed way back in 1969.

There are exceptions, but most senior managers are terrified of losing control.  Anything that smacks of anarchy and chaos is a threat. The knee-jerk reaction is to impose authority and tighten control.  The pervading belief is that people and processes must be controlled if they are to operate effectively.  The maxim is ‘people do what’s checked, not what you expect’.

The control senior manager’s yearn for is, of course, largely illusionary. It is impossible for managers – particularly senior managers – really to know what is going on. The information they are fed is both selective and laundered.  Despite this, managers like to feel they are in touch and that when they ask someone to do something, it will be done.  But people lower in the hierarchy always decide what is actually done. 

I approve of things that, by and large, organisations dread such as empowerment, assertiveness, experimentation, self-managed learning and self-development.  The answer is to encourage people to take more responsibility; to get down-trodden, harassed people in organisations to see that they have more room for manoeuvre, and more opportunities to take initiatives than they imagine. Examples are;

  •  asking for clarification instead of bemoaning the fact that you are left in the dark
  • soliciting feedback instead of grumbling that you lack it
  • going ahead and doing something that needs doing until someone tells you to stop
  • speaking up assertively instead of acquiescing
  • making and taking opportunities instead of expecting them to be handed to you
  • suggesting ways in which processes could be improved instead of settling for the status quo 
  • taking responsibility for your own learning and development instead of expecting someone else to do it for you. 

The good news is that these behaviours could make a difference for the better. The bad news is that they are risky. Senior managers might, just might, learn to welcome them, but it is more likely that you’ll have to become self-employed.  Worse things can happen!

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