There are a couple of beliefs that I have which I hope to be true. The first is that no one really comes into work to do a bad job. The second is that if the place where you work no longer wants you around then why would you want to work there?
I’ve worked in many different organisations in both the commercial and public sectors. Each had their own set of values, strap lines and mission statements. They would talk about putting the customer first, increasing shareholder value and doing business in an ethical manner. All organisations have a number of responsibilities. They need to consider the users of their services, the people who are employed or are engaged in delivering these activities, the needs of the owners of the assets which they make use of as well as their responsibilities to the wider community and environment in which they operate.
All of this is well and good, motherhood and apple pie but after many years my conclusion is that the primary purpose of any organisation is none of these.
The primary purpose of any organisation is to survive. Nearly all of our efforts are geared to make sure that we are around next year and the year after. Organisations are like organisms. Once life is earned there is an absolute determination to stick around.
Every place that I have worked has had its own culture, mostly positive but some not so. The culture is a funny thing. It is not codified in any way and no individual can describe it yet it pervades everything that goes on. People will come and go yet the culture stays. Any effort to change it can be met with a hidden resistance, a sort of dark matter, unseen yet with a strong gravitational pull.
Why is this so? Perhaps it is because organisations are collections of individuals who come in with every intention of doing the best job that they can yet at the end of the day their primary purpose is to keep employment (that is unless you are of a certain age when your purpose it to be able to retire, preferably early and with as much money as you can). The older you get, to a point, the greater is the need to remain.
Humans may be social creatures yet our genes are selfish. We may want to put the customer first, the organisation second and ourselves third but looking after number one is a well-worn mantra. Any change will be seen in the context of how it affects the person and their family. Any adverse effects will not be well received even if they are well intentioned. And to survive in an organisation you need to be able to play by the rules, stay in the game and work the system. That is how things get done.
When you add up all of the little bits of doubt and self-interest, consciously applied or not it adds up to a lot of baggage that needs to be carried around. The pressure to conform and to fit in can be enormous. Pushing against an organisation’s survival instincts can be very tiring.