Metaphors for new management: Mountain climbing

All climbers start pretty much from the same place. But the route you take can be different. You may ascend by a popular route such as a less demanding ridge. You might undertake a vertical wall or even tackle a route that has never previously been undertaken. You may go with a guide, on a rope of two or solo – depending on your ability.

Climbers are generally very good at choosing a route appropriate to their ability – usually at the top end of their ability. The point is, there is room on every mountain for those who wish to be there.

In contrast, the traditional organisational culture is built like a ladder, with many rungs. Little room for soloists or quick ascents here. Time must be spent on each rung before moving up. Investment is made in resources to keep both you and the rungs in place.

Individuals put in effort to reach for the rung above them. The longer you stay on the ladder, the higher you get. The higher the rung, the higher the grade, the bigger the office, the more important you become. But, because the organisational ladder narrows sharply as it reaches upwards, there is less and less room. The top becomes exclusive.

Some people, faced with all these rungs and the constrictions above them, just give up from the start. They attempt a few rungs and then get exhausted. This confirms the view those higher up have of them as “hands” or “drones”, demotivated and listless.

And so the culture is perpetuated.

So – what to do? Changing the culture of an entire organisation is difficult, but you can do something where you are with what you have got – your own team or unit.

One suggestion that I have regularly pursued with clients is to ask the simple question:

If we are to be more effective, we need to….

This identifies your key result areas, your KRAs, those activities that are the highest priority to guarantee your effectiveness. Each one of these becomes an improvement project with owners (not the boss) and individuals committed to a future that they have created.

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