LinkedIn Conscious Business Week 3: Culture
From the introduction:
For each week of this course I am going to take my notes on what I learned and turn it into a short blog post. I am hoping this will encourage you to take a look at the course and maybe do it yourself.
This week’s Conscious Business post is focused on organizational culture. It’s fairly obvious that without people you don’t have a company, But this week’s content gave me a glimpse into how important culture actually is. That without a culture backed by strong morals and good values, the company will fall apart.
“Organizational culture is too important to leave to chance; organizations must use their culture to fully execute their strategy and inspire innovation. It’s a leader’s primary role to develop and maintain an effective culture.” - Chatman and Cha
With a quick Google search you can find the definition of culture. It is “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour” of a group of people. While this is correct there’s another definition that allows you, as a leader, to shape the way your team’s culture grows. It orients the core values and priorities of your team with your personal values:
Culture is a shared understanding of what is true, what is important, and what is right.
A good culture aligns teams. It creates patterns of productivity through the thoughts and behaviours of each team member. And it creates expectations on what a team member must do to fit in, and what they can expect from others.
Conditions for an effective culture
Supports strategy executing creating a context in which people are encouraged and empowered to do their best to achieve strategic objectives.
In a strategic culture teams and individuals follow through with their plans. They don’t say one thing, then do another.
Aligns everyone’s efforts without the cost and inefficiencies of bureaucracy or close supervision.
In an integrative culture people feel empowered to go that extra mile. They know and agree on what is important and push themselves and others to see that through.
Provides members with a sense of belonging and community and unifies each team member to feel part of the collective team.
In a cohesive culture everyone feels apart of the bigger team. Each team member knows how to think, feel, and act and so the team as a whole inherits these traits.
Supports risk taking and change by creating a safe environment that promotes creativity.
An innovative culture encourages learning and improvement. Team members feel they are able to ask questions and seek feedback without fearing they will be put down. They see the value in experimenting and reflecting on results.
Promotes flexibility and experimentation.
An adaptive culture discourages taking criticism on your work personally. Team members don’t feel attacked when receiving feedback and engaging in discussions. Without adaptivity, an organisation can become too conservative and stuck in its old ways.
Leading is not controlling
At the end of the last post we came across this idea that leaders don’t control. Instead they inspire and invite you to join them on their journey. This distinction is also important when thinking about culture.
Even though leaders don’t have followers, those joining them on their journey will still look to them for guidance. So leaders must lead by example and define the culture amongst those working with them.
If a leader is dishonest then it implicitly allows, and even encourage, those they are working with to be dishonest as well. The same is true both in and out of a company setting.
Think back to when you were child and the role models you had. Whether they were your parents, celebrities, or the superheroes in TV shows and movies. If you saw them being dishonest, or stealing from someone else then you may have felt it okay to lie and steal.
The positive side of this also applies. If your favorite child superhero told you it was cool to eat your veggies then you may have felt more inclined to follow their guidance. And this is still true for many of us as adults too.
The leaders that we follow, whether they be role models or our managers at work, have great influence over us. And the ones that have the most influence, the ones we want to follow, don’t impose control but lead by example. You may hear people explaining why they look up to someone because of the things they do. Because they are compassionate, intelligent, or because they bring the best out in you. Very rarely, if ever, will you hear an explanation of the influence of a leader based on what they’ve said.
Talk is cheap and behaviour is expensive. And it is through behaviour that leaders project what is important and valued in their organisations.
From the article Rewards and Risks of Leading an Effective Culture:
“If you want to lead effectively, it is crucial that you exemplify the norms of the culture you want to create. Your employees are hypersensitive to your behaviour, and to that of every leader in the organization.”
Creating the right culture for your team
Culture isn’t officially documented, or expressed explicitly. It taught through example and the actions of the leaders and the role models.
As a leader making sure that everyone is on the same page with regards to culture is an important task. There are three stages to achieving this.
First, the standards need to be defined and committed to by the team. There needs to be a negotiation, mediated between the leader and each of the team members. In this way everyone feels they are able reliably commit.
Next the standard needs to be demonstrated. This ties back with the idea that leaders lead by example. If the leader doesn’t stick to the agreed standards then how can they expect their team members to stay committed.
Let’s support the team agrees a standard is to not use phones during meetings. Then in a meeting the leader uses their phone. This will cause each of the team members to question their previous commitment. They will soon follow in the leader’s footsteps and ignore the commitment they have made.
Finally, the leader, and other team members, need to demand the standard. If the standard isn’t demanded from every team member then the commitment they have all made will be broken.
Going back to the phone in the meeting. Imagine now that another team mate uses their phone instead of the leader. If other team members don’t demand that the standard be upheld then others will soon follow in ignoring their commitment.
A few months ago I came across this quote by Louis Gerstner, one the former CEOs of IBM. It nicely sums up the importance of culture and why it shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”