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.

CSR 2.0 – It’s time to make this work!

From “Doing” Social Responsibility to “Being” Social Responsible

Conscious Business Institute Sustainability Model
Conscious Business Institute Sustainability Model

I just inaugurated a bi-monthly expert blog on Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at www.justmeans.com, one of the leading Corporate Social Responsibility websites and communities. The thrust of the blog will be to move CSR and Corporate Sustainability from something we DO to something we ARE – something we embody on every level in an organization.

Why? Because my observations in client companies and interviews with large multinationals show that many of the institutionalized CSR programs are only as strong as the revenues or margins of the organization – and as soon as revenues or margins become jeopardized, sustainability or CSR efforts are placed at the bottom end of the agenda (if they still make it at all onto the agenda at all).

As I mention in the first Justmeans blog post: “The challenge is to shift CSR to something organizations “Are” – something that is embodied throughout the organization; from top executive to the sales person on the road. In my opinion, we only get the necessary traction once CSR touches everyone in an organization, where CSR shifts from a doctrine to a personal matter. As long as companies see CSR as something they “Do”, it becomes like an institutionalized religion: the ideas are great, but as soon as someone comes along stating “This is the way it has to be done”, it turns into a doctrine. And as in any doctrine, the result will be opponents and proponents wasting time as they engage in conflict about “what’s right” and “what’s wrong”.”

In the next posting on Justmeans, I will introduce the Conscious Business Institute’s approach to sustainability (picture) and discuss how corporate ethics, sustainability and CSR can be better engrained into any company’s fabric. To read more on Justmeans, click here.

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