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Civility in organizations in tough times

We haven’t been through tough economic times like these for a very long time. It’s tough for leaders, for employees. No one can say with much certainty how best to deal with the challenges.

A current article in the Harvard Business Review compares the situation to a heart attack. First one must deal with the emergency phase. Then the patient needs to learn how to adapt.

The authors list two roads for the adaptive phase—hunker down or press ‘reset’
Hunker down involves short-term fixes such as tightened controls, across-the-board cuts and restructuring plans. “An organization that depends solely on its senior managers to deal with the challenges risks failure.”

Reset includes using the turbulence to build on and bring closure to the past. Change the key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization and redefine the work people do.

Civility is derived from the Latin civitas, meaning ‘city’ especially in the sense of civic community.

This is a time for community.

I’ve heard of hastily called meetings after restructuring announcements. The nay sayers say, but they have no answers to the questions and therefore nothing to meet about. I believe it’s a gathering of the community to grieve before it moves on to adapting. The fears and frustrations are voiced in the community rather than shuttled off to speculation around the water cooler.

It sets the stage for later brainstorming and filtering suggestions. Staff knows their feelings and ideas are welcome. Because, and I think this is the point of the quote about risking failure if senior managers act alone, the creative suggestions for the future are going to come from the community sharing ideas and knowledge. As people play their ideas off one another, some creative suggestions are going to emerge because the group will outlast the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude and work for the organization’s life. This may be a life or death situation for the organization.


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