15 Nov #198 – Integrity Idea 035: Tear Down Those Walls
ESSENCE: Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.
INTEGRITY IDEA: Tear Down Those Walls
COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action): Practices
COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees
Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. “Tear Down Those Walls” is not about Ronald Reagan, the U.S. border, dismantling offices, or moving to open-plan seating. It is about taking steps to identify and dismantle the barriers to information and wisdom “flow” that can exist within an organization. “Tear Down Those Walls” recognizes that every person in an organization has unique experiences and perspectives that can contribute to the organization more effectively pursuing its Re-Imagined Purpose. It also recognizes that those barriers to the flow of information and wisdom often result from work as usual, which flows from business as usual (and its underlying assumptions of Profit as Purpose, Scarcity and Self-Interest) and are bad for the organization’s leaders, bad for the organization and bad for its culture, which makes them bad for the people in the organization. Leading an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way requires faithful leaders with the humility to understand the importance of facilitating wisdom and information flows that value, promote and prioritize excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.
Integrity Ideas are specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. You can find more Integrity Ideas at Integrous | Integrity Ideas (integriosity.com)
Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process. Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.
On June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan delivered an historic speech in West Berlin. Looking at the Berlin Wall, he famously declared, against the advice of his advisors, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” That is not what this post is about. It is also not about the U.S. border or about an organization dismantling offices or moving to open-plan seating.
“Tear Down Those Walls” is about eliminating information and wisdom barriers to the organization effectively pursuing its purpose and cultivating a culture that aligns with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, which elevates “Tear Down Those Walls” to a critical step in the Re-Align process.
INTEGRITY IDEA: Tear Down Those Walls
“Tear Down Those Walls” is about taking steps to identify and dismantle the barriers to information and wisdom “flow” that can exist within an organization.
It recognizes that every person in an organization has unique experiences and perspectives that can contribute to the organization more effectively pursuing its Re-Imagined Purpose. “Tear Down Those Walls” also recognizes that those barriers to the flow of information and wisdom often result from work as usual, which flows from business as usual (and its underlying assumptions of Profit as Purpose, Scarcity and Self-Interest) and are bad for the organization’s leaders, bad for the organization and bad for its culture, which makes them bad for the people in the organization.
Leading an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way requires faithful leaders with the humility to understand the importance of facilitating wisdom and information flows that value, promote and prioritize excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.
While one could probably identify many ways in which organizations “wall-off” various aspects of their operations or groups of their people in ways that undermine a healthy culture (in fact, people have written entire books on the topic of organizational silos), we will consider two we think are most relevant to people seeking to lead in alignment with Biblical faith: wisdom walls and information walls.
We believe walls are an inherent by-product of business as usual. Walls flow from work as usual, which flows from business as usual. We like this observation, expressed in terms of “silos”, which is just another way to describe “walled-off” areas:
Silos will continue to be inevitable as long as the rewards for collaboration are outweighed by the rewards for competition. — Pearl Zhu
As we have examined in several past posts, business as usual (and its key underlying assumptions, such as Profit as Purpose, Scarcity and Self-Interest) rewards competition more than collaboration. We noted back in post #173 (The Toxicity of “Work as Usual”) that Profit as Purpose devalues human dignity, a Scarcity assumption is devoid of trust in God and a Self-Interest assumption does not prioritize community.
As a consequence, work as usual prioritizes the pursuit of money and power rather than the development of relationships, and the corrosive assumptions of the business as usual culture, such as Scarcity and Self-Interest, become the assumptions out of which people work and treat others. People working in a business as usual culture begin to see co-workers as either competitors in a zero-sum game.
Wisdom and information are guarded as sources of power (or survival) and aids in making money. People can feel insecure in their position, which can lead to unhealthy responses such as micro-managing, controlling or disengaging. “Walls” become tools for success or survival in that culture.
We believe this was never God’s design for work or human relationships.
Organizational “Wisdom Walls”
We use the term “wisdom wall” to describe a situation in which a leader cuts themselves off from the wisdom that resides above and below the leader in the organization. Wisdom walls are bad for the leader, bad for the organization and bad for its culture, which makes it bad for the people in the organization.
A leader without access to the wisdom, knowledge and experience of other people in the organization (whether because the leader does not seek it, or because the leader has created a culture in which it is not considered “safe” to share it, or because the leader has chosen to filter all information through “yes” people) CANNOT make the best decisions for the organization.
And a culture in which people do not feel like they have a “voice”—a culture in which their unique “wisdom” is not recognized and appreciated–is more likely to breed disengaged workers and is unlikely to be the type of a healthy culture that maximizes human flourishing in alignment with faithful integrity through business a better way.
We believe wisdom walls largely occur as a result of pride. Indeed, the link between pride and wisdom is pretty clear in Proverbs 11:2:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
As we explained in post #196 (First Things-Humility), humility is a “first thing” in leading with faithful integrity, and it is a HOW of the “first thing” of loving others. Humility in loving others flows from knowing who we are in relation to others.
For a leader of an organization, humility in loving others is critical because it permits the leader to learn from the people they lead and to unlock the God-given productivity and creativity of those people. Humility in loving others allows a leader to recognize that they do not have all the answers and to unleash and embrace the unique contributions each person they lead has to offer, which enriches the leader, the organization and its people.
“I’m the Smartest” Wisdom Walls. When a leader believes he is smarter and more skilled than those who work for him (or is so insecure in his ability that he needs to give the impression he is smarter and more skilled) and does not seek their insights, that leader will make decisions that do not take into account the wisdom, knowledge and experience of others in the organization.
These are the people closer to the nuts and bolts of the business–closer to customers, closer to the factory floor, closer to the distribution system, closer to customer service, closer to problems that need to be addressed, closer to opportunities that can be realized. They are also humans with different gifts, skills, experience and perspectives.
If a leader lacks the humility to recognize the value of other humans in the organization and give them a “voice” (or lacks the self-confidence to seek the views of others), the knowledge of those humans is “trapped” with them on the other side of the wall and can’t translate into wisdom for the leader or the organization.
It also creates a culture in which people are deprived of two of the three elements (“value” and “voice”) that Michael Stallard has identified (in his book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work) are necessary for a healthy “connection culture” in which people are engaged and flourish. We discuss Stallard’s assessment of culture in more detail in post #084 (Culture and People). In Mike’s words:
Voice exists when everyone in an organization seeks the ideas and opinions of others, shares their opinions honestly, and safeguards relational connections. In a culture where voice exists, decision makers have the humility to know that they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and they need to seek and consider the opinions and ideas of others in order to make the best decisions.
“Just Tell Me What I Want To Hear” Wisdom Walls. This type of wall is built by leaders who give people a “voice” but do it in a way that obstructs the flow of wisdom.
If a leader’s ego (whether through pride or lack of self-confidence) leads her to surround herself by people who only affirm her decisions rather than challenging them (or if the leader has created a culture in which challenges are perceived as “dangerous”), that leader will be making decisions in a vacuum, again devoid of the wisdom, knowledge and experience of “the organization”.
It may stroke the leader’s ego (and might even allow people to feel like they have a “voice”), but it is not unleashing the wisdom within the organization and is not respecting others in the organization. Bad for the leader, the organization, the culture and the people.
Organizational “Information” Walls
Another category of organizational “walling-off” behavior is information walls. We use the term “information wall” to describe a situation in which a person or group in an organization fails to share the information with others who could do their jobs better if they had the information.
Whereas wisdom walls get created by leaders, information walls can be built by any person or group in the organization with unique access to information.
“I Wasn’t Taught To Share” Information Walls. An information wall can exist simply because the organization has never developed systems or avenues for sharing. Different divisions, groups or people with unique information go about their activities oblivious to others in the organization who could do their job better with the information.
Eliminating these types of walls could result in better decisions, more efficient work, better performance and a greater feeling of collaboration and common purpose in the organization.
“I Don’t Like You” Information Walls. Information walls can exist even in organizations that have created systems and avenues for sharing where relational breakdowns interrupt information flow. For example, information may not get to other departments that need it or leaders who rely upon it because a person who represents a node in the information path is difficult to work with.
These have the problems of the “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” walls but can be more insidious for two reasons:
• Because leaders believe information is flowing along well-designed pathways that have been blocked.
• Because addressing it requires mapping human relationships, which is much more difficult than fixing reporting chains or designing policies and practices for information flow.
Ultimately, a leader committed to cultivating a healthy culture focused on flourishing needs to root out these breakdowns and bring healing.
“I Don’t Want To Share” Information Walls. Whereas the “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” silos are inefficient, the “I Don’t Want To Share” silos are toxic. This is what we described earlier about work as usual:
• People in the organization see co-workers as competitors in a zero-sum game.
• Knowledge, information and influence are guarded as sources of power (or survival) and aids in making money.
• The assumptions of business as usual infect how people do their work and how they treat others.
When the culture of a business embodies Profit as Purpose together with Scarcity and Self-Interest assumptions, people will come to understand, at some level, that they are ultimately tools for maximizing profit and that they will be rewarded or punished based upon their perceived contribution to that goal.
“I Want To Control It All” Information Walls. Like wisdom walls, these walls are created by leaders. Unlike wisdom walls, these information walls are driven more by power than pride.
Whereas the leader who creates a wisdom wall doesn’t recognize or doesn’t really want the wisdom of others, the leader who creates this type of information wall recognizes the power of information held by others in the organization and wants it all–exclusively.
The leader purposely creates reporting chains and information flows that ensure the leader is the only one who knows what is happening across the organization. It is “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” walls BY DESIGN. And “BY DESIGN” makes it not only inefficient for the organization and frustrating for people but also toxic to the culture.
People feel disconnected because the culture has been designed to disconnect them. These walls represent manipulative and dehumanizing managerial behavior and create work cultures that are not conducive to human flourishing or to an environment of Shalom.
Because “an organization is a merely a collection of people working together toward a common purpose”, organizations function or “dysfunction” toward or away from that common purpose based on relationships. One toxic person building walls can begin a corrosive effect that spreads like a bruise on a peach. You may recall a Seth Godin quote from an earlier post:
The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated.
It is worth repeating–wisdom and information walls flow from work as usual, which flows from business as usual. Organizational walls will stop being built only when the culture changes, and changing the culture requires not only identifying and tearing down existing walls but also no longer tolerating new ones.
Faithful leaders seeking to lead with faithful integrity should heed the words of Patrick Carman in his children’s novel The Dark Hills Divide:
It seems as though the only things causing pain around here are these ridiculous walls we keep building.
The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums. There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture. The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.
Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.
“Tear Down Those Walls” is on the Practices Continuum. It involves practices the organization can adopt to affirm its commitment to cultivating a culture that aligns with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities by valuing, promoting and prioritizing excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.
COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert
The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.
Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale. Some can vary depending on how they are implemented. We identify “Tear Down Those Walls” as Highly Covert (An action that would be taken by a secular company) because every organization could and should strive to eliminate barriers to information and wisdom flow.
“Tear Down Those Walls” can also be Overt (An overtly faith-based action known generally within the organization) if the leaders of the organization choose to explain its importance in terms of the Biblical significance of humility, valuing every person and treating each person with dignity and respect because they were created in the image of God with unique gifts.
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees
When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.
“Tear Those Walls Down” principally serves employees by showing them how much they are valued and by giving them a voice. It also benefits owners because the organization can pursue its purpose more effectively, and it benefits customers because the organization’s leaders will have access to the information and wisdom necessary to serve customers better, whether through improved customer service or improved products and services.
It seems as though the only things causing pain around here are these ridiculous walls we keep building. (Patrick Carman, The Dark Hills Divide)
Every faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way should be praying and thinking about ways their organization can identify and dismantle the information and wisdom walls that are acting as barriers to flourishing–of the organization and, most importantly, of the people who make up the organization.
Start at the Top. A faithful leader wanting to tear-down walls will need to seek information and wisdom from others in order to identify them, which may itself have a wall-busting effect that begins to change the culture. The best place to start is at the top, identifying any walls the leader has erected, consciously or subconsciously.
If the faithful leader has erected “Just Tell Me What I Want To Hear” Wisdom Walls, the initial challenge will be convincing those around the leader that the leader really does want honest feedback. It may be necessary to engage a third party who can promise employees anonymity.
Do leaders or managers suffer from a prideful “I’m the Smartest” Wisdom Wall that devalues the wisdom and information held by employees “lower” in the organization’s hierarchy? Do any leaders or managers use “I Want To Control It All” Information Walls as a power tool to ensure they are the only person with all information relevant to a department or function?
Rooting out these walls will likely require soliciting input from people at various levels in the organization in a way that will encourage honesty. We believe it is important for faithful leaders to share their vision for a Re-Imagined Culture, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that the organization benefits from the unique gifts, skills, experiences and perspectives of each employee. This can be an opportunity to reinforce the commitment to a culture that values, promotes and prioritizes excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.
Evaluate Policies, Procedures and Practices. The “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” Information Wall results when an organization hasn’t developed systems or avenues for sharing wisdom and information and hasn’t cultivated a culture that encourages wisdom and information flow between employees and up to leadership. A first step in identifying walls is looking at the organization’s policies, procedures and practices that impact the sharing of wisdom and information. Are there any such policies, procedures and practices? Do they encourage or discourage information flow? Is there a natural way for leaders to benefit from the wisdom and information known to the employees closest to the customer? Putting aside the formal policies, procedures and practices, does the “real” culture impede or facilitate that flow of wisdom and information?
Identify Broken Relationships. Because “an organization is a merely a collection of people working together toward a common purpose”, organizations function or “dysfunction” toward or away from that common purpose based on relationships. A broken relationship in a reporting chain can keep leaders from learning critical information from employees close to the customer. Broken relationships can erect walls, with groups within an organization failing to share important information. All the well-designed policies, procedures and practices and the best-intentioned efforts by leaders to cultivate a Re-Imagined Culture can be thwarted if “weeds” (forces and influences, such as disruptive employees or ineffective managers, that are working against the growth of the Re-Imagined Culture) are not identified and eliminated.
Identify Competitive Relationships. As noted above, walls can be built “where the rewards for collaboration are outweighed by the rewards for competition“. Implementing “Tear Down Those Walls” requires looking at how people are rewarded and incentivized. Does the current culture encourage wall-building because it creates competition between people or between departments? Do people avoid sharing information and wisdom within the organization in order to maintain a competitive advantage over their colleagues? These questions can only be answered by sitting down with people and listening. They must know and believe that the heart of leadership is to prioritize collaboration over competition.
Create Opportunities for Information and Wisdom Sharing. The best way to dismantle walls is to create opportunities for employees to share information and wisdom with each other and with leadership. It is important to convey that the heart of leadership is to prioritize collaboration over competition.
Faithful leaders should be clear in their belief that everyone has unique experiences and perspectives that can help everyone in the organization more effectively pursue its purpose. Group meetings should be prefaced with ground rules about keeping the best interest of the organization and purpose in mind, maintaining civility, and avoiding personal attacks. The heart and spirit of the meetings must be about helping everyone do better, but doing it with a spirit of humility and a heart of caring for each person.
Meetings can be “skip level” meetings in which a manager and their direct reports are invited by more senior leadership to share ideas together.
Here are a few examples of opportunities to consider (thanks to Michael Stallard’s “100 Ways to Connect” for inspiring a number of these ideas):
• “Do Better” Meetings. Invite employees to group or one-on-one “Doing Better” meetings in which people are encouraged to share ideas on how the organization can better pursue its purpose. These can be general meetings at which all ideas are welcome or focused meetings aimed at certain areas of improvement. For example, how do we “Do Better” at increasing revenue, reducing costs, improving quality, improving efficiency, serving customers, handling customer problems, serving our community, treating vendors, caring for employees, welcoming new employees, giving feedback to employees, or terminating employees.
• “Wall Breaking” Meetings. Invite employees to group or one-on-one “Wall Breaking” meetings in which people are encouraged to identify information and wisdom walls that they have experienced (or built) in the organization and make suggestions on how those walls can be “taken down”.
• “Follow-up/Feedback” Mechanisms. Create ways for employees to provide feedback on “Do Better” and “Wall Breaking” meetings, as well as ways to follow-up on ideas that were presented.
• Suggestion/Question Forums. Create ways for employees to make suggestions and ask questions outside of formal meetings about ways to tear-down walls and do better, and put in place procedures to ensure suggestions and questions are considered by appropriate management, with questions being answered and suggestions being acknowledged promptly and personally.
Just putting in place practices to identify and tear-down walls is part of cultivating a culture that tells employees the organization and its leaders prioritize excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing. It is showing them that they are seen and valued and that the organization’s leaders recognize they have unique gifts, skills, experiences and perspectives that can help the organization serve its bigger WHY more effectively.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): Perhaps my favorite “wall dismantler” is the reality television show “Undercover Boss”. In the show, the CEO of an organization goes undercover as a frontline employee. In the process, they come to learn about the frustrations and struggles faced by their employees. They also come to appreciate the underappreciated and unrecognized gifts, skills, experiences and perspectives of employees they otherwise would never meet. Inevitably, the eyes of the “boss” are opened. Because the “boss” is in disguise and undercover, the interactions are far more authentic than might be experienced by the C-suite employee who spends a few days “wearing an apron” on the frontline.
I must also mention the recent experience of a dear friend of our daughter. After graduating from a top college, she accepted a marketing job at an organization that owned several fast-food franchises. Before assuming their corporate roles, all new recruits had to spend several weeks working in one of their restaurants.
My final story comes from a talk last week by Ken Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot, at a benefit dinner for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. Langone shared an experience from the opening of a new Home Depot store. The night before the opening he was walking through the store when a young employee stopped him and asked if he was “someone important”. The employee pointed to a huge box of toilet plungers on the floor and suggested that they might sell better if displayed visibly on hooks. Langone told him to give it a try, and if it didn’t work to just put them back in the large box. On opening day, Langone walked by the young man’s area and noticed that there weren’t any plungers displayed on hooks. Langone asked the young employee if the hooks were empty because the experiment failed and the employee had put the plungers back in the large box. The employee proudly told Langone that they were not on the hooks because they had sold out.