The snowstorms of organizational life

February 15, 2010 · by Allison Porter · Filed Under Choices, Previous · Leave a Comment

The other day it snowed four inches and school was canceled.  It seemed like any other snow day for me: the kids sleep in and I worry about the effects of too much Xbox.  I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if I hadn’t been spending the day with a group of Canadian trade unionists.  They just laughed.  It was only through their eyes that I could see that it wasn’t an Act of God that schools close when it snows.  It made me think about two leaders I know.  One used to say “this is a crisis,” and by that he meant everything else had to stop.  The other was meeting with me during a critical “storm” within his organization.  When I asked if he needed to go take care of things, he said, “There are other people doing that.” So it is not a fact of climate or organizational life that our strategic priorities are ditched in a crisis.  It is a choice.  I have heard that cities with a lot of snow almost never have snow days.  That’s because they expect it to snow, so they are prepared.  They set aside the resources and have the equipment.  Kids in those cities are used to standing on snow piles to wait for the bus, while in my community the parents object if the sidewalks aren’t completely clear.  If our organizations are going to achieve their goals, we need leaders who can see that crises are to be expected and cultures where people are flexible enough to stand on snow piles if necessary to get the job done.  In sum, maybe we need to be a little more like Toronto, and a little less like Washington, DC, when the snow storm hits.


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