Once upon a time, I had a chance to work with a vendor with a really cool product that enabled you to measure the culture of your organization (they’re called RoundPegg – look them up, as they are awesome). At one point in the process, we had an option to decide to test the entire company and get a true measure of our culture, or handpick people we felt “represented” our culture. This was kind of a big deal, especially given where I was working at the time.
There was an unspoken concern that the results would tell us nasty things about the culture…things some of us acknowledged and wanted to fix. These were the same things that others chose to view as our “uniqueness”. Basically, we had to decide what reality we were willing to confront. Ultimately the decision was made to pick those who exemplified the aspirational culture and assess them.
I think this was a cop out, and I hope you do, too.
I will always remember the gist of what Natalie (one of the RoundPeggers) said about culture. In essence, she said that culture is made up of everyone and every interaction in the company. If it’s happening at your business, it’s a part of your culture. No amount of stacking the deck, wishing, words, or banners can change this. You have to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly of what you’ll find because only then will you know what you’re dealing with. And only then can you make the choice to change it.
Like water eroding sand, every action we take reinforces the path we have chosen. It’s simple neuroscience – the more we reinforce neural pathways, the stronger those connections become and the easier it is to perform those activities we regularly engage in. What paths have been reinforced in your world?
Because culture is made up of the people in the company, each of us has a responsibility to create the culture we want to work in. As employees, we can choose what behaviors we exhibit, being mindful of the impact we’re making. As leaders, we have an obligation to model the behaviors of the culture we want to build.
If the culture where you are isn’t what you want it to be, think about how you’re impacting that culture. Are you reinforcing the positive, or strengthening the negative? Every choice you make contributes your culture. So if you don’t like it, do something about it. Be proactive. Refuse to engage in gossip. Build relationships across functions. Tell a good joke. Host a two-minute dance party.
For goodness’ sake, do something.
But don’t blame anyone else. We’re all in this together.
A company’s culture is often buried so deeply inside rituals, assumptions, attitudes, and values that it becomes transparent to an organization’s members only when, for some reason, it changes.
Rob Goffee (1952–), US writer, consultant, and academic