Organisational culture and the risks of normality

Organisational culture and the risks of normality“We need to change our organisational culture!” one of the board members said. Everybody around the table nodded, and the secretary noted yet another action in the board minutes. The CEO would now be charged with changing the culture of the organisation.

Nobody knew what they wanted, all they knew was that something had to change. Because nobody knew what had to change, blaming the culture of the organisation for whatever was going wrong seemed like a great idea. Not that anyone had any idea what culture is, but judging by some of the inspiring articles in Harvard Business Review it seemed the best way to go.

Soon enough a consultant was hired and the work to transform the organisation began. Meetings were held and a range of new values, based on a nice list of abstract nouns, was defined. Following the famous words by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, you are either with us and subscribe to these values, or you are an enemy of the organisation. Employees that are critical of the new approach become the axis of evil. The consultant even drew a Bell Curve on a whiteboard, indicating that deviance from normality was from now on scorned upon. Thus began the new world order.

forcing normality destroys excellence and innovation

What the consultant did not realise was that forcing people to normality within strict standard deviations is a repression of spontaneity and destroys sources of excellence and innovation. When organisations force their employees in the same value pattern and no longer accept any deviance, an important source of improvement and innovation is killed.

Positive organisational deviance is a necessary condition for innovation and improvement to thrive. Only by nurturing those that think differently are organisations able to become remarkable.