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Avoid the Titanic effect … understanding the organisational iceberg!

Explicit in my last post on the subject of trust, Seven Principles for Building Trust in the Workplace, was the belief that leaders at all levels need to ensure positive relationships within the workplace! This is in order to provide much more productive and effective work, more fulfilling workplaces, and better outcomes for both staff and clients.

Unfortunately, my own experience tells me that managers usually prefer to deal with the ‘structural’ elements of change … and not its organisational underpinning that is relationships. So, they spend greater time looking at products and services, hierarchies, technologies, job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, procedures, policies – tangible things that are easily grasped and can be wrestled with to make improvements … however these might be described! Once implemented, it was regularly my experience that some weeks or months later, concern would be expressed as to the lack of impact the changes had brought about. So back to the drawing board senior managers would go and chart some tweaks and fine tuning … and try again! On and on this cycle would revolve … with what ultimate effect? In general, very little real change … and certainly not embedded change of the order sought in the first instance!

For me personally, and many colleagues around me, we largely experienced dismay, disillusionment and despair, especially as we were not often engaged in the design of the process. More subtly, however, it appeared that senior managers could not or chose not to see the need to harness the power of positive relationships.

It was some time into my career as a youth worker that I came across a perspective that helped me to understand this apparently ‘lemming-like’ behaviour. I found it in one of my favourite management books, entitled ‘Managing Change … and making it stick’!* It was here that Roger Plant introduced me to the concept of the ‘organisational iceberg’, which enabled me to begin to reflect seriously about the nature of change and the power of positive relationships.

His view, simply put, was that change scenarios too often focused on the bit of the iceberg that was visible – the structural stuff I mentioned earlier – as this was relatively easy to manage. Often ignored were the things that really make organisations work – sometimes known as the ‘soft stuff’. He included many organisational aspects within his view of the ‘soft stuff’ – cultural norms, habits, loyalties, personal relationships, motivation and commitments, moral stances, beliefs and values, hopes and fears, friendships, feelings and moods, amongst many other elements.

He argued, and I strongly support his view, that by failing to grasp this ‘hidden’ mass of the iceberg, any change process was almost inevitably doomed to failure. I have seen it at first hand on several occasions! Both local and central government have been guilty of this; more painfully so at a local level. Change impacts on people directly; it affects the human condition and the myriad feelings, attitudes, circumstances and opinions that this brings! I believe it is easier to understand the nature of betrayal, however minor, when set against Plant’s iceberg model.

So how do you move people out of betrayal and into trust … avoiding the iceberg’s negative potential? Reina and Reina seven principles offer a route and one which I would urge you to pursue!

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in building positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask! Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation and/or further details!

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