I love music. I often find inspiration in the lyrics. Sometimes a song provides inspiration, a last missing piece of a puzzle.Take “Reverence” by Faithless. One phrase really took my attention. “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”.
“You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”
A while ago I finished a three-day teaching assignment in Algeria. I took part in an MBA-program, organized by the “Business School Netherlands”. The participants and I went through some co-creative sessions. Topics were Strategic HR, Leadership and Coaching. We had great conversation. Sometimes we were totally aligned. But some moments I saw doubts and surprise in their eyes. At other moments the surprise was all mine.
Once we had a fantastic experience of flow. We were talking about our ideal corporate environment and culture. And about the gap between the current reality and that ideal situation. To close this gap we tend to introduce HR and Leadership strategies. These look surprisingly simple at first sight. All we need is vision. Then the rest will follow.
I was not too sure about that. I wanted to go much more in detail. I wanted to explore the link between vision and strategy, between strategy and policy. I also wanted to analyse the role of leadership. But during the breaks it became clear to me why they kept on talking (only) about vision. They started telling me about the situation in Algeria. Algeria is a country in full development. There’s a gigantic need for education, management, leadership, vision and many other things.
A guided Tour through Algiers
My great participants also honoured me with a guided tour through Algiers. They told me not to look around too much. They said the place is run-down and dilapidated. They kindly invited me to look at the potential of the place. To see that there is a need for a vision for the future. They asked me to just close my eyes during taxi drives and to feel and listen to what was happening on the streets.
I saw some run-down buildings and streets. But still the people working in that neighborhood did not seem to be bothered or depressed by that. On the contrary. They seemed to work very hard. They seemed to have a mission in their mind. There’s the problem, my hosts told me. People work very hard, but they seem to have difficulties to see beyond just looking after their families. There is no vision on how to develop the country. No vision of the future. No vision on how to contribute to that. No national identity.
People use their eyes to “see” the here and now. But they lack a vision. They don’t even need their eyes to do what they do. They can do their work and live their lives almost blindly.
But they do need vision to look further. And a vision can lead to true and lasting change in their country.
What do we need for building such a vision? Or maybe we should ask a different question. What keeps us from developing a vision? Often it’s about culture or habits. The conversations during the tour confirmed some research on Algeria. This brought me to the following 3 thoughts on managing change, the Algerian Way. And by looking at the Algerian way, one questions also the own approach.
- How does a manager realize change?
- How about the sense of time?
- How do manager and team relate to each other?
1. Being a (Change) Manager in Algeria
“We can only dream about modern management”
“They are not managers, they act like family. But you already have family. One is enough.”
Being a manager in Algeria is a challenge. Or maybe not. Management is conservative and hierarchical. It’s defined by a strict definition of roles.
- Conservative behaviour (e.g. dress codes and general conduct) is commendable.
- You have to show and demand the proper respect for position, age and rank.
It is necessary to understand this hierarchical system. People believe their managers got their promotion because of their greater experience. It is not right to question any of his decisions. And managers should not even consult their employees before deciding. Managers are often paternalistic. Professional relationships between managers and employees usually overlap with personal relationships. They act like family.
This kind of leadership culture does not really stimulate change. Change is often seen as a threat to society and to the company. So managers are generally averse to change. Changes must be seen as positive for the ‘whole’, not just for the individual.
Of course change does happen. But managers in Algeria need to take into account that change will take longer than planned. And group effort will be the driving force behind it. The group will thoroughly assess the change and everyone needs to agree to it.
Let’s be honest. I was not able to change the group’s conviction. Not one model I showed could change their mind. But at least now the participants are aware of other existing approaches. And that’s essential. Because now there is awareness and eventually a willingness to start a journey themselves. And through this awareness and willingness they could influence their colleagues, managers, companies and their society.
2. Approach to Time
“Patience is what you need to know about and practice”
Deadlines and time are fluid in Algeria. Patience is key. Essentially in a culture of relationships, you need to take the time to get to know someone. Don’t rush. If you do, you may jeopardise any future coöperation. It’s advisable to stress the importance of agreed deadlines and how not keeping them may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Algeria to avoid confrontation over a missed deadline. The main purpose is to maintain a positive atmosphere within the team.
Some managers who have experienced global and intercultural environments, may have a different appreciation of the need of timing and deadlines. They will more likely try to meet them.
3. ‘Boss’ or Team Player?
“We don’t play, we respect and try not to be embarrassed”
Due to the hierarchical setup, it is important that the manager maintains his/her role as ‘boss’. In this way (s)he instills the necessary respect. When the manager needs to work collectively with his/her team however, it is important that he states this need and encourages the team to cooperate openly.
If an individual contributes sub-optimally, the manager needs to deal with this carefully. It is essential that the employee does not feel embarrassed in front of the colleagues. The rest of the group needs to feel able to continue to take part.
Is Europe so much different here ?
Also in my culture, corrective and even positive feedback about the performance of an individual employee is not appreciated when given in front of a whole group.
Change as compromise.
Any successful change will necessarily come from the inside. Even if it’s triggered by the world outside. Successful change will always be a compromise between necessity and urgency, and the respect for these three cultural features. Unless of course a radical event would take place.
Again I asked myself if Europe is so much different ?
Do we like change that much? Isn’t change for us often a matter of compromise as well. Do we not accept compromise against better judgement? Will change not pass easier if it happens in respect of our habits and values ? It is like that unless some dramatic event would take place. In that case change simply occurs. Period.
How are we doing in Europe ?
I left with the impression that Algeria still has a (long) way to go in becoming a so-called “modern” place of business. My group asked a confronting question: how are we doing in Europe ?
I would hope better. But alas. We know our own depressing corporate architectures. As we know our own conservative reflexes.
We may perhaps not want to see them because we think we have a good and solid vision. But then again, You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.