In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, a very stable and predictable technician who works for 10 years in the same company faces the threat of downsizing, in his intend to save his job, he goes beyond his means. He travels to Iceland, climbs the Himalayas and do whatever it takes to find the negative of a picture which could save him. Finally, no matter the outcome, the whole journey makes huge changes on him.
The movie made me reflect in many things but I want to focus this post in just two:
1) Why the heck I’m doing this?
We tend to sustain our lives in routines that give us apparent stability, but sometimes they are leading to the opposite direction of growth. This is also true for organizations.
Many times in my professional life, I have been stuck in routines that are tedious, repetitive and in the end they brought little value. In desperation, I have tried to convince my supervisors using all kind of resources. Every time, they answer was “no, that is the regulation”, “no that was put in place because the old team make to many mistakes”, etc.I even became one of the promoters of those horrible procedures.
I discovered later on (years), that the regulation wasn’t so strict in the first place or that we could use alternatives solutions. So then I asked myself. Why did they put in place those nonsensical procedures then? I realized that behind those, were a mix of an urge to control and distrust in employees from above combined with fear of expressing disagreement from the bottom. And the consequences on the end? Low moral and lack of communication which led to poor outcomes.
2) What did I learn asking just that?
Sometimes in facing a real urgency, our real resources get in motion winning in self knowledge on the way, which is much valuable than the outcome itself. Can we extrapolate to organizations? Of course.
Some organizations that are facing crisis re-invented themselves and come with totally new approaches. Others, struggle within and after many up and downs, they survive the storm without loosing (nor winning) too much. I think the first ones really take advantage.
Nevertheless in order to really drive change, things need to be shake up. Sometimes the arrival of new leadership creates that drive. In others, the change comes from conflict within. It doesn’t matter.
The only thing that matter is the clarity of asking the right questions in time of crisis, and the honesty to answer them: What did we really learn from this?
I know. Nobody wants to listen the painful truth, because fear, apathy or a combination. But in my opinion, similar to an individual, an organization that is not able to listen and acknowledge what it is happening inside, will never be able to come with a real change. Giving power doesn’t mean loose authority (if that authority is truly built in credibility).