Over the course of several meetings with different people in separate organizations spanning a period of many weeks I noticed a recurring theme of how a single word was frequently used by different people, at different levels of their organizational hierarchy, to explain away why certain things were the way they were in those organizations.
The word was used to explain management styles, shoddy performance, tardiness, laziness, commitment, excellence, punctuality and pretty much all of the words we use to describe our judgment of what we see and hear in different organizations.
And that word is “culture.”
I became so fascinated with the way in which that word was used as a catchall to describe and explain the perceived realities of these different workplaces that I began writing down many of the sentences in which that word was used.
Here is a sampling:
“We have a culture of mediocrity here.”
“Our company has always had a command and control management culture.”
“We all go for a beer every Friday after work, it’s part of the culture.”
“It’s never been part of our culture to be concerned with getting things right, our culture has always been to get things done.”
Invariably, those comments were followed by confirming ones like these:
“It’s impossible to change culture.”
“Our culture has been like this for years and years. It will take years and years to change.”
There nothing we can do. It’s the culture.
Naturally, I disagree with those above three comments.
The reason those people in those organizations have arrived at this conclusion is simply because they have formed the beliefs that these statements represent the truth.
As we have discussed so many times in previous postings, a belief is simply the meaning we place on information or on events and that meaning becomes an idea that we hold to be true.
And just because we believe it to be true does not mean that it is true.
So in order to dispel the myths represented in those three statements it is necessary to first understand what “culture” means.
In its simplest form culture simply means “This is how we do things around here, this is what is acceptable.”
And if it is true that this is how we do things around here, then it stands to reason that we can change the way we do things around here.
So let’s dig a little bit deeper.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “corporate culture.” Well, there is no such thing as a single corporate culture.
In any organization of any size there are a multitude of “cultures” each of which is driven by a leader.
While there may be a perceptual culture throughout an organization, each group, subgroup, department, branch, office or any other descriptor that is used to divide people into groups has within it its own culture.
In the production department, each shift, crew or team will have its own culture which will be shaped by the shift, crew or team leader and very commonly when that leader departs, a new culture descends upon the team with the arrival, or promotion, of the new leader.
I have visited locations of the same company where the cleanliness in their lunchrooms has been striking and has lent credibility to the statement that “you can eat off the floor.”
And I have been in the lunchroom of other locations of that same company that have been so disgustingly filthy that I would not have entered even if adorned in full hazmat gear.
Both of these experiences are reflections of the differing “cultures” in each of these locations. They each reflect “how we do things around here, what’s acceptable around here.”
So those who say that it is not possible to change culture are really saying that it is not important enough for them to contribute to helping the culture change. That the existing culture is not causing enough pain to make the possible pain of changing it bearable.
Or they have tried previously to change the culture, not met with much success and concluded that it cannot be done so there is no point in trying again.
This is an sad, unfortunate conclusion that even has its own name.
It’s called “Learned Helplessness.” And it’s a myth.
I have worked in organizations where the culture has changed overnight.
It can happen easily and it will happen every time as long as there is a willingness among leaders to examine their existing culture and change the parts of it that are not producing satisfactory results.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that culture change is a painless experiment. Change invariably brings along with it a degree of pain for some. But the purpose of change is to make things better which semantically could also be described as removing or reducing existing pain.
The challenge with believing, falsely, that culture cannot be changed, is that that belief fosters the spreading of the Broken Pane Theory which teaches us that the longer we allow things to move in a downward direction, to consistently get worse, the worse they will continue to get.
Therefore the only way to begin “improving things around here” is to introduce a culture of raised standards and constant striving for excellence. A redefining of “what’s acceptable around here.” And this result is achieved by the positive reinforcement of all behaviors that contribute to this ideal and the non-allowance of all those that don’t.
It doesn’t take much to change culture. It just takes guts.
In my home, for example, we have a “yes dear” culture.
This means that when Gimalle asks/tells me to do something my auto-response is “yes dear.”
It’s how we do things around here.
Of course I can change that anytime I want to – I have the guts.
But I probably won’t.
I’m just not that stupid.
Till we read again.
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