Edmonds, S. C. (2014). The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace (1 edition). Wiley.
The Culture Engine is a book that deals in digital transformations based on culture; a focus that, as you will know from my interest in Culture Crafting, runs central to my career. So, with great interest, I read this text by S.C. Edmonds, which I found interesting, although I have some (constructive) criticisms.
The text is essentially a manual for consultants undergoing a digital transformation, with a focus on those who work with servant leadership as ideal.
What they don’t understand is that there are two aspects of effective leadership. The first is the strategic leadership aspect of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If your people don’t know where you want them to go, there is little chance they will get there. That’s why Chris spends a great deal of time helping you develop an organizational constitution that outlines your team’s or company’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals. While there should be widespread involvement in the development of your organizational constitution, the responsibility for making sure you have one lies with top management. Once everybody is clear on your business purpose and values, the next aspect of effective leadership kicks in—living according to your organizational constitution. That involves turning the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down to emphasize that everyone is responsible—able to respond— for living the constitution and getting the desired results while modeling the organization’s valued behaviors. Now top management becomes responsive cheerleaders for actualizing the organizational constitution. This brings in the second, servant aspect of servant leadership—the operational/implementation aspect. (Edmonds, 2014)
I think that the focus on the operational part of Servant Leadership is correct, although I have my own criticism of the concept (which I will develop later). But the text begins by emphasizing the importance of cultural transformation:
Of course, understanding the need for a safe, inspiring culture is one thing. Creating and managing a productive, engaging culture is another thing entirely. How does a leader go about creating something that, on one hand, is so important, but, on the other hand, seems so amorphous? It can be done through the creation of an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution is a formal document that states the company’s guiding principles and behaviors. These liberating rules present the best thinking on how the organization wants to operate. The constitution is a North Star that outlines the company’s or team’s defined playing field for employee performance and values. (Edmonds, 2014)
(strangely, like so many other texts, the author does not stop to define culture, not even in the context of corporate culture)
The text develops a thesis of the author, that the success of the transformation and the adoption of a new culture depends on three axes:
- Servant Leadership
- A workplace constitution
- A top-down implementation
We will explore each of these axes, but I want to mention that throughout the text the author presents multiple ways (through questionnaires, of simple application) to measure adoption. Although the measurement methodology is simple (without control groups or triangulation of data, for example), knowing from experience how little time is available in the transformations, I think it is more than adequate.
Servant Leadership is the concept that the leader essentially serves as inspiration and facilitator for the people who produce the products or services. For the author, the key question is:
If, for example, you believe that “ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when goals are clear and leaders serve followers’ needs,” that might be a foundational element of your leadership philosophy. The vital question to have in mind as you craft your leadership philosophy is, “Are you a servant leader or a self-serving leader?” (Edmonds, 2014)
Servant Leadership Is the Foundation If I have inspired you to take steps (literally and figuratively) to boost your physical health, let’s look at the foundation of leading others effectively: servant leadership. (Edmonds, 2014)
Helping your organization’s leaders and employees align to these new rules of engagement requires that you be a model of servant leadership, a coach of servant leadership, and a champion of servant leadership. How do you know if you are a servant leader? You don’t have a vote! The only folks who do have a vote are those that interact with you daily: work colleagues, customers, friends, and family members. You must ask regularly, “How can I be of greater service to you?” then refine your behaviors to serve more effectively. (Edmonds, 2014)
Essentially, it is to shift the focus of a company’s governance from a leader in the despotic style of management-top-down to the Foucaultian definition of governance as the governance of a ship: helping the rest to accomplish their tasks and providing clarity both in general direction as in particular situations. How to carry out this “provide clarity” is detailed in …
Essentially the knot in the book. The car offers a step-by-step (too long to include here) of how to make a working constitution, from which sub-constitutions hang. Interestingly, while I found no explicit reference, it essentially models the corporate enterprise into a federal state model: united by a general constitution, which governs interaction and core values (the “federal” level) with departmental and constitutional sub-constitutions. working groups (the “provincial” and “municipal” levels so to speak). The leader is responsible for this clarity, to the point that the author advises evaluating employees (he provides a quadrant for this) and letting go (that is, kicking out) those who are not aligned in order to maintain the unpolluted culture.
A clear, succinct values definition helps people that interact with you daily by knowing what you mean by each of your values. (Edmonds, 2014)
One of the most interesting ways is that it not only seeks an abstract model, but also tries to generate a concrete image of what a good worker is, according to culture:
This piece outlines what great personal citizenship looks, acts, and sounds like from you, every day. (Edmonds, 2014)
Al mismo tiempo, se preocupa mucho en que aquello que está bajado sea totalmente medible, para eliminar ambigüedades o discusiones:
Your team or company’s valued behaviors must outline observable, tangible, measurable actions. Just as organizational leaders manage to performance standards, these behaviors become values standards that are lived and proactively managed by leaders and employees throughout the company or team. (Edmonds, 2014)
Are these behaviors measurable? Can peers and customers provide feedback about the degree to which any leader or employee of this company is demonstrating these desired behaviors? I hope you agree with me that they are—and they can. (Edmonds, 2014)
In the implementation, the author points out that one of the biggest problems is the one he calls “Management By Announcement”. Essentially, what happens in many of the transformations:
- A consultancy is announced
- It is carried out
- The leader announces the results of the consultancy and provides some actions or changes
- There is no follow-up and finally, everything is in nothing
This smells a lot like the logical consequences of “managing by announcements,” a viruslike plague I call “MbA.” When infected by MbA, leaders do a good job of defining purpose or policies or procedures; they publish and announce the details, and then expect all employees to immediately align to them. Leaders believe, “We’ve told them, so now they know, and now they’ll do what we’ve told them.” How does a leader check that assumption? Ask and observe—often. It is likely you’ll find that too few leaders or employees are able to repeat the purpose or policies or procedures to you. (Edmonds, 2014)
Model the Way Once the organizational constitution has been published, leaders must model the valued behaviors, every day, in every interaction. (Edmonds, 2014)
Align the Way Once leaders embrace their responsibility to demonstrate the department’s values and behaviors, leaders must then coach other leaders, managers, supervisors, and so on (anyone with formal direct reports) to demonstrate the valued behaviors as well. (Edmonds, 2014)
At this stage, each leader is essentially an agent of change and it is the leaders’ responsibility to model (i.e., lead by example) and carry out the transformation. The author acknowledges that resistance can be generated, but provides a series of examples of how to work it and advises not to negotiate on anything, once the transformation was decided.
This text, on the one hand, I found extremely useful. In a field where theoretical texts abound, a step-by-step model, with each of the documented steps, is something exceptional. I like the clarity of the model, which also offers how to generate concrete examples of the transformation and multiple approaches it takes, too detailed for this analysis. The experience of its author and its passage through various transformations is obvious.
On the other hand, the idea of a system of constitutions seems extremely valuable to me, as does the hermeneutics it uses to develop them. I think I will start to apply this in my working groups as a way to gain clarity.
My main criticism is about Servant Leadership and its focus on leaders. In my personal opinion, the book is only considering leaders as agents of transformation. This worker / leader divide, while softened by the term “Servant,” sounds like a misstep. Yes, it says that the Servant Leader is only there to serve those who carry out productive tasks, but can this be so? In my experience, Servant Leadership is a way, at best, to influence listening to leaders and at worst, an excuse behind which despotic leaders hide, who do not take responsibility for the tasks (” I only listened to the experts ”).
This is seen most when leaders are the sole guardians of values. An interesting exercise may be to compare it with a modern state: in it, although the inhabitants do not have direct decision-making power, by voting they can discuss or dispute values. In the model presented by the author, employees can only adapt to the constitutions lowered by the leaders, lacking any mechanism to change them. In fact, this situation is reinforced with the recommendation that leaders kick out those who are not aligned with them. If we had to imagine a state generated by this model, it would probably be an oligarchy, with a patrician or noble class that keeps its values and a class of employees that can only decide to emigrate or accept what comes their way.
This could be, in my opinion, modified with the displacement of leaders as guardians and arbiters of values to a more distributed system of responsibilities, where everyone is responsible for something and in any case the general constitution is a sum of the values of the constitutions that depend on them, a synthesis rather than a model. A bazaar instead of a cathedral.
But this criticism does not detract from the value of the book’s clarity and methodical strength. An interesting book to read and reflect, especially for those of us who work in corporate culture.