photo by Bobby Rettew
photo by Bobby Rettew

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of spending an hour at Clemson University (go Tigers!) to chat with Bobby Rettew’s business writing class about blogs. The session was intended to focus on the hows and whys of business blogging, but one of the topics I found myself touching on was corporate resistance to blogging – and to the evolution of business communications in the emerging era of the social web. For some reason, that tangential subject has been poking at me ever since.

I originally started writing a post about the difficulty of finding your voice and place in the blogging world, about the obstacles that stand in the way of balancing being a model employee and being a business blogger, but I still couldn’t shake that resistance to change conversation going on inside my head. I must have written my intro paragraph a dozen times over before finally giving in to the need to write about what was really on my mind. So here we are.

Fortunately, it din’t take my mind long to wander back to an interview given by Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Levy to AdAge’s Scott Donaton back in 2007 that focused on that very topic: Back then, though, Levy had refered to it as the threat of corporate fossilization. Pretty cool stuff. I thought today might be as good a day as any to dust off his wisdom and share it here. (Don’t worry, the interview may not be fresh, but what Maurice has to say is. And as a bonus, revisting that piece keeps me from writing a 30,000 thesis on the subject, which is always good.)

If you’ve ever worked for or with a company that was so set in its ways that helping it get back on its feet was as tough as getting an out of shape couch potato to train for a sub 3 hour marathon finish, you’ll understand why Levy’s words as as valid today as they were before the economy tanked. The guy’s words don’t just echo what many of us experience quasi-daily, but lays them out in a way that really resonates with me. Here are my favorite bits of insight  from that interview. Just three comments from Maurice:

“I have never stabilized an organization. Crystallizing an organization is freezing the energy. In chemistry, instability is very good because it creates some combinations you don’t expect.” “Without change, there is fossilization, and that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Ideas are so fragile, so tenuous, that managers must destroy layers that can obscure or damage them. If you have an organization that is too administrative, you are just killing the ideas. As we say in France, when you ask a committee to draw a horse, you get a camel.”

Read the full interview here.

So there you have it. My contribution to Maurice’s observations comes in the form of prescriptive advice to execs trying to awaken their sleeping giants. This is how you start. This is how you rebuild your company culture, starting with your own mindset. Not through 10-step programs, best practices and methodologies (those come later) but by first changing the way you think about a) the dynamics of a truly vibrant company culture and b) the leadership style best suited to breathe life and power into it:

As a business leader, look for flux. Look for tangents. Look for the unexpected.

Recruit adventurously.

Give your people the freedom and flexibility to contribute in the most personal, passionate of ways.

Eliminate silos and procedures when it comes to the sharing of ideas. When it comes to dialogue. When it comes to cooperation.

Hunt down every internal communication obstacle and systematically, mercilessly crush them into oblivion.

Take the same idea, and apply it to external communications.

Decentralize “meetings”.

Deconstruct the product/services ideation process.

Empower your people to set the stage for extraordinary new products, business improvements, and creative work.

If you can’t trust your people enough to empower them, to literally give them the keys to the place, then you aren’t hiring the right people.

Your job as a leader isn’t always to “lead”. Most of the time, because you aren’t there to bark orders or stand over everyone’s shoulder, it is simply to create an environment, an ecosystem, that allows your team, your army, to do the best possible work they can. It is to create a culture that makes them want to be a part of something greater than the sum of their job description. That makes them proud to be, even.

Now repeat after me:

Ideas are fragile.

Without a steady dose of change, organizations wither and die.

These are the two little mantras you should keep chanting every time you pick up the phone or a magazine or your TV remote. They should be in the back of your mind every time you shake someone’s hand or invite them to have a seat.

Embrace instability. Welcome change. Engage uncertainty. Welcome the unknown and love it for all of its infinite number of possibilities.

And they truly are infinite.

Chew on that. Have a great Wednesday. 😉

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