When Culture Gets in the Way

I’m reading Courageous Training by Tim Mooney and Robert Brinkerhoff as I develop the Leading for Impact courses. It’s mostly quite readable and has a number of sensible ideas in it, but one massive thought sprang to mind as I read. It’s an idea so central to our work that it deserves its own subheading.

A huge reason for the failure of any kind of organisational intervention is that the culture of the organisation isn’t sufficiently flexible enough to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Think about it for a second with this example:

The Mr. Goodwrench Syndrome 

Mr. Goodwrench is the name used by an American automobile company to market its garage and repair services. It is a label that also reflects an attitude common among managers in many organizations-the notion that the training department is some sort of “employee repair” facility. According to this ingrained, habitual belief, if your employees are not performing well, then you can send them to get some training, where they will be “fixed.” When the training is over, they will return as fully functioning and effective performers.

From Mooney, Tim, and Robert O. Brinkerhoff. Courageous training: Bold actions for business results. Berrett-Koehler Store, 2008, Introduction

Of course, what this attitude overlooks is that once you’ve got your training, you actually need to be able to practice it. You need time to do new things, the space to make mistakes while you learn your new craft, and support from managers and colleagues in your new endeavours. How can you be expected to do new things if you’re fighting against inertia that’s hardwired into your work environment?

Same for impact evaluation – if only a few people in the organisation think it’s worthwhile, what chance do you think it has to make a difference? And that’s why our courses are designed make you think about not just your own skills on evaluating the impact of your work, but also the wider organisational context in which you work and how you can develop strategies to incorporate impact evaluation into your whole organisation.

Remember, the customers of Leading for Impact aren’t just our trainees. They’re also the people using the services of the charities we’re working with. The ultimate beneficiaries of effective impact evaluation are the people whose lives are improved by better, more efficient services. When you look at impact evaluation like that, it’s obviously the responsibility of everyone to get it right.