During the recent Human Synergistics conference in Melbourne I heard several great comments and quotes – but one really struck a chord with me:
“Culture will do what culture will do …
If you don’t manage it, it will manage you!”
I experienced one of those powerful moments where the message just continued to unfold, layer by layer, divulging more and more insights. I’m sure I was initially distracted by the Dr. Seuss nature of the wording, but perhaps that was what made it ‘sticky’… Made it hang around my consciousness long enough to process and connect to my own thoughts and experiences.
“… if you don’t manage it, it will manage you”
If you are not consciously aware of culture and its drivers, you run the risk of ‘mindlessly’ reacting to misunderstood signals in ways that only worsen the situation.
In the vast majority of cases, behaviours which appear less than constructive are the result of some form of perceived threat. Without that awareness, it is very easy for leaders to react to in-the-moment situations in ways that reinforce the perception of threat. An evil ‘Catch 22’ scenario.
For example: Suppose you are a senior leader in an organisation subjected to great volatility. You need to be able to rely on your team and their people to be nimble, creative, accountable and resilient. To be able to spot issues, appreciate the bigger picture and come up with effective solutions … but they aren’t doing that. They are constantly shifting responsibility, playing it safe, keeping their heads down and just not delivering. It is intensely frustrating … given the state of play!
Distracted by pressure and driven by emotion, your responses may not be exactly the best version of you, but you are under a lot of pressure.
Unfortunately, you have just demonstrated exactly what those people feared; the perception of a threat has now been validated and performance will suffer further.
Sadly, even the term “working ‘on’ the business, not ‘in’ the business” often still misses what is at the heart of culture. It can easily be seen as upgrading products, services, systems and procedures; often overlooking the need for clear articulation and demonstration of values and meaning. The things that will allow you to manage the culture.
Don’t let your organisation culture just happen – take control of it. Manage it just like any other key project … or it will manage you.
Contact Garry@thestylewisegroup.com to discuss how we can help your organisation manage culture, engagement and performance.
It seems wherever we look these days there are articles prescribing what to do, to create employee engagement. It is an important topic, and the much cited Gallup data, showing disturbingly low engagement in the USA, certainly grabs our attention.
My curiosity for all things ‘people’ related in business spans decades and it has driven me to research a few topics during my career. Engagement has been one of those.
Having read numerous research papers, journals and books; and comparing that to my own observations, a few things stand out to me:
Firstly, there is no silver bullet; neither within nor across organisations. Your local and broader organisation cultures influence the answers … greatly. In fact, it is widely believed that it is primarily culture which will enable engagement.
Secondly, whilst the field has exploded with many researchers publishing prolifically (see below for references), William Kahn’s engagement research published in 1990 remains extremely relevant and is a simple guide for businesses to sense-check their activities. He found that your staff have three primary psychological needs:
Whilst each of these three needs can be addressed in numerous ways, limited only by your time, money and creativity, businesses need to do their own research to understand where the real opportunities lie – for their people, in that business, at that time. These contextual aspects will typically determine ‘how’ you apply the basic theories (the ‘what’). Making the effort to understand the opportunities that lie at the intersection of this ‘how’ and ‘what’ will create a far more effective engagement strategy than any “10 tips …” article is ever likely to.
Finally, I want to share a great example of a leadership mindset that will fuel engagement. It was mentioned in a Simon Sinek talk I watched recently. Try changing the term ‘Head-count’ to ‘Heart-count’ and see what happens.
For those wanting some great references for their own research I can thoroughly recommend this book and this one, too.