Creating the Right Environment For Improvement

Organisations are perfectly designed to get the results they get. Whether good or bad, the results that organisations deliver is the result of the match between what they are capable of delivering and what they must deliver to satisfy their customers or users. For example, an organisation might have to deliver extremely high reliability products but, if their processes are not robust enough to ‘build in’ reliability, it won’t occur and the results will suffer. In another example, an organisation might have to deliver exceptional customer service but its staff’s behaviours may not match the need and so, again, the organisational results will suffer.

This article focuses on elements of the Intangible Asset and Human Resources elements of Grant’s model – looking at why it is that some organisations are able to create an environment with motivated individuals and teams who can collaborate for success, and others can’t.

Why do organisations get what they get?

Why is it that like-for-like organisations with access to people of the same skill levels, with the same equipment and dealing with the same customers, can get such widely differing results? Why is it that one automotive manufacturer will produce cars that sell like ‘hot cakes’ and others go to the wall? Why is it that hospitals dealing with the same types of patients with the same types of staff and equipment can have such a difference in their mortality rates?

The difference in performance can often be put down to the organisational environment and this manifests itself as ‘artifacts’, in terms of the physical performance and operating concepts of a team or organisation.

The organisational artifacts are built on the norms and behaviours within the organisation in terms of the ways of behaving that are tolerated (or authorised) and topics that are ‘taboo’.

In turn, these norms and behaviours are influenced by the beliefs and assumptions of individuals and teams in terms of the explicit beliefs of individuals (such as, ‘this is a bad organisation to work for’) and implicit cultural assumptions (such as ‘managers make decisions; we just carry them out’).

Creating the right environment is not something that can be done overnight because you are dealing with beliefs and assumptions that may have been ingrained within the organisation over many years. Indeed, these beliefs are often reinforced daily through management behaviours and actions that reinforce the status quo and these can often been seen at the point an organisation wants to actually change. Here are two examples:

1. An organisation with a history of treating its staff as ‘numbers’ had created an environment with demotivated staff and poor levels of customer care. To rectify the problems with customer care, it launched a programme to transform the way its staff interacted with clients. An initial team was formed to tackle response times at a call centre. The team achieved impressive results and were feeding back to the chief executive when he interrupted them with the phrase, “That’s great but when can I bank the cheque?”

2. A hospital had introduced a policy of ‘nothing worn below the elbow’ to reduce the risk of infection. A senior doctor came onto a ward wearing a shirt which went below the elbow and a nurse approached the doctor to tell him that he needed to roll his sleeves up. The doctor replied, “Don’t be silly I’m in a hurry.” The nurse reported this to her Matron and was told, “Oh don’t worry, just let it go.”

In both instances the actions of the leaders involved (the chief executive in the first instance and the matron in the second) reinforced the previous beliefs and assumptions and, therefore, prevented any change in the organisational environment.

In reality, within most organisations there is not one single ‘uniform environment’. Rather, the organisational environment will vary from team to team, division to division and so on and the result of the combination of these many micro-environments will define the overall environment for the organisation.

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