Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cub Scouts to C Suites – Culture starts at Initiation


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In his book The Anatomy of Power, John Kenneth Galbraith offers “conditioning” as the most powerful element in the administration of power. The more I spend time observing human behavior, the more I realize how true his assertion is. It seems at every turn you witness the emergence of the past, we are inextricably linked to intergenerational meams that are the product of intergenerational conditioning; some good and some bad.

As a boy, I attended Boy Scouts, our “troop” leader had as a practice “running the mill”. When you did something that fell short or miss behaved, you would be instructed to “run the mill”. A line was formed with each individual about three feet apart, standing with their legs apart so as to facilitate plenty of room to swing one’s hand. The subject was instructed to get on their hands and knees and crawl on all fours down the “tunnel” formed by their peer’s legs. As the subject crawled along, the people in the line would swat the behind of the subject, open hand was the requirement.

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It is highly unlikely you would find this practice in Boy Scouts now; I think generally that is a good thing. It did however, serve several purposes, the one most important purpose was to reveal the character of your peers. Some in the line would merely make the motion so that their "swat" delivered no pain to the subject, others would take glee in the process and make sure when their opportunity to swat came, it hurt. It was curious to me, that the behavior of an individual which had no effect on another specific individual would be met with vigour at the opportunity to inflict pain; they would seek to hurt only because the forum to hurt was provided. When you find people who will exercise themselves in this way, people who hurt only because there is a forum to hurt, remember them, because they are the one’s who are likely to become an institutional zealot. One understands that organization has inherent in it the forfeiting of “self” to some degree, but a zealot in the midst of the rational is institutional poison.

Wikipedia Definition ““Hazing is the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassmentabuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into agroup. Hazing is seen in many different types of social groups, including gangssports teams, schools, military units, and fraternities and sororities. The initiation rites can range from relatively benign pranks, to protracted patterns of behavior that rise to the level of abuse or criminal misconduct. Hazing is often prohibited by law and may comprise either physical or psychological abuse. It may also include nudity and/or sexually based offences.”

“Fundamental Attribution Error” comes to mind here, the process of placing too much weight on innate character and under weighting the environment that people are exercising themselves in. We need to remember, when you introduce competition between peers and add to that processes of initiation, we are creating circumstance where the ensconced insecure can seek to eliminate completion from the yet to be initiated or those yet to be through the induction process. This seems obvious enough, what is less obvious is why we persist with the process. Peer based selection is more effective when it is criteria based rather than the product of multi-party assessment, human assessment is very subjective and is most often influenced by things unrelated to the organization’s mission.

One understands the necessity to determine the nature of a person at the point they come to an organization; can we count on this person or not in any given situation. The question is, is the process you’ve built to determine this really giving you that information and what is the downstream effect on the overall culture of an organization and its performance.  There are few things as pernicious to an organization as “intra” organizational competition, because in competition there are winners and losers and an organization is a product of the “some” of its parts. It is better to define the mission, set the objectives, have clarity in performance metrics and let knowledge rule rather than “gangs”.     

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