Organisations are not naturally fertile seedbeds for new learning, growth and doing things in better ways. Leaders who want to instil wide-spread change and improve their respective companies, in fact, need to recognise that they are attempting to change a seemingly unchangeable paradox: organisations thrive on routine and the status quo. Daniel Goleman, in his book, Primal Leadership, noted: “Professionals in organisations rely on the established systems in order to carry out their jobs with minimal resistance and stress. As a result, most people in companies today have not challenged themselves to learn something really different for a long time”. Peter Senge, of The Fifth Discipline, agrees: “By their very nature, organisations don’t readily encourage new learning”.

Introducing new learning and disciplines into an organisation (as mentioned before – a paradox) is an extremely tricky process and is not only accomplished in the classroom – it should not just focus on the development of employees and their respective roles but should also seriously consider the sometimes opposing forces of the organisation’s emotional reality and culture. Not taking into account the power of culture may result in failed attempts on behalf of the leadership to enhance organisational success. Goleman notes five reasons why leadership development initiatives fail:

  • Many development programmes do not focus on the whole person or on the discoveries that lead to sustainable change.
  • Some initiatives ignore the real state of the organisation, assuming that if people learn what they should do and be, systems and culture will automatically support them in the change process.
  • Others attempt to change the person alone, ignoring the norms of the groups they work in every day and the larger surrounding culture in play.
  • A few drive the change process from the wrong place in the organisation – leadership development that transforms people andorganisations must start at the top and be a strategic priority
  • Still others fail to develop a language of leadership – meaningful words that capture the spirit of leadership by symbolising ideas, ideals and emotionally intelligent practices.

Initiatives that fail to take into account Goleman’s above reasons inevitably frustrate individuals, cause cynicism and waste time, energy and money.

To accomplish comprehensive and sustainable organisational change and indeed needed organisational improvements, perhaps what is needed is not an intervention, but a process, the same of which may include a number of interventions. Some of these interventions will definitely be focused on building emotionally intelligent leadership that consistently gets results, but should not be the only interventions that get implemented. Other interventions will have to carefully examine the following aspects of organisational culture and norms:

  • Structure– is the current organisational structure aligned to accommodate and, in fact, affirm the desired new direction? Are the right departmental leaders in place and are all departments fully aware of the new desired behaviours?
  • Systems– are the current systems adequate and in support of the new direction or is a new design of necessity? Does the organisation have all the resources necessary to implement the new direction?
  • Recognition and reward– have Key Performance Areas been adjusted to take into account the new behaviours that are expected from all in the organisation? Have recognition and reward systems been aligned to the new goals?
  • People– have all managers and staff been adequately equipped or trained to meet the new expectations? Is managerial help or coaching available as a resource?
  • Organisational values– are these in sync with the proposed new direction? Do they resonate with what is expected from every employee?
  • Communication – are systems in place to communicate the following: the fundamentals of the change, expected new behaviours, how much progress is being made, how well we are doing, celebrating success?
  • Tasks– are all employees aware of the exact tasks that need to be performed to accomplish the change? Vagueness here will undermine the potential of the change process.

Organisational culture (systems, processes, norms, the way we do things around here, expected behaviours, accountability lines, departmental responsibilities, etc.), unless adequately addressed and reformed, will become a resistor to needed change and may fundamentally sabotage intended improvement in an organisation. Organisational culture needs consideration if organisational change and learning is to be sustainable.

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