Today we started our culture debrief discussion by having all the leaders put their hands over their heart and breathe. Perhaps it was a strange way to start an intensive discussion on culture but it provided a tangible way to better understand something that’s talked about but not well understood.
- Culture is like breathing – whether you think about it or not culture happens. When you are intentional, you can use breath to accomplish an intended outcome like relaxing or increasing alertness. When you are intentional with organizational culture, you can more successfully accomplish goals, strategy and critical business initiatives. Just as breathing indicates that a person is alive, culture is a sign that there is a group of people interacting with each other!
- Culture is like the wind – just like wind, you cannot see culture but you can feel its impacts. When you are in a meeting and speak openly about a challenge and your colleagues send glaring sneers in your direction, you feel the impact. You also learn that speaking openly isn’t acceptable. When people are asked to describe culture we often hear that it’s something you can feel when you walk into a place. You experience environmental clues that quickly enable you to feel culture impact even if you can’t put it into words.
- Culture is created by experiences that people share and collectively learn from – culture doesn’t change because a leader announces culture change and explains what’s going to be different. People need to hear, see and then do the culture change. For example, one leadership team decided that they wanted to break down silos. They shared that with the departmental leaders and then modeled new behavior by bringing together teams made up of members from each department. They tackled problems together, built relationships across departments and their collective experiences/learning shifted the culture.
- Leaders set the tone – back in the days of Sarbanes-Oxley (anyone remember that nightmare?!?) a key element of internal controls was evaluated through a “Tone at the Top Assessment.” The idea was that by observing specific things at the leadership level you could determine whether there was a commitment to internal controls. This is true of any change but especially culture change.
Culture is a wonderfully complex yet simple concept. It fascinates us because of the impact it has on everyone’s life. Culture can give employees a place to flourish and bring their best. Culture can also crush employees spirits and stifle their imagination. Over the next few tips we are going to explore various aspects of organizational culture.