I recently read of a very large international aid organization’s efforts to create a grand change through innovation and technology. As an organizational consultant for several small and large PUBLIC and PRIVATE institutions, I can attest to the difficulty (near impossibility) of spurning innovation and change in ANY organization, particularly when an organization does not foster a culture of innovation or organizational improvement and minimalizes individuals in the organization who do.  This applies to all types of organizations - whether the donors or contractors, churches or retail stores, schools or municipal governments.

Over the years, I have witnessed several excellent professionals in many facets of public service getting ‘black-listed’ for sharing concerns and suggestions about things needing improvement in their organization. Punitive actions rather than an honest, open dialogue. We often DON’T LIKE to hear what we NEED to hear - particularly when we are headed in the wrong direction. I am the first to admit it. Few people like to hear that we are overweight or that we stink, and few organizations like to hear that their organizational culture is obese or that it stinks. I have a friend who once did just that - told me I stunk - literally. While at the same time offered me an expensive bottle of cologne. I got it. He wasn’t trying to offend me, rather, he respected me enough to save me the embarrassment of offending anyone else. But when we are fat or stinky…we have a choice to make - clean up or continue to put our health at risk or offend those around us. Government can do the same.

Discovering that you stink is embarrassing, but we’ll get over it. Discovering that your organizational culture stinks and that it is costing you $ millions in employee complaints or lost contracts - or costing you the public’s trust - not so easy to get over, but it is a whole lot easier easier than ignoring it. Nelson Mandela once quoted Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Powerful to do good - to change for the better. To improve our organization’s capacity to to greater things!

I challenge International Development organizations as well as myself and my colleagues in Local Government to take a close look at ourselves AND our organizations and begin a healthy dialogue about ‘what is troubling in our organizations’. Rather then masking our stink with more and more perfume, let’s give ourselves a real good scrubbing. It might not be a comfortable exercise, but the results can be, well…refreshing.

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