As authors of a recent article in HBR entitled “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” wrote, “the academic literature on the subject is vast”. The authors’ review “revealed may formal definitions of organisational culture and a variety of models and methods for assessing it [and], agreement on specifics is sparse across these definitions, models and methods”.
In our last blog we wrote that “the only way to ensure success in business is to have a culture that embraces improvement”. In this blog we provide some practical insight into how this might be achieved.
We are all familiar with graphs that plot the considerable progress made since the introduction of scientific method in the 1500s.
The willingness to admit ignorance. Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.
The centrality of observation and mathematics. Having admitted ignorance, modern science aims to obtain new knowledge. It does so by gathering observations and then using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories.
The acquisition of new powers. Modern science is not content with creating theories. It uses these theories in order to acquire new powers and in particular to develop new technologies.
The Scientific Revolution, he writes, “has not been a revolution of knowledge but, above all, a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the scientific revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions”.
And so too in business; this is exactly what we are looking for; the answers to our most important questions. What then is the link between our vital need to improve organisational performance through cultural change and the scientific revolution?
At Canrock, we would advocate that a change in business culture to achieve improvement in organisational performance is inextricably linked to scientific method. So, the cultural change we advocate is to essentially teach everyone in the organisation scientific method.
What makes this sort of cultural change so difficult is that it must be pervasive. It’s not just for the leadership team, it is for everyone in the organisation. It’s about teaching everyone, irrespective of role or responsibly, scientific method and then entrusting them to use it. What makes scientific method so challenging is that a key indicator for scientific method is evidence of failure. So, we are asking our front-line people to fail, and we are asking them to trust us as leaders to differentiate this failure from insubordination or wilfulness.
We have worked with several organisations on cultural change and in all of them we have introduced their people to scientific method. Improvement then comes at every level and our work is mainly to convince the leaders to stay the course and let their people hypothesise, experiment and inevitably fail as they try and improve what they do.
To quote Thomas Edison: “Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up”.