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* * *    CULTURE ON PAPER    * * *

A company’s culture is much more than a mission statement, a brief of the organization’s history or some marketing material.

It includes all the values and beliefs that guide an organization’s actions –from the largest public relations campaigns to the smallest internal decisions.

Everything a company does reflects its culture. In that sense, the best way to define an organizational culture is by what people do (and do not) and how they do it. In other words, “the way we do things here!”

It is the way people feel about the work they do, the values they hold, where they see the company heading and what they do to get it there.

What people do within the same industry may not differ dramatically. However, high-performing organizations distinguish themselves in the way they do it.

The cumulative effect of what is done and how it is done ultimately determines the organization’s performance.

Although most organizations have a stated culture, it is not difficult to unveil the actual one –the one that people live every day and what customers experience as a result.

In fact, culture has nothing to do with documents, charts or booklets. Actions are louder than words:

  • Although a lot of companies state that the customer is important and that business decisions should be made with the customer in mind, their actions –design, development, support, sales efforts– usually ignore those people and exclude them from the process.  Over time employees start focusing on metricsand performance indicators to achieve monthly or quarterly goals instead of focusing on human interactions and value delivery.

  • The way many companies are organized conflicts with effective collaboration and team dynamics.  Although the layout of teams and departments may look practical, they actually lead to the creation of silos, lack of collaboration, protectionism, contradictory business goals, delays and effort duplication. All those behaviors have a negative effect on employees and customers.

  • If the focus is only on short-term financial goals, excluding long-term goals and customer-centered strategy, people inside the organization will behave accordingly.  Quality of work and impact to the customer become less important if the measurement of success and the behaviors that are rewarded lead to short-term promotions, pay increases or higher bonuses.

  • Many organizations include words such as courage, respect and innovation in their culture and value statements, as well as catchy phrases that seem to inspire the masses.  However, people are not rewarded for challenging the status quo, standing up for what is right, failing while trying new experiments, or questioning the people in power. In truth people are often ignored, warned or even fired.
Aug 2021 - Editorial - Picture - Lonely person walking through a plaza

“How can you fix the culture in an organization?” and “how quickly can it be changed?” are two of the most common questions around organizational culture. Yet, these are senseless questions.

They sound as superfluous, vague and even foolish as “how long will it take me to quit smoking,” “how can I fix a marriage” or “how quickly can I get in good shape.”

  • First, culture is not a problem that can be fixed –in fact, it is not a problem. Culture is a reality, it is part of the organization’s DNA, it is a trait impossible to hide.
  • Second, even though it is possible to transform it, changing habits and mindsets is a process that varies from person to person, from team to team, and from organization to organization.
  • And third, for change to be sustained over time it must be incremental and gradual.

It is very common for people at the top to come up with great visions, smart strategies and brilliant ideas for change while forgetting to ask the people who are supposed “to change.”

The main complaints from executive and management teams leading organizational change are that “people are not engaged” and that “although we tried different things, the changes did not last.”

That is because true and valid change cannot be dictated. For change to happen, and then to be sustainable, it should not be a top-down initiative. It should be participatory, where people are involved as proponents and executors.

Although there are several reasons to support that premise –some backed by psychology, some by human behavior, and some by organizational change– here you have the one that not many people mention: “because it does not make sense!”

It does not make sense having five or ten guys at the top trying to convince five hundred or a few thousand people in an organization to think, believe and value the same things they do.

It makes much more sense to get five hundred or a few thousand people to come up with some ideas and convince the five or ten guys at the top.

That is why when we want to trigger some cultural change, it is important to be political, think holistically, and become extremely intentional and strategic.

You will know if you are heading in the right direction if people in the organization, the department or the team get up in the morning and say, “Wow, it is Monday, I get to go to work, I am excited!”

When that is true for the majority of employees, you have been creating not only an organization that will be more successful –because your people will be more innovative, proactive and engaged– but also an organization that supports a greater purpose. In short, a more Agile organization.

agile-thoughts was conceived to help in that process.

Ricardo Abella

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