A Commentary on Bard Papegaaij‘s IMPROVE THIS framework
As many of you may know, I’ve been an advocate of building-in the softer aspects of organisations into the design of change and Enterprise Architecture – as illustrated by the VPEC-T and more recently its younger sibling, VIPER. And, boy do I know how hard it is to come-up with an acronym that sticks! So, hats off to Bard and his colleagues for their framework IMPROVE THIS. The only advantage of VPEC-T is that it comes up tops in a Google search, that’s if you can remember it to type it in!
Having said that, this post is about the content that Bard shared. Starting with the goal of developing a ‘Sustainable Resilient Culture‘.
Bard starts off with this…
“Cultures live in people’s hearts and minds. They are the set of beliefs, assumptions and behaviours that make it possible for those people to operate collectively, work effectively together, and achieve outcomes they could not achieve alone. Because the defining characteristics of culture are emotional and mental constructs, the only way to change a culture is through the hearts and minds of the people in it. That’s why cultures form, settle, and change only when people communicate with each other, formally and informally, but definitely in all directions”.
Though the leadership has a strong direction-setting influence on a culture, a strictly top-down approach will never reach every member of a culture on the personal level needed to make them shift their internal model of the culture they believe they live in.
“Cultures are complex and emerge from the interplay of many different factors. In fact, cultures are too complex to be designed and engineered, like one would design and engineer a machine, or even the formal side of an organisation”.
Cultures behave much more like living organisms, or even living ecosystems: one can design the constraints and conditions for a culture to exist within, but one cannot make the culture fit the designed mould perfectly. Culture will react and adapt to changing conditions in its own unique way, pushed and pulled by the tension caused between the need to maintain old dynamics while accommodating new conditions without the culture disintegrating or becoming dysfunctional.
He goes on to introduce the ‘Gardner‘ analogy to describe how Leaders need to nurture and tend to culture in their organisations. It’s a great way to describe the Complex Adaptive nature of the Value System that is Culture.
And sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, even a well-designed and well-tended garden will develop in an unexpected direction. Nature will have its way, and may force even the most accomplished gardener to adapt and change the design or face defeat…
… organisational leaders are like gardeners and must operate in a similar way. They can design and plan their culture to a certain extent — and good leaders certainly spend a good amount of time thinking about the culture they want for their organisation — but it’s only in the interaction with the entire organisation that they will learn what works, what requires extra attention and what may need to be adjusted for the culture to change and thrive without falling apart.
Bard stresses the single most powerful tool for the organisational culture gardener is the conversation, in its many forms. Like gardens, cultures need constant monitoring and maintenance, which for cultures means observing, sensing and adjusting the beliefs, assumptions and behaviours stored in their people’s hearts and minds.
Padraig and I refer to such conversations as stories. Storytelling is a very natural way for people to share their hearts and minds – things can be said in a story left unsaid otherwise.
The Core Story process will help leaders identify and co-create stories that unify personnel and motivate change, by engaging hearts and minds across the organisation. The meaningful story which helps replace resistance, fear and inertia, with real purpose. Turn leaders and influencer networks into storytellers who build belief in shared goals and provide role models.
Another quote from Bard…
Conversations about Identity should focus on how people see themselves and their organisation: what makes the organisation unique; what makes people feel they belong here; what’s different about the (part of) the organisation they belong to that makes them proud and happy to be a part of it.
As Bard mentioned to me in a LinkedIn message a moment ago – “I think we are thinking along similar lines”. I wholeheartedly agree.
I urge you to read his ,,full article
Thanks to Tom Graves for pointing me to Bard’s work.