Tales of the C words and the meaning of culture
“We are like islands in the sea – separate on the surface but connected in the deep’
I am often CONFUSED, CHALLENGED by and made CRAZY by some of the activities and stories of the CORPORATE world. In articles I read on leadership, management, business improvement, human resources and the variety of approaches on how to do things or how best to get the highest performance possible – the only CONSTANT I keep coming back to is the COMPLEXITIES of it all.
As an OD CONSULTANT, I constantly set sail on this C.
Not the lovely clear blue stuff you would hope to visit on your annual holiday – but the ocean of the ‘C’ words.
Is it about the way people COMMUNICATE? Is it all about CUSTOMERS? Is it all down to the CEO? Is it an organisation that lets CREATIVETY flow or is it focused on COMPLIANCE? Some would say it’s all about the managers skills and COMPETENCIES and some would argue it’s all in the way organisations deal with CHANGE. Is it how we deal with CONFLICT, the development of CORE values or is it simply making sure there is enough CASH?
I try not to get too hung up on ‘C’ words – but the fact that CULTURE is the lynchpin of any organisation that will have a significant impact on its success – I cannot help but wonder why it is a word that is so often associated with being left to CHANCE.
The truth is that all fifteen ‘C’ words I have used, and all the hundreds of others that I have not, are vital, but they are very much deployed as stand-alone subjects by some. They are visible as separate entities on the ‘surface’ of organisations – but it’s the organisations CULTURE that connects them ‘in the deep’.
Whilst the subject of corporate culture is undeniably complex, many have taken to make the subject extremely COMPLICATED. This has contributed to a lack of focus on workplace culture. It has become a word so often found on the ‘too difficult to do pile’ of development in-trays or the ‘it will be looked at when we are not so busy with other things’ list of excuses. Of all the inspirational quotes I have seen or heard in my working life, there is one that has always struck a chord with me, and it actually came from my Dad. “Keep it simple son” he used to say to me when I tried to articulate something complex. My Dad, now sadly departed – will never be seen as a ‘guru’ of leadership and management – but how profound is that!
In simple terms then, culture is now being described as ‘the way we do things around here’ and that for me sums it up. In order to manage the culture then, you need to get an understanding of how people perceive things ‘to be around here’ and when you understand that, you can use all the levers of the ‘C’ words to design a culture that can add immense value.
I believe that the workplace is full of ‘Unwritten Ground Rules’ or UGRs® that are dictating the behaviours that are taking place in an organisation – and if you can get a handle on those Unwritten Ground Rules you can begin to understand your culture. Pretty simple eh?
If your core values statement says you are resourceful, you might hope that to mean that your staff are encouraged to come up with suggestions for improved service, making the best use of what you have available to you. To make that easy for all to do, you have even put a process in place for them to feed their thoughts into the leadership for consideration. Fantastic!
It will be an absolute waste of effort however, if there is an Unwritten Ground Rule that says ‘around here when somebody comes up with a new idea the boss takes it and gets the credit so we won’t bother anymore’. It doesn’t matter if you have a great process because people will not come up with any new ideas because of the existing UGR and it will determine their behaviour. The catalyst for that UGR? A leader in the organisation somewhere and their behaviour.
When it comes to change, your success of achieving lasting change will very much depend on your culture – and of the previous behaviours of your leadership. Employees of a company that we recently worked with were asked to complete this sentence:
“Around here when it comes to change………….”
Real responses included
- People plan it badly, manage it badly and rarely see it through
- It only applies to anyone who is not in a leadership position so why should we bother
- Hang in there for long enough and it won’t happen anyway
76% of those surveyed, indicated that how they completed the sentence showed their perception of ‘the way we do things around here’ had a negative impact on the company when it came to dealing with change. As the business was just about to go through a major transformation programme – what would the odds for success be?
The UGRs® are alive and well , are driving behaviours, and are having a huge impact on your strategies, plans and activities that are taking place on the surface – they are ‘in the deep’ of your organisation.
When you take a look at the ‘C’ don’t just consider what is visible on the surface – but consider how it is connected in the deep – your CULTURE. Don’t let your tales of the ‘C’ end in disaster. Focus on the deep, understand the undercurrents created by the UGRs® and plot a course to set sail in much calmer waters.