Hidden Agenda at home and work!
Everyone knows about the existence of the official agenda and the “hidden agenda”. The hidden agenda being those issues which everyone knows about but are not willing to open up for honest discussion. Instead, most hidden agenda gets surfaced behind closed doors, around the water cooler, or at the bar. Places where lots of heat is generated but little light!
The Hidden Organization:
What is not so well-known is the existence of two organization charts; the official printed chart and the informal, or “unofficial” organization. And it is often the unofficial organization that determines how (and whether) things get done.
Here’s a classic example. A munitions plant had recently been awarded a major contract that required them to increase production to 50 units per day. Industrial engineers were sent in to expand and configure the production line. Additional staff were hired and given extensive training, but no matter what improvements were made, the most they produced was around 35 per day. This situation went on for several months. Senior management even replaced the Plant Manager. No improvement.
Finally a young engineer was sent in to find out “what was going on!” Instead of measuring and gathering data, he just observed. For three days he hung around watching people, when they arrived, how they worked, what happened during breaks. He even went to the same bars as the employees. And it soon became obvious that there was an “unofficial” organization chart and it was there that the real power to get things done existed.
An extremely well-respected woman who had worked at the plant for the past 30 years was unofficially “calling the shots”. All the workers not only respected her, but feared her power as well. And it seems that somewhere in the past she believed she had been treated unfairly by management and it was her intention not to let “management” push around her fellow employees. Ramping up production was just another example of getting more for less from the workers, so she controlled, from behind the scenes, the pace of work.
As soon as this was recognized, the young engineer made it his job to befriend this woman, listen to her grievances, help her to realize the benefit to all employees of performing on the newly won production contract.
The result? Production consistently exceeded 50 and even reached 80 per day at times.
Nortel and the Unofficial Organization
Another great example is the rise and collapse into bankruptcy of the telecoms giant, Nortel. One a high-flying stock in the emerging private telecoms network space, Nortel had a core of long-term employees and executives who know who to call to get things accomplished quickly. And speed to market with new products and services was a significant competitive advantage. But with a desire to grow fast, the company hired hundreds and hundreds of new managers, executives and employees who knew the official organization chart, but not the “unofficial” organization. As a result, decision-making slowed down, getting something through the system became more and more difficult until they began losing ground to more agile companies. Then a significant number of experienced senior executives cashed in their stock options and retired. Nortel filled for bankruptcy.
What’s really going on in your organization? Find the “unofficial” organization and you will see how, and why, things really get done, or not done! A hint: the unofficial organisation is your real corporate culture!
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!