Cultural health is important: leaders must manage culture - or it will manage them.In working with organizations over the past 30 years, I have seen a wide variety of organizational cultures ... not all of them healthy. Possibly one of the unhealthiest organizational cultures that I have experienced was in a company whose CEO was often quoted as saying, "Friction keeps things in place!"
I knew an employee of this company as a client for a short while before he relocated to the corporate head office. He was a man I enjoyed meeting with. He was obviously gifted in his work and was professional to be sure. He was also sociable and by all appearances, was a man devoted to family and friends.
I didn't notice much change in him during the first appointments following his relocation to head office, but after a few short years, the change was remarkable. He had become a driven man with an edge to his tone. He was working longer hours and it seemed to me that he carried an anxiety-driven aggressiveness as if motivated by some unseen threat within the room where we met.
It is hard to know if this form of corporate culture is truly high performing, or if their performance is sustainable ... and over what period of time. Shouldn't truly sustainable mean for all Every orgy time? In the past, we may have declared them to be high performing if they were culture is a efficient, enjoyed good client relationships and posted a profit. However, the question of sustainability brings with it more consideration, such as adaptability, environmental impact and culture. Of all of the above, it seems to me that culture is most important as the foundation, for it provides the best opportunity to positively develop the balance of the scorecard.
"The bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the culture in which they are embedded, those cultures will manage them. Cultural understanding is desirable for all of us, but it is essential to leaders if they are to lead."
- Edgar Shein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2010
Culture is a difficult thing to understand. There are many intersecting components of culture and there is not necessarily one cultural essence or form that is appropriate for all organizational applications. However, we can begin to understand cultural health when we speak in terms of alignment.
Every organization's culture is a product of the people within, starting with founding leadership first. As a leader speaks and behaves, there goes culture. Behaviours are an interesting mix of assumptions and values. Assumptions are the things that we believe (whether true or not) that formulate the automatic response portion of our behaviours. Values are what we hold out for or aspire to have our behaviour become.
Optimal alignment within an organization can be achieved when the values of individual people resonate with the values experienced (note I say "experienced" as opposed to simply "stated") within an organization.
The values held by individual people can be classified as the capacity of an organizational culture. These can be mentored and grown, but as they exist, they provide either opportunity or limitation. By example, an organization wherein the majority of people hold values related to survival will not have the capacity to build strong partnerships unless they are mentored and grown as individuals.
The values experienced by individuals within an organization can help us to understand the energy available within the organization. If there is a high correlation of personal values held and current values experienced, then there is energy for the pursuit of transformational growth and maturity within a culture.
In the end, measuring and crafting culture is about dialogue. What do people want? What do they experience? And what is necessary for sustainable high performance within an organization? Identifying where people are at is the first step. Opening up a dialogue as to where they want to go is the second. And aligning both with what is necessary for sustainable high performance, through an instrument such as a balanced business needs scorecard, is the route to crafting the healthiest possible culture.
I might suggest that not managing culture well is irresponsible as a leader, but even if I did not, I would be compelled to point out that having a culture manage the leader, as Edgar Shein puts it, would be painfully reactive, and ultimately an energy drain.
So, how different would my introductory story have been, if instead of "Friction keeps things in place," the CEO of the organization put forward a mantra of "People are the reason we exist: customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers"? Optimally followed by something like, "Together, we succeed." I wonder if my friend would not have remained a better man for the organization as well as for his family and friends.
David E. White Consultant, Synergy Solutions Group
David E. White is a consultant with Synergy Solutions Group. Questions and comments can be directed to him at email@example.com.