In 2006 Mark Fields, President of Ford Motor Company ,made the statement, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He attributed the quote to management guru, Peter Drucker, who also said, “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one, instead try to work with what you’ve got.” I wonder what Drucker would tell United Airlines and Fox News? The question challenging us today is, “Can we afford to continue to work with what we’ve got?”
Organizational culture is, “ A system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs.” They also set the tone for the organization. The shared values often reflects the trust factor (Circle of Safety vs. Watching your Back), the relationship level among the organization’s members (family vs. co-workers) and the organizational commitment level of leadership and team (long-term association vs. revolving door).
Trust serves as the basic ingredient for any organization’s culture, and it is a function of leadership to model it in thought, word and deed. In his March, 2014 TED Talk, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe Simon Sinek examines how leaders can inspire trust and cooperation and create an organizational culture within which colleagues look out for one another and the organization. He makes a number of provocative points:
- The world is filled with danger, things that are trying to frustrate our lives or reduce our success, reduce our opportunity for success, We have no control over these forces. These are a constant, and they’re not going away. The only variable are the conditions inside the organization, and that’s where leadership matters.
- When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.
- Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. Leaders exist at the top and bottom of organizations and they share a perspective; they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader does.
- We call them leaders because they go first. We call them leaders because they take the risk before anybody else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected and so their people may gain. Isn’t that the kind or organization we would all like to work for?
The issue of changing an organization’s culture is nicely addressed in Joyce Rosenberg’s USA Today’s Digital post entitled, “Culture Shock: Business owners see need to change their ways”. Rosenberg considers the challenges faced and actions taken by a small Washington DC PR firm’s owner following his realization that half his employees planned to leave within the next two years and rated the environment as “average” or “needs improvement”, and no one felt they were adequately compensated. She points out that the culture that works for a start-up may be a bad-fit for a company that is now larger and established. Likewise she considers that the leadership and work styles of 40 and 50 years olds may differ drastically from those of 20and 30 year old staffers. The solution? It starts at the top!
Let’s end on a positive note. What is something that each one of you is currently doing to create a change in your organization’s culture. Figure it out yet? You’re opening your mind each week through these newsletter. You’ve made a commitment to personal development. Now, let’s consider the importance of learning and its place in organizational change.
Shawn Shepard is a business consultant specializing in the delivery of customized professional development programs for organizations including Linked-in, Johnson and Johnson and Allstate Insurance. In a recent post, Does Your Company Really Want to Build a Learning Culture? he tackles the challenge of changing an organization through the development of a learning culture. He identifies three simple steps organizations can take to facilitate this:
- Begin with the end in mind
- Define your first step
- Make learning a regular part of your schedule
He leaves us with a challenge, “Too often, leaders love the idea of improving their culture, but fall short of taking the required actions. It’s time to get unstuck, to take control of the changes we want in our organizations, and to build a learning culture that teams will need to keep pace with the rapid shifts in the business landscape.”