“The company needs to rebuild a culture of safety to prevent this from happening again.”
“We must establish a culture of innovation to remain competitive.”
“Their hostile culture of distrust caused this.”
We’ve heard things like this before, where culture is reduced to a single adjective. It also happens to trigger a personal pet peeve of mine. There may be dominant themes or characteristics of a culture categorized by things like “safety,” “innovation,” or “distrust,” but culture is never simply one thing. It is a complex social construct that influences behaviors, interactions, and perceptions in organizational life--not only when it comes to particular topics. So it’s never just a “this or that” culture, but Culture with a capital C. Even then Culture is only part of a bigger context in a company, a larger “system” (a la Peter Senge) made up of other big pieces, like business factors, environment, behaviors, experiences, and people. Changes in one area can have reverberating effects in other areas. Managing the big pieces and setting the right conditions is the key to being successful. This may sound overwhelming, but this is how it really is—life.
This is also why the making, changing, and managing of culture can never be simplified to a “Top 5 Things You Can Do” list. There’s way, way, more to it if you want it to be meaningful and real—and a company has to genuinely want to invest in their people in order to do this. Anything short of that is merely cherry picking actions that have little sustainability in the long-term.
Just because it takes more, doesn’t mean that it can’t be prioritized, organized, and approached with discipline. This is why Design of Work Experience (DOWE) exists and why I wrote Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences at Work as a much-needed how-to that didn’t exist before. Like any practice, the capability must be cultivated. And it’s worth it. Learn more about it here, or reach out to me.
Photo Credit: Piotr Lohunko
Bravo! It’s always an achievement to have a great culture. The hard work required to attain what most organizations struggle with should be recognized. The biggest mistake you can make now is to get complacent. Like the concept of entropy in physics, what isn’t maintained deteriorates. That is so very true in organizational life. Here’s what to do next:
Double-check to make sure you still have a great culture and determine its direction. Is it getting even better, or is it eroding? The way you find out is to feed organizational self-awareness through an experience study. That is, engage with employees and leadership alike to deeply explore what influences the culture and its people. Find out about the current state and how it’s lived. Identify opportunities for continuous learning and improvement. Develop/update your strategy and take purposeful action. Like a healthy lifestyle, the quality of a culture must be conscientiously assessed and managed. It’s not (just) about repeating what you think works well. Rather, it’s more about managing to the same results. There’s a difference.
2. ENSURE CONSISTENCY.
That being said, there are foundations that must remain consistent as hallmarks of the organization: vision, mission, values, and the behaviors that reflect them. This requires consistently managing your culture. Everything else is fluid and flexible.
If your organizational structure is separated by function, siloes, location, or some other factor, it takes concerted effort to ensure consistencies while also balancing what makes every work group special. Remember to leverage the unique strengths that come from the diversity of your employees.
Continuing to have a great culture is determined by the degree to which your organization can cultivate it on a long-term basis. Developing and following through on strategies helps to anchor day-to-day management of your culture with direction, purpose, meaning, and impact. These are unique to your organization and its context.
Needless to say, no amount of discussion or advice will help without true effort behind it. If you’ve already got a great culture, you’ve got the talent and ability to keep it. Best wishes on the New Year!
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