The Executive Disconnect: Research Has Found a Yawning Gap between Top Management's View of What the Company Culture Looks like and How Employees Actually Experience It. Why Is This Happening and How to Bridge the Gap?

Article excerpt

Your boss champions teamwork and constructive personal relations but the reality is that you neither feel heard nor supported.

That seems to be a common experience anecdotally--now there's some pretty robust research confirming the "disconnect" between executives' preference for a constructive culture and their apparent ability to reinforce behaviours that are more designed to avoid blame and keep the boss happy.

An 18-month study carried out by organisational development consultants Human Synergistics International (HSI) both measured the causal factors that drive culture and the impact of culture on individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole. It used data collected from 8385 individuals in 51 New Zealand and Australian organisations and compared these with each other and against global averages.

It found that while New Zealand executives are a bit better at fostering constructive cultures than their Aussie counterparts, they don't measure up internationally on several counts.

While they say they want a constructive culture, in 80 percent of cases, they create a passive/aggressive one, says HSI's Wellington-based chair Shaun McCarthy.

"Top executives in New Zealand want a culture that supports excellence and strategic implementation. However, for many, their actions reinforce behaviours that are more consistent with coping and survival than excellence and achievement."

So what's gone wrong? And how to close the gap between the sort of organisation they apparently want and the one they get?

A primary area for improvement turns out to be leadership. Seems New Zealand organisations scored relatively lowly in the critical areas of task and people facilitation, goal emphasis and use of rewards.

The problem, says McCarthy, is that most leaders just aren't aware of the impact they have on their teams--and that how the team behaves reflects their own behaviour.

That's something of a crunch point when it comes to moving on from merely identifying the preferred/actual culture gaps to taking the actions needed to close them.

"Every time we put our culture survey results in front of the executive group they say, 'yeah, that's right'. But when that comes down to the impact of individual management styles, it all becomes a bit more personal," says McCarthy.

The single biggest gap that emerged in the Kiwi dataset was the use of rewards--which makes that the biggest potential lever for organisational change.

It may be no more complex than telling someone they've done a good job but that's something we're not particularly good at. Usually management handles use of rewards by bundling it into a six-monthly performance management system. Not particularly effective, says McCarthy.

"Most firms in the world find their performance management systems don't really work and that's because, by default, they replace what needs to be happening on an everyday interaction basis."

Which is your culture?

So just what is a constructive culture and how is it measured?

The tools developed and used by Human Synergistics include the Organisational Culture Inventory (OCI)--see graph--and the Organisational Effectiveness Inventory (OEI).

The OCI measures what is expected in the way of cultural norms and behaviours within an organisation. Are people encouraged to interact with others, be open, think ahead or is there a lot of patch protecting, pandering to authority, competition and political backstabbing?

There are 12 different norms (ranging from "humanistic-encouraging" to "oppositional" and "competitive") which are grouped into three main culture types: constructive, passive/defensive, and passive/aggressive.

The first (more espoused as the ideal) is an environment where people get along, are supportive, strive to achieve, grow and learn. However, most organisations tend to fall into the passive/defensive style where people shy away from initiatives, do as they're told, avoiding responsibility and blame. …