People throw the word “culture” around like there’s a shared concept of what in the world they’re talking about.
“Culture”, for some, means for others to “do what you’re told.”
For snarky cynics, it means “what the website says and what no one actually does.”
For hopelessly optimistic folks, it means “that we’re all friends and we get along.”
Close, but no cigar, if you ask me.
Culture is, as I recently read, simply “The way we do things around here.”
How powerfully elegant is that?
The way we do things creates the culture in which we live and work.
So, if we want to change culture – we just change the way we do things.
Sounds easy, huh? But you know I like a process, so here goes:
First, we need to understand how it is we do things. This requires a little step back, and the detachment to catalogue our “how” without judgment.
How do we want people to spend their days? In back-to-back meetings? In the field? At their desks? On their feet?
What’s our paperwork flow like? What’s our approval process like?
How we spend our time reveals our true focus – so how does your organization (including your family) spend its time?
That’ll show you something really important.
Once we know how we do things, we need to ask the critical question: Who benefits from our culture?
If the only people benefitting are senior management, you’ve got a problem. Like, if senior leaders get their own suites at the Ritz Carlton while middle managers and others on the same trip have to double up at the Days Inn – what are you saying to your people? What are you creating?
If the only person benefitting is Carol in accounting whose fear of making a mistake means a ton of paperwork and molasses-like response time, you’ve got a problem. When you center your entire organization on the quirks and foibles of one personality – what are you telegraphing about what you value? About what’s important?
If the entire organization is centered around the CEO’s reluctance to have difficult conversations, you’ve got a problem. We’re talking about power grabs and petty tyrants and office politics and dysfunction kinds of problems.
And no one needs that nonsense.
If the only people benefitting are white men with a college degree, you have a very big problem. And I would argue that it’s time to move your organization beyond 1989 and firmly into 2019.
You have to be brave when you examine who benefits, because that person might be you. It’s entirely possible that the system is set up to mirror your strengths, values and priorities. Entirely possible.
But if you’re the only person benefitting, you owe it to your organization’s success to open it up. To allow more people the opportunity to grow and learn and thrive.
Creating a system which gives more people a chance to bring their knowledge and expertise to the table means building a culture that works.
Because any group makes better decisions with diverse voices and perspectives. You’ll also keep people on the team longer.
You’ll have more success.
The thing about culture is that it’s often created in a fractured set of vacuums – HR does things one way and Finance does something their way and Sales is a creature unto itself. All of this adds up to “the way we do things around here”.
And if the way we do things around here isn’t working, we have a responsibility to make it work. For everyone.