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Do you have a culture of a command structure?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, said the legendary management consultant and author Peter Drucker.

It is as true as it is said. The culture of a business is crucial to its success. You can have all the strategies, goals, visions, training, IT systems, etc. you want. But without the right culture at the bottom, everything else will fall short.

This applies to all activities, without exception.

A month has passed

It is now more than a month since Russia attacked Ukraine. Terrible images reach us daily. It also shows that the Russian military was not as good as they and we had thought.

Is it the equipment that’s wrong, or is it the training that’s wrong? These may not be the best available, but that’s not where their problem lies. It’s in the culture of how you do business.

A dictatorship always has the problem that it cannot allow people to express dissenting opinions or to take initiatives that might threaten the status of the great “leader” as dictator.

It makes people shy away from;

  • talk about what needs to be done even if it goes against what the dictator says,
  • tell the truth about how it really looks and works, and
  • to take initiative and be a driving force.

All for the fear of being punished in some way. It’s rewarding to just follow along and preferably not be noticed or seen. Or you want to be seen and be one of the gang, and then you want to be a yes-man all the time. Because as a yes man, you can go a long way in affirming the greatness of the dictator. (Please read Åke Ortmark’s book Ja-sägarna.)

Command structure

Russia, like China and other dictatorships, operates its military forces according to what is called a chain of command.

This means that governance and management should always come from the top. This means that orders emanate from the top and then have to be channelled down to the individual soldier.

  • If I have an order, I execute it.
  • If I don’t have an order, I’ll wait for one.
  • If I have an order but it doesn’t work as intended, then I need to report back and wait for an updated order before continuing.

This makes business slow and sluggish to change. Lead times are long, which is problematic in a reality that is very fluid. War is very mobile.

Not only in the military

You will understand that this is now not just about Russia and their military. It affects the whole country, as I described in a weekly newsletter a couple of years ago.

You may remember the devastating fire that occurred in a large shopping centre which unfortunately resulted in many fatalities. It wouldn’t have been so serious if the firefighters hadn’t chosen to stand and wait for orders instead of taking the initiative to rescue people knocking on a closed door out of a cinema.

They waited and waited for orders, while the knocking slowly faded away as the people choked on the smoke. Instead, the doors could have been opened and the people saved. But then you would have had to take the initiative and do something you were not ordered to do. It was unthinkable for a firefighter trained and learned in a culture with a command structure.

Wow, even with us

But let’s not just point fingers and say how crazy they are, and think that we are always so much better. We are for the most part far better, but unfortunately it does affect us. The trend is also present here in Sweden. To my sorrow, I see operations that are completely command-driven. Everything should be based on what the boss says and decides.

A business I helped many years ago had a manager who was really interested in improvement work. That got me in touch and we worked well with their activities for a year. What I noticed was that the staff were very keen to always check everything with the manager. They didn’t take any initiatives of their own, but always had to look up.

The phenomenon was not because of the manager in question, I realized after a while. Because she was not dictatorial in her leadership. This was founded a long time ago. One or a few managers had before obviously been of the dictatorial type. She had not succeeded in changing the harmful culture during her time.

We have to wait for the boss

Unfortunately, some time later she chose to pursue a career outside the organisation. And then everything stopped. The staff stopped and waited for the new manager.

– “We’ll have to wait and see what the new boss says,” I was told when I wanted to plan further work.

I asked when this could happen and they explained that they would probably see a new manager in place in six to nine months.

– But wait, does that mean we shouldn’t continue with the improvement work until then?”, I said.

Yes, it was. Everything had to be put on hold until the next boss arrived. Because without a boss, you didn’t know what to do and in which direction to go. The day-to-day operations were running at a reasonable pace, but unfortunately there was no more improvement work in that organisation.

I really hope you don’t have a culture of command structure in your business.

But you may have experienced it somewhere. Please email me back and let me know. How was it? What were the consequences; for the staff, for the “customers” and for you? Could you change the culture?

There are options

Next week I will describe more about the alternative and the contrast to command structure.

This is mission management, or mission tactics as it is called in the Armed Forces. It’s the way you need to embrace in your organisation if you want to have an opportunity to meet the increasingly tough demands of the future.

A mobile reality requires a mobile organisation, with people who have a mobile mindset.

But more on that next week. Until then, I wish you a good week.