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.