A conversation with a client a week ago in the Cook Islands turned to the subject of a Parent/Child culture. I was quick to reassure her that this exists in every country and most companies I have seen i.e. wherever you have people and traditionally-structured organisations. (The common denominator from anecdotal observation is the nuclear family that hard wires parent and child thinking patterns. The only person I recall who does not have this type of thinking did not grow up in a nuclear family!)
I will leave it to the likes of Daniel Goleman, Daniel Seigel (author of The Developing Mind) and Eric Berne to explain how parent and child programming happens. For me, the important questions are:
1. What impact do these widespread thought patterns have?
2. How do you change a predominantly Parent-Child into an Adult-Adult (self-driven, performance-focused) culture?
1. Impact on business
In my experience of businesses – from large to small – the single greatest impact on the bottom line is whether the business challenge is shared or owned by “those at the top.” Where it is the latter, management is often waging a war on two (or even three) fronts. By this I mean a constant struggle to keep on top of market demands, a constant struggle to keep on top of staff demands and possibly a third: a constant struggle to keep on top of executive/board demands. I was told by a manager a few weeks ago that 70% of his time is taken up with staff issues. This is a war on two (or three) fronts and the cost of this (and bottom line impact) is not measured by the typical accounting system nor reflected in financial reporting. (Neither is the personal cost to the individual manager……. and their sanity, never mind their health!)
The alternative is where staff understand the business drivers and keep ears to the ground and eyes everywhere to ensure that all the micro ducks line up. These are things the manager rarely sees (as they fall below the radar of the manager’s “span of patrol”) but add them up and they can be the difference between profit and loss. If staff are facing in the right direction, they will spot the gaps and fix them. Instead, they watch “management” go around in circles, somewhat bemused.
2. Changing a predominantly Parent-Child into an Adult-Adult culture.
Changing the business from one of Parent/Child to Adult-Adult (Performance Partnership) requires that managers stop parenting, molly-coddling and caretaking. It helps if they know what staff are actually holding back (or burying from sight) by way of value. It starts with managers checking their assumptions about people and questioning whether the view they have (based on the image people project) IS accurate. From what I have seen over decades now, it is not.
The impression staff give of their capability is largely risk-averse, and people will not step up if they believe it is a step up to a gang plank. The market is FULL of great examples of staff-driven cultures. Nordstrom has been one oft-quoted example………
Nordstrom Rules – Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Sends chills down my control-freak spine! An unusual organisation, that trusts so completely. Rather at odds with my risk-aversion, so my approach has goal lines and sidelines packed around good intentions. But I DO trust fully that people are ready, willing and able to make the business succeed IF “management” expects these behaviours, will not settle for less, and stops getting in the way.
The choice is simple: struggle on your own OR use all the resources you pay for each month, to make the business buzz. While this may seem like an exercise in relinquishing control, it is instead the first step to gaining REAL control of a business and the profit drivers. Your business is actually controlled where the critical mass lies – would you rather have them with you or against you?