Changing Corporate Culture from Coercion to Cooperation

The management style of the industrial age no longer suits the informational age. The bureaucratic, top down, authoritarian style is not effective with today’s workers. People are no longer motivated by rewards or fear of punishment as much as by being connected to the bigger purpose, having need-satisfying work, and exercising their independence and creativity.

I am often called into companies who are attempting to change their corporate culture from a controlling culture with managers who are coercive to a more democratic, inclusive, cooperative culture. It is predictable when this occurs that there will be some on board with the changes and others who will resist. Sometimes it may feel a bit like trying to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg.

Initially, I am brought in to help social service agencies improve their services to clients by changing the way direct line staff interact with clients. Typically the culture prior to my being brought in has been an external control culture, where staff treat clients as less than human or as children and coerce them into compliance. This generally creates uncooperative clients, who are pushing back against staff control which the staff uses to justify their use of external control. If they didn’t treat clients in a coercive manner, then they would be even worse.

Management learns about some new treatment method they believe will improve client satisfaction and ultimately improve their bottom line, so I am invited to come and teach their staff InsideOut Empowerment. This approach has been called, “commonsense that isn’t common.” It’s easy to learn yet challenging to put in place. Humans have been involved with the idea that it is all right and often their responsibility to control others into doing what they want so our lives will be better. Attempting to reform one’s ways from externally controlling to internally inspiring those we attempted to control is not the easiest task but it is extremely rewarding when successful.

This can be challenging to turn around because there are always people who refuse to try to do it any differently. The best approach is to teach those who are interested and to initially leave those resistant staff alone. As I start to teach the principles of InsideOut Empowerment, many people see the value and begin using the techniques right away. When they do, they reap the benefits with an increase in cooperation and less resistance among clients.

This can be a tricky time during the cultural shift because staff typically polarizes into those who are on board with the new initiative and those who are adamantly against it. The people who will resist the changes are typically those who have been wielding the power over others and who don’t want to support any changes expected to reduce their power base. They do not want to give up the illusion of control, when in essence doing so would actually result in increased control. They exert pressure on those who are promoting the change to maintain the status quo. Depending upon how persuasive they are, the process may be halted there.

In my experience, I allow this tension and division while moving ahead with those who are cooperative. Those in favor of the cultural shift believe the process is being negatively affected by those who continue to use external control. In actuality, those continuing to use external control are providing a stark contrast to clients about the two different approaches. Those using InsideOut Empowerment are receiving better results with clients and those steeped in external control blame them for the problems they are now experiencing with clients. They see those practicing InsideOut Empowerment as allowing unacceptable behaviors and therefore sending permissive messages to clients. This perception comes from a lack of understanding regarding what is actually happening with InsideOut Empowerment.

There is no permissiveness with clients. There is simply respect, non-judgment and recognition that clients have the right to make their own choices, even “bad” ones. When they do, there are consequences, usually in the form of a conversation about the choices made and their natural consequences, helping clients to think through their decisions without the added complication of pushing back against the control of staff.

When the culture reaches a tipping point with it being more politically correct to use InsideOut Empowerment than to fight against it, the shift will gain its own momentum and pick up steam. This is when the naysayers will either leave the “new insanity” (their label) and find work elsewhere, start using InsideOut Empowerment techniques, or stubbornly cling to their coercive ways within the new culture. Whatever their choice is works to the benefit of the shift. If they leave, you can replace them with those who embrace the new culture. If they cooperate, great. If they stay and continue their coercive ways, clients can use them to practice their new skills. When they leave the new culture, they will continue to encounter individuals who attempt to control them. They can practice how to handle these situations with the coercive staff that remain.

This represents one shift in the culture; however I also recommend a simultaneous shift in management’s approach to employees. When eliminating external control from a culture, in an effort to be consistent, it is also important to eliminate external control between management and employees. While the direct service workers are working to provide a need-satisfying environment for clients, management is working to create a need-satisfying environment for staff.

When managers fail to make this shift, workers will realize the hypocrisy. It won’t take long before they recognize they are being asked to do something with clients managers are not doing with them. This results in resentment and frequently, noncompliance. When managers are willing to model what they are asking for, the impact on the workforce is much more profound and they will accomplish the full cultural shift that will truly make the difference.

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