Has Your Organization Developed a Stonehenge Structure?

If it has, you know it is time to act – quickly!

Recently, we were invited to present to the management of a large, global corporation. Although the company is currently doing well, financially, the executive board wanted to initiate a culture shift with the goal to strengthen the emotional engagement of the team. There was no clear indication that employees weren’t engaged, however, the executives recognized the need to change as a response to the shifting values in our society. Their point: People are asking for more genuine, authentic and meaningful connections – both to their colleagues as well as to organizations they are involved with.

Essentially, the executives stated: “Our employees are loyal and happy. But we would like them to have deeper conversation that allow for more controversy, so they can improve and learn from each other.” Preparing for our presentation, we interviewed about two dozen individuals involved with the company: employees, executives, customers, even individuals that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the organization but had a distinct opinion from following the company in the news. After only a few interviews it became clear that the company was suffering from what I call a “Stonehenge Structure” – that every department, even groups within a department, were quasi-isolated from other departments, and that the few hundred upper managers had become a group on itself, positioned squarely on top of the individual departments.

If your company has adopted the Stonehenge Structure, it's time to change - quickly!

People from different departments were obviously communicating in meetings and strategy sessions, but without any honest and meaningful information or input exchanged. Everybody was tiptoeing around. Departments held their information, insights and opinions close to the vest, and so they were all getting along just fine – at least that’s how it appeared to the executives of the firm. Upon closer examination, however, it turned out that the majority of the people we interviewed were deeply frustrated about the situation, even about working at the company. Their typical statement: “I have to watch every word I say. That’s really frustrating.” In addition, the upper management team – the square rock on the top – had become a group in itself, disconnected to what’s really going on in the minds of their employees.

“Aside from the frustration and building disengagement”, we asked our interviewees, “how many ideas – how much innovation and synergies do you think are lost as a result of this structure?” Their estimate: between 25% and 50% of the company’s potential. Coincidence? Guesswork? Maybe a case specific to this organization? Possible, but I don’t think so. Even if only a fraction of the estimated potential is lost as a result of this structure, it’s time to act – quickly – before high-performers are looking elsewhere for opportunities. As a matter of fact, we received calls after our presentation from executives that were indeed dissatisfied with the situation that they were already looking for a new job.

How can we change the Stonehenge Structure?

Obviously, it is very difficult to move the standing rocks (the departments) without moving the top rock (the structure of the upper management). Without changing the top rock, first, we’re signing up for a serious challenge. But imagine the top rock breaking its structure and turning into molasses or water, filling the gaps between the standing rocks. This would create a strong unit without an immediate need to move the standing rocks (meaning without the need to change perceptions and behaviors of each employee). Ultimately, building a strong company culture may well require moving the standing rocks, but I believe that the first step must be to move the top rock (the upper management).

What does this top-management change entail? First and foremost genuine interactions and a true care for people. No fake interest. Genuine, authentic connections that break the “we-and-them-paradigm”, and which instead enable truthful and honest conversations. Upon presented to the executives of above mentioned corporation, we learned that the CEO had recently pursued “direct interaction with sales people and customers”. Turns out that his driver took him to one of their sales outlets in town. Meanwhile, I kept thinking about Zappos, the internet shoe retailer that’s known for its unique company culture and customer service, and wondered why their leadership team hasn’t turned into a Stonehenge Structure. Maybe because Zappos requires every new employee – from sales rep to top executive – to work the customer service phone lines for several weeks before they step into their “real” roles within the company.

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Are we really an evolved society?

History repeats itself: the Financial Crisis and the War of Peloponnese

I recently came across an article by Stefan Rebenich, a German Professor for Ancient History. The article contained a fitting description of human behaviors contributing to the financial crisis, as well as some elements of “leadership” that we can find in most of today’s businesses:

“Egoistic are their actions, reckless their striving for profit, irrepressible the drive of the individual for more recognition and possessions. In a society that is governed by competition as a leading principle, this drive peaks in the constant desire to be the first!”

Although very timely, this statement did not relate to the current financial crisis. It is a description of the Peloponnesian War by the Greek Philosopher Thucydides, and it is 2,400 years old. After the bitter experiences of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides did not believe in the moral superiority of the upper class:

“At the end of this”, states Thucydides “stands the destruction of the community through intellectual egoism and material greed.”

If we look at the parallels between the War of Peloponnese and the current economic crisis, we have to admit that evolution hasn’t been very kind to us during the past 2,400 years – at least when it comes to human behaviors. Certainly, we have landed on the moon. We have advanced technology at an impressive speed. In most countries, we even addressed the most pressing human rights issues. But we have to ask: Why are many of today’s organizations still driven by the same human behaviors that governed societies more than two millennia ago?

Dominance & Subservience – The Governing Principle of Many Organizations

We find that many of today’s businesses, governmental organizations, and even private relationships are governed by a model of Dominance & Subservience. This model of Dominance & Subservience is a Neolithic model, which we have carried with us for well over 2000 years. To this day, it dictates many of our behaviors. It is governed by ego, competition and control – and as long as we conduct business or lead our relationship based on this model, it is impossible to experience the sense of flow, purpose or well-being that most of our working population is yearning for.

If we want to build companies where people are fully engaged, where they can grow both personally and financially, where teams work together to reach a common purpose, we must break this existing model of Dominance & Subservience. We need to introduce a new leadership model, which is based on partnership and mutual respect, rather than on domination of the resources, or being subservient to a dominator.

I have to agree that breaking 2000 year old habits can be a challenging task to be added to an executive’s calendar. But when we look at this model in more detail, this is actually a task that supports the leader rather than adding more work to an already full plate.

Why? Because the model of Dominance & Subservience requires full accountability from both participants: the dominator (in businesses this is typically the boss), as well as the subservient person (typically the employee). With this in mind, the boss is not the “Bad Guy”, anymore. Once an organization changes this model, the leadership team – the top 1% of the organization – is not expending their energy and time with keeping the remaining 99% of the workforce engaged, anymore. As leaders and employees become responsible and accountable, 100% of the organization can align their energies to follow a common goal.

In working with clients, we have seen that once both the leadership team and the employees become aware and conscious about their contribution to this model, teamwork starts to flourish, respect grows, and persistent issues in the business start to dissolve, allowing the company to grow with more ease. The result can be truly astonishing: our experiences show 700% and more revenue growth within a period of 18 months.

We believe that shifting away from the principle of Dominance & Subservience is one of the most important changes we can initiate in today’s organizations. Changes are certainly required on many levels, if businesses want to survive this volatile white-water economy. However, unless we change the foundation for most of our human behaviors to a “Next Generation Leadership” paradigm, we will find that other changes are not sustainable: Unless we change the foundation, we can only find – as Thucydides outlines – that history will repeat itself.


(Please contact us for more information about the model of Dominance & SubservienceTM or our Next Generation Leadership Programs, or visit www.consciousbusinessinstitute.com or www.cbispeak.com).

    

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Welcome to the Conscious Business Institute Blog

We believe that it is time for a new business paradigm to emerge – a paradigm that is based on integrity, honesty, trust and cooperation, instead of the prevalent model of dominance and subservience. We find that businesses embracing this new paradigm can provide an environment for their managers and employees to combine personal and financial success with inspiration, empowerment, fulfillment and personal growth – a key for attracting and retaining the best talent for your organization.

In my life as an Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist, I have found that 9 out of 10 people are disengaged from their job. Most people are yearning for a way to work and live in a more fulfilling and balanced way. …and I was one of them. When I was a Venture Capitalist, I thought: “How can we invest millions of dollars in companies if most of the people are disengaged. How much money are we wasting – and how much potential and life-force gets lost along the way?”

Let’s be honest: the current model for a “successful life” that is propagated in our society only works for a tiny fraction of our population – maybe 5 or 10%. Everybody else is struggling either with money or with time. That, in my eyes, is not a very healthy model.

If organizations want to stay alive – let alone thrive – they need to reevaluate the way they conduct business. The United States is facing radical changes, which could well create a “new poverty” in this country. The global resource crisis and the mortgage crisis (including the recent collapse of some of the most well-established financial institutions) are just two examples of the changes we need to deal with. I believe that if we want to build healthy and thriving companies, we must start to compete on a different level. We must learn how to engage people so that they want to become involved with our businesses – as investors, employees or customers. To remain successful, we must learn to engage people emotionally, because we are not in a position to compete in traditional ways with emerging nations such as China or India.   

We have founded The Conscious Business Institute (CBI) to provide leaders and individuals with answers to some of the most pressing questions about their businesses and their personal lives; questions that consume a great deal of our daily energy and – although they are the big white elephant in the room – remain mostly unanswered. These pressing questions are around money and business matters, but in most cases spill over into our personal lives: our personal relationships, our well-being, our level of engagement, and other aspects of life. Our approach is different in that it combines real-world business matters with deep insights into human nature. We believe that what the future holds for you or your company depends on your level of consciousness, so if we really want to make a difference, we must address the issues in our businesses and personal lives at this underlying level.

This Blog will address some of the most widespread issues we have found working with many hundred businesses and executives. We will write about operational issues, such as, Next Generation Leadership principles, fundraising, IP protection or people engagement, as well as personal issues, including purpose, stress, conflict management or work-life balance.

We look forward to your suggestions and feed-back.

Peter Matthies