The Illusion of Hunky-Doryness – Part II: As luck would have it, I’m bulimic

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The latest in our line of mythology illumination…

BadConsultant really should have learnt his lesson

[denial, avoidance, resistance… anyone… Anyone?]

by now. But sure enough, a moth to the networking flame, I found myself doing the circuit again a couple of weeks back. Margartias were quaffed, nachos nibbled and… erm… well there was much conversation and mutual distribution of business cards. All in all, a fun and successful week.

So why my dismay?

Well, let’s start with the obvious: HR in its current state is rapidly becoming obsolete, almost a parody of itself. So, an HR conference was always going to make me go ‘Hmmmmmm…’ more than I normally do. But that wasn’t it… If anything, I was reassured that while the function’s leaders may be missing the point, there is talent deeper in the function that is ready to emerge

[and for whom BadConsultant will be writing a book later this year]

and reinvent the future of talent and organization capability.

No. It was simply this. Being an organization culture

[groupie, geek, nerd, guru, observer, catalyst]

student, I was pleased to see the word culture appear in at least one presentation title

[did I mention that many HR leaders are missing the point?]

until I got to the session. Which was OK. Really. It was OK. BadConsultant didn’t grind his teeth once.

It was slide 3.

Slide 3.

Which repeated the homily:

“Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast”

[funny, when you type it with capitals it looks like a newspaper headline – Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast, police are searching for a bloated bureaucracy addicted to manipulating financial reports that maintain the perception of double-digit growth]

Turning to my ready reference source, Google, I get 4,640,000 hits on “culture eats strategy for breakfast quote” – and even in the first page worth of links, I see it attributed to several sources.

[obviously, the management quote just appears fully formed… like paperclips – c’mon have you ever purchased one?]

Some inventive spark had even extended the concept by suggesting that culture also ate strategy for lunch.

[though no-one had yet suggested that dinner was on the menu – a nod to work-life balance, perchance?]

Hence my dismay at the conference. Here was somebody preaching to the supposedly enlightened about a subject that IS the future of the function, leading with a phrase just about as hackneyed as something about someone being someone else’s ‘greatest asset’.

Like it or not, while BadConsultant is pleased to note that there is at least awareness that culture is eating strategy for breakfast, he can’t help observing that most corporations keep feeding new strategies to the beast in the hope that it’ll get full and stop stuffing its face. Truth is that it doesn’t… it quietly nips to the bathroom, pukes up the last strategic solution it sampled and returns to the table for more.

And there’s the problem. We’ve created another myth that supports the culture of averageness, where failure is acceptable so long as it doesn’t do too much damage, so long as the illusion of hunky-doryness is maintained.

Organization culture is bulimic. It binges, pukes, binges, pukes, on and on in a continual cycle

[and it has REALLY bad teeth]

and the one group of people who are able to see it for what it is, has even the closest appreciation of what makes it so and, some would argue, already have political permission to act upon it, choose not to do so but instead – because they’ve been indoctrinated to believe that a seat at the table comes from being a ‘Strategic Business Partner’ – collude with the self-destructive behavior.

So, if organization culture is bulimic, why aren’t we treating it as such:

  1. Intervene
  2. Introduce self-awareness of the situation
  3. Identify automatic thoughts
  4. Encourage behavioral experiments
  5. Structured, controlled rebuilding of identity

BadConsultant would argue that we’ve actually got pretty good at steps 1 and 3 – well, those of us running organization surveys may have done if we’re not just using a framework off the shelf, however the very last thing that HR

[heck, let’s be expansive: Corporations!]

will do is encourage experimentation in order to rebuild identity. That might destroy the illusion of hunky-doryness. It might erode the slavish HR belief structure that leaders have all the answers

[clue: they don’t]

that it’s possible to make everyone behave in predictable ways

[clue: it isn’t]

that a corporation can protect itself from all risk

[clue: it can’t]

That’s the mythology that is the illusion of hunky-doryness.

So.. Bottom line…

The next time your business leaders offer up a strategic solution to your current business challenges, start watching your culture closely. If it goes quiet and politely excuses itself from the table, it may be time for you to knock on the bathroom door and say “it’s time we had a talk”.

And that knock may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

With love,


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