Have You Maintained a Healthy Culture?

Most organizations have navigated a lot of change over the last few years. Routines, policies and other norms have had to adapt to remote work and then to hybrid or back-to-the-office rhythms.

Last week we described the three types of culture. Your organization’s culture may have been intentional two years ago, but if you haven’t been actively attending to it through the pandemic and its aftermath, you might be surprised at the messages that your people have picked up on in the meantime. How have the underlying beliefs and assumptions that drive your organization’s culture changed?

Here are a few reminders about culture:

  1. Culture is how you are expected to behave and comes from shared beliefs through common learning. Ideally these “unwritten rules” correspond to the stated values and beliefs of the organization.  Many leaders say they want an innovative culture where people are free to take risks, try things and make mistakes. But if a team member is publicly chastised by the leader – what kind of culture is being created? The team member learns that he will be humiliated if he makes a mistake. So next time there is an opportunity to take a risk, he will apply what he learned and avoid it. This is why the second truth is essential for leaders to understand…
  1. Culture is a leadership responsibility (not owned by HR, or a culture team.) While everyone plays a part in creating culture — that’s why it’s about shared learning and mutual understanding — leaders set the tone. It’s fascinating how often a leader’s words and actions are unintentionally out of sync. An executive we were coaching was in a meeting with over a dozen attendees. The person leading the meeting was not well prepared and hadn’t set clear objectives. This leader got frustrated with the time that was being wasted and the lack of productivity. So she took over the meeting and made sure that the needed outcomes were achieved. Unfortunately, those actions had unintended consequences. The team member didn’t learn how to improve, he learned that if he didn’t do it the right way someone else would do his job. Instead of stepping up, next time he’ll step back.
  1. Culture is caught not taught, reinforced not announced. Imagine that you are in a meeting, and you believe that it’s polite to say, “bless you” when someone sneezes. Someone sneezes and you are the only one to say, “bless you.” You’ve just learned that with this group of people, that is not the correct behavior. No one had to teach this to you, it’s learned through observation and experience. Leaders can talk about their ideal culture, but it’s only through shared learning and consistent action that culture gets created.
  1. Culture causes behaviors that create results. It is more than purpose or organizational values. Purpose matters – it’s VERY important to understand the bigger “why”. Values matter – it’s critical to define how to behave. However, neither can take the place of culture.

We have some great tools that measure where you are, and can help you get to where you want to be! Email us at change@brightonleadership.com to get started.

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