Thursday, April 21, 2016

Four Phases of Cultural Health

A benefit of a long career tenure is the breadth of experiences that is commensurate with it.  Despite spending nearly my entire working life in retail, I've found that one thing that varies the most in all of these experiences is how "culture" is addressed within organizations.  Indeed, in my experience, I've found a continuum of how individual business organizations approach culture, and with a few exceptions, this approach manifestly impacts business performance and employee engagement.

Here is a review of this continuum, moving from least healthy to most:

  • No Stated Policy or Discussion - These organizations spend little time worrying about culture at all.  Culture happens organically, and while it can be functional in total, certainly there are always portions that are downright sick.  And just like in human health, those that refuse to talk about health, get routine checks, and proactively manage themselves will one day be presented with a horrible surprise.  It is only a matter of time.
  • Stated Policy, No Discussion- These organizations feel that because a cultural policy exists in written format, it doesn't need discussion or nurturing.   Often these organizations have two different cultures - the one that is on paper, and the unwritten one that actually reflect day-to-day cultural interactions within the organization.  As one might expect, sometimes these two cultures can actually come into direct conflict.
  • Stated Policy, Discussion, No Practice - These organizations have all the hallmarks of a healthy group - they say and do all the right things, at least on the surface.  However, when it comes time to actually do the hard work of holding the organization accountable to the culture that is being espoused, there is no follow through.  It's the organizational equivalence of bragging about living a healthy lifestyle,  but continually raiding the fridge every night.
  • The Whole Mary Ann - This organization does it all.  They walk the talk.  They also know that such a culture is a tenuous thing, hence it is pruned and nurtured.  Such organizations lack ego, course correct, mean what they say, ask questions, and are proactive.  

Culture is a direct result of leadership, and as leaders, it is incumbent on us to influence our cultures where we can to move toward a more healthy engagement.  Just like anything to do with good health, it's hard work, but ultimately, it's worth it.

Where is your organization on this continuum, and what are you doing about it?

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