What We Learned in Corporate America from the New York Prison Outbreak

By Daniel F. Prosser, Special for  USDR

America’s Prisons – Where 2 million American’s are out of sight, out of mind and low on the priority list. We assume that guards and prison workers have an organizational structure; that management is doing their job. The recent New York prison outbreak that was plaguing headlines and had residents of New York State in fear, is just one more episode in America’s failing prison system. What went wrong  here?

A prison system is no different from most any other organization.  Yet so many prisons do not get measured with the same intense scrutiny as do corporations.  There are distinct disconnections that occur in business that cause 87 percent of companies to fail in executing their strategy, and just like in a corporation, individuals who work in a prison do not operate in a  vacuum.

Who was responsible? Rather than addressing the symptom by blaming an employee, we need leadership to actually address the real problem  here.

For over a decade, studying business performance issues, I’ve learned that only 13 percent of companies successfully execute their strategy.  In all of that research, the following three syndromes occur that lead to this nearly 90 percent failure rate and these are the conditions likely to be found in this prison (and perhaps most prisons) as well. This is a cause for major  concern.

These three core syndromes are found in every company and here is how to address the symptoms in an  organization.

1. Avoidance Syndrome™ – This is a condition in organizations where individuals and management play it safe and are usually found focusing purely on how to avoid failure, rather than how to succeed. As has been proven in various studies of professional sports teams, the desired result a team or individual focuses on is what typically  materializes.

Solution – Create a culture of connectedness. An environment that truly recognizes, appreciates, rewards and fosters a sense of individual empowerment for the betterment of the company.  This type of culture doesn’t happen overnight. It’s cultivated over time and through a methodical internal campaign that involves telling the story in a highly effective way.  A story such that every single employee will at his or her core want to share the story with every single person they encounter; to share their soul experience with customers, vendors, friends and family.  This is the infectious and contagious virus that you want…called the empowerment virus™.  One that is unstoppable.  When a company embraces this type of cultural shift, the results are radically  altered.

2. Ego Syndrome™ – In this condition, employees are not empowered individually and are in an environment where they believe one person has all the answers. No one person ever has all of the answers, no matter what size or type of organization.  When this is the culture, training and environment, the rogue employee inevitably emerges, just as in the prison  outbreak.

Solution – Once a company has addressed the conditions that are negatively impacting results, one must look at the radical transformation that needs to occur to create lasting change. This occurs in the actual work environment.  Across cultures, geography and time, anthropologists have discovered that group size generates specific social behavior characteristics and as the group grows, there are tipping points where the behavior transitions into a different kind of social  order.

The smallest group is less than six to eight people for maximum effectiveness.  This is derived from historic family size and is characterized by higher trust bonds, even in non-familial relationships.  This translates into an office setting because teams of less than 6 to 8 are more likely to trust one another more and therefore take more risks and act without specific hierarchy or management.  I challenge organizations to look at a pod approach to their work force.  This allows for more effective management, an empowered environment and addresses the ego  syndrome.

3 .Rear View Mirror Syndrome™ – In a vehicle, the rear view mirror is small compared to the windshield. Focusing on the fact that things have “always been done this way” breeds an attitude of complacency and prevents others from contributing new, innovative and forward thinking solutions.  Implementing the same solutions that were adopted literally decades ago does not work to solve today’s problems and issues in the prison system.  Just as companies using solutions like a phone switch board won’t work in a hi-tech, highly connected  society.

Solution – Many organizations will have what I call an “innovation initiative” however, it’s not about naming a program. What is critical is to give employees the opportunity and forum to share, foster and develop creative and inspirational ideas that take the company forward.  I would rather call it ‘Thinking Thursday’ or ‘Forward Friday’ where it is allowing an opportunity for employees to take one challenge or problem, and provide an insightful and new approach to handling it going forward.  This type of program encourages and empowers the employees and teams to come up with new ideas.  To drive home the message, it is critical that an organization actually act upon one or more ideas and implement them then provide recognition to the team/employee that created the  idea. 

Seemingly radical things, such as this prison outbreak, occur in corporations every day.  The key is to equip the executive team with solutions that will radically disrupt employee thinking and generate positive lasting impact.  The challenge, then, is to look at how a company can radically shift the operating paradigms or models to be more profitable, more powerful, more impactful and more empowering for the employees.  Every symptom or condition that occurs in society today can be found in a company’s workplace.  We are a society that is unfortunately focused on treating symptoms and rarely addressing the real problems, corporations fall victim to that mindset as well.  This is a wakeup call for all companies and time to radically disrupt the status quo for positive  change.

Dan Prosser is a radical disrupter of the status quo in business. He is author of the multiple week best-selling book, Thirteeners: Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy–and How Yours Can Be One of Them. As CEO of The Prosser Group, he has over forty years’ experience as an entrepreneur CEO, speaker, teacher, mentor; coaching business leaders, and entrepreneurs to cultivate an uncommon approach to building an extraordinary competitive  edge.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.