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Cultivating Culture

Optimize Blog - July 29, 2010 - 0 comments

There is no subject quite like Bullfighting for stirring the emotions and very few people remain ambivalent. You either support it as ‘art’ and part of the rich culture of countries like Spain, Portugal, Southern France, Mexico and Peru or you take the stance that it is barbaric, cruel and no longer acceptable in the modern world.
We read this week that Catalonia has voted and banned bullfighting with effect from January 2012 – the first Spanish region to do so since the Canary Islands in 1991 and certainly the first in mainland Spain. The rival parties rather unusually allowed their members to vote as their consciences dictated and the vote went 68 to 55 with nine abstentions.
Rather unsurprisingly the animal rights campaigners are looking to build on this result and to take the fight to other regions whilst supporters of bullfighting are quick to point to the ‘thousands’ of jobs which will be lost and the impact on the cultural heritage of the country.
Those of you familiar with the Catalan mindset and political agenda might also be reading between the lines here and viewing this move as another way of establishing their nationalist claims by distancing themselves from one of Spain’s best known traditions.
In any event that got us thinking about culture in business and we often hear that a client is ‘looking to change the culture’ of the organization. So how would we define the term ‘culture’? Perhaps – “The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, 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 and that the leadership team recognizes it as a distant, long term goal.
Equally almost every company has numerous corporate cultures. For example, the marketing department and the engineering department may have very different corporate cultures which are both influenced by the overall organizational corporate culture. Many times these two sub-cultures can clash.
Business leaders often assume that their company’s vision, values, and strategic priorities are synonymous with their company’s culture. Companies need a good definition of corporate culture before they can begin to understand how to change the corporate culture.
Start by influencing behaviours and rewarding those behaviours you want to see. At the same time put a stop to the behaviours you don’t want to see – be explicit and don’t use the ‘hope and hint’ method……
Whilst a herd of bulls somewhere in Catalonia might be resting a little easier today, plenty of cultural misalignments in business remain. Figure out today what the culture of your company is and what you need it to be but recognize that you can only shift culture over time and therefore you need to sign up for the long haul.

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