I once worked with a Leadership Team at a manufacturing company that prided themselves on top-notch processes and procedures. They shared with me their SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) and spoke glowingly about how they followed procedures, thus improving efficiencies overall. At the same time, they were also discussing an issue with work output on the floor. It seemed one of the shifts was lagging. So why was that? To better understand, I did a “walk-a-bout” (as the Aussies say) and went to talk to the front line.
I spoke with the receptionist and got a different perspective. She responded to my questions by stating, “If you want to know what’s going on around here and how to fix it, talk to Bill in the warehouse.”
Why Bill, who headed up the dock? And why the warehouse? Was there some kind of connection between shift work productivity and the warehouse?
What I uncovered was this…
The owner and leadership team thought they were in the lead. However, in every organization, division, department and work group, there are “shadow leaders” which create “shadow organizations”. A shadow organization can be a good thing or a bad thing. These middle leaders can be very influential because they are respected by their peers. They are your internal champions … if they support the core values and believe in the vision and purpose of the company. If they clash with these, then the shadow organization creates culture chaos by steering their groups toward different goals and encouraging behaviors which do not follow the core values.
Note the difference: “following the core values” is not “following the SOP’s”. An organization can have the best SOP document there is, but if your influencers, your internal champions, disagree with leadership at the top, they will create a culture that shadows your expectations only to a point, thus, creating a culture that is misaligned and usually turns into a chaotic work environment. Chaotic because no one really knows who is in charge and no amount of process and procedure is going to fix that.
Often we find that leadership teams and owners believe there is an element of “followed by all” already in place. If you aim for a followed by all culture, do not underestimate the influential power of your front line and middle leaders. They command the shadow organizations that help define your culture. Are the shadows influencing in the right direction or are they causing culture chaos?
Oh by the way … back to Bill. We uncovered that Bill was a true influencer and anyone who questioned management at the top would come to Bill for an explanation and interpretation. We worked with Bill and over time, he became a great shadow leader for the organization.