Rising Above Naysayers

That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise and Fall—and Can Rise Again (Portfolio/Penguin Random House, 2016), by authors John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber​, offers a parable aimed at helping organizations tackle the eternal dilemma of how they can overcome challenges to seize opportunities.

Based on 40 years of research, the book explores how businesses can combine the best characteristics of a large, disciplined, well-managed operation with those of a small, informal, inspiring enterprise to generate new ideas and develop innovative solutions in the workplace.

Kotter, @jpkotter on Twitter, is professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and an authority on leadership and change. He is a founder of Kotter International, a consulting firm that specializes in helping leaders transform their organizations. Rathgeber, a former executive at a medical products firm, is a principal at Kotter International.

Here, the authors share some takeaways from their book: 

Your book presents a reality of organizations constantly facing threats as the new normal. How can organizations adapt their structures and teams to prevent limiting beliefs and attitudes?

Typically, mature organizations are so good at resisting change, at being stable and at getting caught up in the “not-invented-here, go-away” syndrome. That isn’t enough for a sizable organization to survive in a constantly changing world. To create something stronger requires a new way of thinking about what an effective organization is. To get from here to there requires a real engine of some power because of the challenge of the task. We’ve learned a lot about what that engine is and how to use it.

How do you resolve the tension that exists between management and leadership?

The misunderstandings about management and leadership are vast. The consequences of confusing management with leadership or thinking one is needed more than the other are serious. The reality is, they’re not the same thing, even though often they’re used as synonyms. They serve fundamentally different functions. In an increasingly changing world of organizations of some scale, you need both, and both done well. And that is rather straightforward, but it’s not the way that vast segments of the world think.

When faced with the all-too-common response “That’s not how we do it here” when presenting a new idea at work, what should you do?

If there is any generalization, it is easy to back away for potentially legitimate fear that if you don’t, you’re going to get yourself into trouble. But when everybody thinks that way, institutions and organizations don’t adapt, they don’t innovate, they don’t change rapidly enough and it gets us all into trouble.

One of the lessons in your book seems to be that feedback can come from anyone on the team. How can bosses encourage ideas and feedback from all levels?

In a simple sense, by talking to all levels, saying, of course, that you want their feedback. Then, when you get it from a source that doesn’t normally provide feedback, it’s good to:
-- Act on it.
-- Make sure others see that you acted on it, and that it helped.
It’s a form of role modeling. More fundamentally, I think you need to build a system that can take the process beyond just you. You need to create a system that makes it a lot easier to pull in and process ideas from lots of different places throughout the organization.

How can employees, and leaders, know when it’s time to challenge the status quo and explore new approaches?

There are good reasons why best practices exist. On the one hand, you do want to know what is really working out there and, if you’re not doing it, adopt it. Best practices sounds like a sensible idea. The problem is, the faster the world moves, the more unpredictable change is, the more disrupted your environment is, the more problematic best practices become. Basing the way you operate on the past doesn’t equip you to navigate change. You need to think about the future, not the past. I wonder if the whole concept of best practices, if that might not be doing more harm than good.


Originally posted on the SHRM Book Blog.



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