As a sales leader, I’ve been a part of many inter-departmental and cross-organizational discussions where new ideas for changes seem perfectly logical, yet are met with significant resistance by employees, customers and peers. Maybe it’s not that everyone else is crazy. In my professor’s Organizational Theory class taught by Dr. Mark Wexler, I may have found some explanation in his organizational archetypes we informally call the “Wexler Wheel”.
Organizations change for several reasons. It might be planned change because the management team is either dissatisfied with performance or have set new objectives. It might come from evolution within the business lifecycle such as moving from a growth to a maturity model. It might be driven by conflict: sometimes change comes from challenges between organizational units that have developed conflicting organizational cultures and change is required to move past the conflict. Change may also come from evolutionary changes such as scarcity of resources, changes to markets, or competition.
Organizational cultures are a product of their history, their people, the management team (very much driven by the CEO’s own vision), and their operating environment. I’ve been thinking lately about the method Wexler classifies organizations. In his book, Leadership in Context: The Four Faces of Capitalism, Wexler discusses four world-views that although are largely discussed at the organizational level, I believe explain many of the reasons why there is so much conflict and resistance to change inside the organization at the departmental level.
Wexler’s four archetypes are:
- Regulatory – the organization as a bureaucracy typified by mature organizations that seek to maintain their market position. The degree to which you are successful is the degree to which you successfully manage politics, hierarchy, tradition, rules, stability, long-term planning and loyalty. You know you’re visiting one when you see a picture of “Our Founder” in sepia tone in the lobby and it’s as quiet as a library.
- Entrepreneurial – the organization as “buccaneer” typified by start-ups and other high-growth firms seeking to maximize growth, market share, revenue and profit – the dollar above all else. It is a world of intense competition, the cream rises to the top, ends justify the means, and they operate with open market libertarian ideals. Paradoxically, they operate with fewer explicit rules and are process-light, but with a high degree of control from the leadership.
- Network – the organization as a source of new knowledge and innovation, typified by creative, competitive R&D oriented organizations seeking to revolutionize how we live. Value comes from intellect, overcoming challenges, constant change and innovation, and new intellectual property. They typically operate with fewer rules and less formal structure.
- Communitarian – the organization as collaborative workplace that is designed to benefit all stakeholders from shareholders to customers to employees and the community. Value comes from your contribution to the success of the firm and others around you – and you share in the success of everyone else. These firms tend to be more mature and measured in their growth but with more flexibility and less hierarchy than bureaucratic organizations.
The ‘Wexler Wheel’, source: Wexler, M. N. (2005). Leadership in Context: The Four Faces of Capitalism. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing
In the diagram above, the x-axis describes the motivation moving left to right from a mature ‘maintain-the-status-quo’ attitude towards one that is very focused on competition and ‘winning’. The y-axis describes the operating environment moving top to bottom from a structured and controlled operating environment to a looser and more flexible organizational structure. Organizations will move along the axes according to maturity, changing competitive landscapes, the vision of their leadership, regulatory frameworks, etc. However, my experience is that inter-departmentally there are biases for one quadrant over another and the differing attitudes and structures carry with them inherent conflict that must be managed.
Imagine for a moment that you run a sales organization and as with most sales organizations, you live under continuous pressure to increase revenue and/or profit and/or market share. Sales leaders are often chosen for their dynamism and their track-record of performance in past roles. They’re rarely hired to “maintain the status quo”, or “hold hands and sing “kumbayah”, or “foster innovation”. They’re more often there to remove barriers to growth and motivate people to create a high performance culture. “Bring me the money” might be an apt catch-phrase. Classic Entrepreneurial world-view.
Now imagine you’re the R&D team in this same organization. I’m pretty sure no-one is paying their designers and developers on commission. It’s a different mind-set. Creating a culture of innovation, creativity, passion, intellectual property, flexible work hours… it’s a classic Network world-view.
Now imagine your Finance department. For them it’s not about making you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but rather about appropriate procedures and controls that protect the firm. They themselves are directed by regulatory frameworks defined by bureaucracies (government, standards organizations). Necessarily they have to operate in a Bureaucratic context – you can’t expect run a Finance department on the same terms as a Network or Entrepreneurial context, nor would you want to.
I can only hope you have an HR department that is concerned about personal and professional growth, talent acquisition and retention, and how all people feel about working for the organization – they need to operate and make decisions for what is best for the group. A classic communitarian context.
So when we move to create change that affects other departments within our organizations, it should be no surprise that we find it difficult to communicate. What appears to be a no-brainer in one context may not transfer easily to other contexts. Presuming you want to achieve consensus, it’s your responsibility as the change-agent to socialize your plans and orient your communications to fit each context.
Knowing where to find the common ground is key to successful consensus. For example, Entrepreneurial organizations and Networks will collaborate well to overcome competitive threats. Explaining how your changes will accomplish this will find an eager listener. Networks and Communitarian organizations will appreciate flexibility in your plan that enables them to accomplish the goal without being micro-managed in the process. A willingness to look for benefits for all contexts will help you gain the support you need. I can’t tell you how many times in Sales I’ve heard the expectation that everyone should simply line up under the Sales organization’s context (“We’re a Sales-driven organization!”). This simply is impossible. Finance and HR will NOT take a Machiavellian “ends-justifies-the-means” worldview – they can’t, and they shouldn’t.
Understanding the different cultures and operating contexts of both departments and other organizations you work with will make it much easier to communicate and action change for your organization. And a lot less frustrating when you understand and accept the reasons why this is.