Even today, 35 years after the June 20, 1975, movie release based on Peter Benchley’s novel, humming a tremulous few notes from the score of the movie “Jaws” is enough to conger up frightening scenes of the vicious Great White predator from the deep.
“There is a creature alive today…without passion, and without logic. It lives to kill. A mindless eating machine,” intones a dark and malignant voice while innocent swimmers disappear just off shore on an otherwise bright and joyous summer day at the beach.
Dr. Larry Senn, Chairman and Founder of Senn Delaney consulting, might suggest that many organizations would do well to hear the fearsome theme from Jaws in the hallways–or in the boardrooms–as a reminder of the forces arrayed against successful cultural change.
Speaking in now familiar terms pioneered by Senn and his colleagues and expanded upon by others from the 1970s onward, Senn enumerated some of the “teeth” of the corporate jaws, including:
- Resistance to change
- Blaming and excuses
- We/They perspective
- Low trust
- Lack of openness
- Lack of feedback
- Unclear alignment at the top
- Unclear mission/goals
- Top-down communications
According to Senn, without sufficient self-awareness and accompanying healthy behaviors within the members of an organization, the best-laid plans–strategies, mergers, initiatives, restructuring–are sure to be mauled by the sheer force of a destructive corporate culture. Cultural jaws.
And if we follow the polyphydont shark analogy further, the situation is indeed grave, for if our focus is simply to remove one or many of the cultural incisors listed, above, it is certain to be replaced by another, which reveals the futility of this approach.
On the surface, corporate culture may be described as “the way we do things around here.” No doubt this is true, but is “the way” healthy and supportive of individuals, work groups, and the organization as a whole?
Senn suggests replacing culture-by-chance with culture-by-purpose, shaping the aggregate corporate culture by positively influencing the behaviors–and thinking–of all work group members.
Culture should be “a set of values we want to live,” he said, “intentionally shaped.”
Senn emphasizes changes in thinking over changes in behavior alone because thought habits precede observable behaviors. But “How do you change the thought habits of adults?” he asked.
In so many ways we are creatures of habit, habits that can ultimately blind us to the habits themselves. Quite simply, we often don’t see. Senn asserts that it is necessary to create “aha” moments that help us to see ourselves more clearly. Such moments might be cultivated by the “DURAM” organization shaping model, below:
- Diagnose/define–what is the current state?
- Unfreeze/educate–to shift thinking and behaviors
- Reinforce–to ensure long-term change
- Apply–to business results
- Measure–to establish baseline and measure progress
The Learn-Do-Teach-Lead model complements this approach by eliciting increased personal insight, engagement, and action through each LDTL activity.
Of teaching, Senn emphasized that “we really cannot teach anything to anyone, but we can create conditions that help us to connect with the best of who we are.”
This sentiment echoes psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-87) who said that “the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning,” and that “such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another” (Rogers, Carl R. 1961. On Becoming a Person. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 276).
Finally, Senn offered the “mood elevator,” a continuum of affective states related to general well-being and its opposite. “Our mood is the biggest shadow we cast,” he said, affecting our quality of life and effectiveness on the job.
If we are aware of what moods we experience when we are at our best, and become adept at assessing–in the moment–our current mood, we increase the likelihood that we will do no harm by acting or interacting out of a low mood.
Furthermore, such present awareness is “a short-cut to shifting our essential value set” to higher and more noble emotions, said Senn. We can thus change our mood set-point and the frequency distribution of our mood states. More time in a higher mood state equals more time when we are at our best.
For more on culture shaping, see Winning Teams–Winning Cultures, by Larry Senn and Jim Hart.
Read it before you go swimming.