Years ago, at the World Economic Forum, Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal presented the idea of the “smell of the place”. It was a means to grasp the context in which people find themselves in an organization. His description of smell invites us to capture the context we are in with all our senses as well as how our body reacts. Is it engaged or does it disconnect?
In his speech he shares two sets of words which help us see behaviors who depend on the context.
The first set being compliance, control, contract, and constraints. They all impact the individual in a restrictive way. It goes beyond the norms and rules, its how they are felt. The constraints determining the limits within which someone can act. Compliance being the behavior people are expected to align with. The contract defining the relationship with the boss and control being a sense of restriction the person will feel subject to.
Entering such a context the smell will resemble more the one from Calcutta in July where it is humid and hot. One where the sense of being tired is normality.
A very different set of dimensions is stretch, discipline, trust, and support. All of which rely on possibility linked to personal engagement.
In contrast to constraints, stretch is the invitation and willingness to expand one’s own possibilities to grow and being excited about it. Discipline is the idea of self-discipline in the sense of being engaged instead of compliant. It involves engaging in common decisions even when they are challenging, to stretch with the others and accept to belong. Support is the presence of guidance, resources, and knowledge that leveling up is possible and wanted. Trust then is a different type of contract, it is the ability to know that others in the organization are as engaged as you are and will do their job.
And yes, there is a need for fine-tuning and adapting to one another. But the idea here is to grasp the essence of these dimensions. They serve as guidelines for creating an environment within which these values and dimensions can come to existence because of the attention given to creating the context in which these dimensions are natural.
Just like going into the forest of Fontainebleau in spring makes one want to jump, run and move to the pleasure of breathing crisp and fresh air.
It’s an idea that we can grasp intuitively. It is experience.
And it is a stretch.
The stretch may be the reason why most still stick to the idea of changing the other.
It’s much easier to push responsibility to others and tell them that they have to change.