What is organisational culture?

What Is Organisational Culture - People Development Network
What Is Organisational Culture - People Development Network

A new approach to organisational culture

A question that was far easier to answer 20 years ago, when our world was still hanging on to a thread of sanity that came with living in a more predictable, linear world.

Then, the organisational culture was more defined, or dictated by the personality of its top leaders. Hierarchical and a linear approach that institutionalized and controlled the way people think, lent itself to a good amount of overall compliance about ‘the way we do things around here.’ Of course there were silos that developed their own distinct localized organisational culture, but let’s face it, if you worked for GE, you behaved how GE dictated, the lines were pretty clear.

In the good old industrial days, though in theory, organisational culture was still defined by the gurus as ‘shared assumptions, values and beliefs that governed employee behavior,’ it was less ‘shared’ and more ‘this is the way we do things around here…or you’re out.’

The strong cultures were the ones that purposely set those clear boundaries, be it by rules, or values. The weaker companies were the ones that just left culture to its own devices, like an uncultivated garden that ended up with an abundance of weeds (dysfunctional communications and relationships). Every now and then, a leader would come in have a mass ‘weeding fest’ that resulted in total mayhem.

Fast-forward 20 years into the age of complexity, where hierarchy and firm boundaries are being crushed by the unpredictability of disruption. Disruption that has no respect for seniority, job title, power, size, race, gender, money, street name or age and culture becomes the weapon of ‘mass self-destruction’ for many well-run organisations; innovation, it’s arch enemy.

In the creative age, it can be helpful to think that culture is the manifestation of the collective subconscious beliefs and habits of the leaders and employees in the organisation.

Just like our own minds, an organisation has a collective mind that has conscious and subconscious. Just like our own mind, the subconscious dictates more than 95-98% of its beliefs, thinking, decision making and behavior on a day to day basis. When the subconscious is running outmoded programs, it all goes horribly wrong and change becomes painfully slow and ineffective.

To change organisational culture, we must re-code the beliefs, habits and language of our people at a deep subconscious level.

When leadership and learning continues to be ‘prescriptive,’ ‘controlling,’ or ‘telling,’ (which it so often is) we are trying to tackle a subconscious challenge at a conscious level, therefore tapping into only 2-5% possibility of change being adopted. Yet when we release control and facilitate people to discover and do the thinking for themselves and create an environment for them that is safe to ‘play,’ ‘explore’ and ‘discover,’ we are then tapping straight into the subconscious, harnessing 95% possibility that they will learn, engage, change, and have fun doing it.

Perhaps if ‘play’ and ‘fun’ were not such dirty words in many organisations, people would feel more inspired and less tired, and innovation could take its rightful place at the front line of every organisation.

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