CULTURE TRUMPS EVERYTHING

Can we have a very direct, adult conversation?

Culture and cultural differences are having some impact on virtually every one of us today.  Culture impacts the way our organization, our businesses, and our communities work.  There are cultural differences within families today. 

These cultural differences have real impact.  In organizations and businesses, this can impact customer service, quality, productivity, cost of goods sold. It can have an impact in careers, and career development, and most importantly it can impact our experience of work and our commitment to contribute at the level we desire.  It often is the source of the disengagement that is prevalent in many organizations. 

The other thing about culture is we don’t like to deal with it. So, because we don’t like to deal with it, we allow the issues, the unspoken, to continue far too long.  When we do address it, it usually comes out as a policy or rule that pushes the issue even deeper underground.  In our attempt to create a “good culture” we create “team building” events that are often nothing more that feel good experiences that make no difference and the “positivity” that was created disappears the first time another issue arises. 

Culture does trump everything.  And to change anything inside the culture you must address the culture itself.  To do that we have some work to do:

#1 We need to identify the culture

#2 We need to be really clear on what is creating the culture and what is resisting it

#3 We need to look at the impact of the current cultural issues as it relates to what we are committed to in our organizations, business and communities. 

Let’s start with what is a culture.  According to Merriam-Webster dictionary online, the definition is:

a : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time

b : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization

c : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

d : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations So if I summarize what culture is, it’s the beliefs, social norms, attitudes, values and expressed in practices of a group, organization, business or community.

Notice how it is not rules, it is not written anywhere, it is not even communicated.  Culture is the air we breathe.  If our organization were a lake, the culture would be the water.  Somewhat transparent and essential for its existence. 

Shifting and changing a culture is not an easy task.  To do so, we must address each and every belief, value, and attitude that exists inside that group or organization. 

At one time when organizations were mostly made of men, it was not too difficult. And those men were from a certain region, or area, it was not that challenging to have people understand and operate with in it.  Because of the similarities, it was easy to create rules and structures and operating principles that worked for most people.  Life went on, and like the water in the lake, no one really paid attention to it.  It was assumed ok and taken for granted.

Fast forward a few decades, inject increasing global trade, the infusion of technology, and the ever changing landscape that presents economic shifts and changes, rapid demographic shifts in our communities and organizations, and the influence of woman and diversity in leadership roles and the new perspective that presents.  Put that inside a structure that has no mechanism for change or fluidity, and guess what, conflict and un-workability will surely arise.

The cultural conflicts we are experiencing today are natural occurrences.  They are not fun, and they are not productive, and yet they are to be expected and most importantly are needed if we are to make the shifts to move forward. 

In the next few posts we will begin to work on how to address this phenomenon in the workplace and our communities.  I recently lead a workshop, with my colleague Sarah Crawford at KinnektorCon, in Appleton, WI.  Our topic was, “Culture Conflicts, Confrontation and Driving Real Change.” The people who attended were incredibly engaging and generous with their experiences. The feedback we received was “I wish we had more time”.   The gentleman who was supporting us with technology said it was the most engaged workshop he had witnessed at the event.  I am not sharing that to say what a great job we did, we did well, and it opened my eyes.  It opened my eyes to the real impact and the breath that cultural issues are having today.  It opened my eyes to the urgency of this subject and the potential volatility that can be associated with it.  And it also showed me how this is the third rail in organizations and most either don’t want to deal with it or don’t know what to do. (Just a note, the day we did the workshop was the day more news broke about yet another bombing). 

If you have something you would like to share, please reach out, and as always thank you for your time and generosity. 

Authenticity: The Secret Sauce