Your Organization is like a Fishtank: Leadership and Culture for the 21st Organization

Your Organization is like a Fishtank

Human Intelligent (HI) Workplace
Helping Leaders Help Themselves

July 1, 2024

“Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything-for better or for worse.”
Simon Sinek

The above quote highlights the importance of organizational culture. I title this paper how I do because of something I experienced many years ago. I have been in the field of leadership development, organizational change, and DEI for pretty much all of my career. Many years back while working for an organization, I also externally partnered with an organization as a consultant and provided some services to them.

As I prepared I looked up and saw my three fishtanks in my living room. It dawned on me that during the week I worked for an organization with its organizational culture, politics, good and bad leadership behaviors, and my relationships with my colleagues. In a way, I was within an organizational fish tank. When things were not well, the organization was downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, and re-engineering which impacted everyone. When a fish tank is not clean, or the water is not right fish can get sick and even die. And depending on my role in the organization and how these changes would impact me, could also impact my health.

With my upcoming client, I was sort of walking around the organization as I do with my fish tanks. I can see from the outside and above what sometimes the client does not. Because of this as a consultant, I can also be forthright and not be concerned about my role in organizational change of command and that if I say something not seen positively by management it will have negative career implications for me. I might just not be called back as a consultant.

I compare the water in the organization to its organizational culture. A clean fish tank has clear water, the fish are healthy, and it can serve as a relaxing visual. A healthy organizational culture is one where leaders are transparent, supportive, empathetic, compassionate, and listen to their workforce. The workers feel engaged, and healthy, have a purpose, and are glad to be doing the work they do for the organization they work for. As I read once, organizational culture is best described by how your workforce feels on Sunday evening before going into work on Monday morning.

The focus on humans in organizations has been ongoing and seems to have increased in importance, particularly after the Pandemic. With the explosion of working remotely and now hybrid and the changing psychology of today’s workforce, it will be imperative for organizations to adapt and maintain a healthy organizational culture. Similar to a fish tank owner, you want to ensure the tank is clean and has the right temperature in the water so the fish can remain healthy. This is even more an imperative if you own a saltwater fish tank because these fish are very expensive.

While I don’t mean to demean or compare the value of humans at work to fish in a fish tank, I do see a correlation.  A fish tank owner was to take care of their investment for both personal and financial reasons. It is their hobby, they’re proud and glad to have them, and it can serve as a relaxer. And for even more important reasons, should an organization’s leadership want to ensure they are maintaining a healthy organizational climate and culture? Their workforce is one of their most expensive resources and the one that ensures the objectives are complete, and they need to ensure their workforce is working in a healthy and engaging workplace.

For the above reasons, we have introduced the concept of a Human Intelligent (HI) Workplace and created an organization that helps other organizations become more of a HI workplace. I believe this is what will be needed as organizations look to be more human-centered while incorporating AI and addressing all of the changes taking place, including the changing psychology of today’s workforce and increasingly becoming a more humane workplace.

We define an (HI) Workplace as one where leaders model effective leadership behaviors by creating an organizational culture where the worker’s experience is one of remaining engaged while collaborating with their diverse team members.

One where the workforce feels psychologically safe when raising different perspectives, taking risks, being innovative, or being creative. It is a workplace where the workforce feels listened to and understood by their leaders. It is a workplace where the workforce finds fulfillment in the work they do and the organization they work in.

Some questions to consider are:

  • In the era of AI and exponential change, is my organization a Human Intelligent Workplace?
  • Are our leaders modeling effective leadership behaviors that enable an environment and culture of psychological safety?
  • Is our organization ready for the change it needs to make to truly be a HI Workplace?
  • Is our organization as clear and transparent as a clean and beautiful fish tank?
  • Is the workforce healthy and engaged?

We also have questionnaires that measure your organization’s Readiness for Change and Leadership Effectiveness. Two additional components that will be crucial for your organization’s success in its journey to become a HI Workplace.

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