The Critical Cultural Fix

Change Agents Worldwide is a Workplace Services partner for Facebook. On a recent visit to Singapore I visited Facebook’s offices and saw examples of their famous propaganda posters on culture. One of those messages is a critical issue in culture of any large organisation.

Somebody Else’s Problem.

Without leadership, the interplay of bureaucracy and silos builds learned helplessness in employees. Martin Seligman first described learned helplessness as when animals or people stop trying to avoid adverse stimuli. This phenomenon occurs when we experience repeated inescable shocks.

Learned helplessness develops when our natural instincts to act are frustrated repeatedly. A bureaucractic and siloed organisations discourage employees from trying to make change. Change requires approval from some higher power or change requires the cooperation of someone else in their team or another silo (who has their own issues of competing priorities or requiring approvals to act). After repeated frustrations, employees can adopt the attitude that change is someone else’s problem.

The Critical Fix

Nothing is somebody else’s problem. This mindset confuses responsibility for doing the work of fix with accountability to see a fix completed. Even in the most siloed and bureaucratic organisations, you may not be able to exercise the responsibility to do the work but you should retain accountability to see a discovered issue fixed. Denial of permission, budget or collaboration is an obstacle, not an excuse.

Leaders need to help organisations to create a culture where the expectation is that problems will be fixed. The management of responsibility and accountability in the organisation must enable and encourage employees to fix issues. The way to avoid learned helplessness is for leaders to role model the way forward and break the inescapable patterns.

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