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Jason-

A follow-up to my last post.

So here is the dilemma…

Organizations (like any social group) require a certain amount of conformity. There are certain rules and policies and norms (implicit and explicit) that you need to follow in order to have membership. The more conformist an organization is, the less it is able to utilize the intangible assets that it has access to…things like the curiosity, creativity, ideas, questions, experiences, perspectives, diversity, passion, etc. that live within its workforce. These things make people stand out and so in a more conformist environment they tend to stay buried.

So.

If an organization wants to minimize conformity in order to harness its intangibles and maximize its ability to learn, adapt, innovate and evolve, how does it do that? Here are some thoughts.

Look for and expect dissent. If you are talking about anything of substance and there is not some disagreement, you should be very concerned. As General Patton said; “If everyone is thinking the same thing, someone is not thinking at all.” This can be a significant blind spot when we are in a position of leadership though, because we start out thinking pretty highly of our own ideas and when everyone around us agrees with them, who are we to see that as problematic?

Teach people how to disagree respectfully. Talk about this starting in the interview process, include it in job descriptions and in performance evaluations, provide training and feedback. Make it a normal and central part of the culture.

Create and support a different kind of leadership. A big part of why this is a problem to begin with is that we have a way of leadership/management that is largely built on being right and owning the truth. This stands in the way of candid conversation, challenging assumptions, and questioning decisions…all of which can be incredibly valuable for an organization.

Crush politics at every chance. The validity, value and necessity of organizational politics are greatly overrated. We have organizational politics to the extent that we do because that is what we tolerate. Be less tolerant. Organizational politics come at great cost as employees end up with truncated identities and trade their passion and ideals in for the rules to the game.

I think the “how do we do it?” question probably has a lot of different answers, but I think that these are a good start.

-joe

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