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All in Good Time

Optimize Blog - March 7, 2016 - 0 comments

We often hear that a client is ‘looking to change the culture’ of their organization. Companies need a good definition of corporate culture before they can begin to understand how to change the corporate culture. So how would we define the term ‘culture’? Perhaps – “The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning”. For a business we might refine this as “A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time”.
In both these definitions, it is clear that time plays a major part and culture evolves and develops over long periods and therefore trying to change that culture in a time frame that suits or supports a change in business direction or requirements is actually not often possible, if ever. Trying to change an organization’s culture then is a potentially meaningless aspiration if timeframes are not appropriate. The leadership team needs to recognize it as a longer term goal.
The added dynamic of course is that every company has numerous corporate cultures. For example, the marketing department and the engineering department may have very different functional cultures. Many times these two sub-cultures can clash.
The word culture originates from the Latin for ‘to cultivate’, or in other words, ‘to develop’, ‘to nurture’ or ‘to grow’. All of these descriptions are reliant on an element of time and a conscious application of effort or focus – neither of which should come as a surprise, but which both have important implications to those of us concerned with organizational cultures.
Organizational cultures are self-reinforcing. Reinforcement is multi-layered, can be overt or covert, intended or inadvertent. It can include a huge range of actions or behaviors, such as the subtle appreciation of people behaving in the ‘right’ way, the acceptance (or otherwise) of particular communication styles and even the recruitment process.
So, if we imagine all the possible layers of cultural reinforcement that have been put down over the years and which are embedded in every part of the organization, we begin to see just how difficult it is to shift the prevailing culture. Unfortunately, business leaders sometimes assume that their company’s vision, values, and strategic priorities are synonymous with their company’s culture.
To change culture we need to understand exactly what the culture needs to be to deliver on the strategy. Once we are clear on this then we need to start by setting the example, influencing behaviors and rewarding those behaviors that we want to see. At the same time put a stop to the behaviors you don’t want to see – be explicit and intentional and accept that this will not be an overnight, short-term activity……

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