Archive for About Company Culture — Structure

125 — When Competition Is Destructive

 

Internal competition often works against a good culture, against open communication, against success. No senior manager deliberately wants to close down communications, but competition in a leadership team can stifle openness throughout the company.

Most executives are unaware of the effect of their driving competitiveness. For example, you have probably experienced the well-meaning suggestions from an executive, that quickly turn to a shower of unwanted directives; or seen executives criticize another department, that unintentionally stifles cross-functional cooperation.

Aggression Above, Defense Below

Aggressive competitive behavior at the top of any organization sets the stage for aggressive, protective and defensive behavior below — such as mistrust and rigid, rule bound, and “siloed” communication. While these cultural patterns are understandable they are bad for morale, productivity, customer service and corporate success.

In the public sector, the politically appointed or elected officials compete for their share of public opinion, often criticizing each other openly. This is true in all levels of government, and in state and federal agencies. As long as organizations have combat at the top, they’ll have dysfunctional patterns below.

In every organization managers and supervisors try to protect their people from the often destructive environment they see above them. This is easier to do if your offices are physically removed from corporate headquarters. If you are in the same building it may be impossible.

One Solution — Put It On The Table For Discussion

Sometimes a good discussion about competition and communications among the members of the executive team is enough to begin changing this cultural pattern. The discussion can be fairly straightforward. One opener might be, “I’d like to hear from each of you about a situation you were in recently where communications really worked well. After that I’d like us to discuss what qualities made these situations work so well. Then I’d like to see what we can do, as the leadership group, to demonstrate more of these qualities throughout our organization. Who’d like to begin?”

Example — How One Leadership Team Changed from Combat to Cooperation

This company has 5,000 employees. I met monthly with the senior leaders to discuss building a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that several divisions were not working well together in the field.

I had often reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens elsewhere is partly because of your actions here. And in any case, to be practical, what you do as leaders is what you can most easily change.”

This time I asked, “What are you doing that contributes to this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or in another department or division?” Immediately a manger shot back with, “You mean since breakfast this morning don’t you?” Another manager chimed in, “You mean since the coffee break!”

Once the laughter died down, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here you set an example by criticizing other people and divisions and then wonder why they don’t feel like cooperating.” This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group.

What They Changed

At the next meeting they told stories of how they had almost entirely stopped criticizing. Instead they were working together on cooperative solutions that could be easily noticed by others. For example, they decided to travel as pairs on site visits to exemplify cross department cooperation. They prohibited negative comments from their own managers, instead, helping them face and resolve issues.

The managers said that people noticed the change and liked it. The problem of lack of cooperation had significantly disappeared. All this in four weeks! Impressive.

cc 125 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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124 — Studies and Reports Will Not Develop a Company Culture

Culture is not a problem to be analyzed. Studies might actually make things worse. You develop your company’s culture by doing things together. It’s the only way.

Developing a culture, or merging cultures, is not like solving an operational problem, or improving a work process. To begin with, culture is not a problem. Culture is like a person. As a person do you see yourself as a problem? I didn’t think so.

If a culture is approached as if it is a problem to be “corrected” it will probably push back, just as as you would and should.

Like a Person, Culture Is Not a Problem to Be Analyzed

Imagine someone is writing a report about you. It describes your physical features, your body, your speech, you’re known skills, how you work, and perhaps — if the writer interviewed you carefully — some more intimate things such as your likes, goals, hopes and fears.

But you know that such a report would not really capture who you are — how you experience life. More particularly it could not predict what you will do in a particular situation. Words cannot capture the experience of being you, or much about why you respond in your special way to situations and people. Even you probably don’t know why you do much of what you do.

Psychologists say that 80% of our communications are non-verbal, and of the verbal part only 25% is rational. That means that at most, only 5% of what is important can possibly be captured in even the best analytic study or report.

The reasons we do what we do are largely hidden (in our subconscious) to us, and even more so, hidden to others. But that does not matter because knowing why we do things is not as important or useful as moving forward together, achieving mutually desired goals. As an employee, I am prepared to work with you to build the trust that will lead to openness and a strong relationship. Then we will each bring enthusiasm, creativity and energy. The process of building that relationship is not a looking-backwards-and-analyzing activity. Relationships require engagement, that responds moment-to-moment to our interactions as we move forward together.

It is the same with a company culture. You can only get to know or understand a culture by doing things together, working together, through long-term conversations about the little things that make life. Getting to know someone, or a company culture is a synthetic (understanding the whole as a whole) action, not an analytic (breaking the whole into its parts) problem.

Treat People As Subjects, Not Objects

Developing a company culture is something you do intimately together, rather than something you analyze. When it comes to the people side of business, it is our actions, particularly how we do what we do, that makes all the difference. Engagement will not happen if people are treated like an object — a description in a report, or a survey statistic. It will only happen when people are engaged, valued, and involved — where the workplace is open to what people would like to bring. The challenge is getting rid of the cultural blocks to people’s engagement. You learn about these blocks through action, by starting the culture change process, by doing things together.

Culture Change Is Simple, Difficult, Satisfying

A company culture is its personality. But changing a culture is more difficult than curing a dysfunctional personality or reviving a failed marriage. Changing a work culture involves the complexities of people and large groups. It is the most difficult action a manager will ever undertake.

Managers who develop their work culture admit to the difficulty, but all say it is the most rewarding and satisfying action they have ever undertaken. Rewarding because the gains in performance, in company success, are so profound. Satisfying, because the change in the quality of work life, for themselves and everyone else, is so inspiring.

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123 — Evolution and Company Culture

 

Company cultures do not develop with the familiar analyze-plan-direct process used for operational issues. Cultures develop with an evolutionary process, .i.e. in response to the environment, to opportunities — never against resistance. You might induce a work culture to evolve, but you cannot direct a work culture to evolve by command from above.

Leaders can induce a work culture to evolve by changing the cultural “force-field”. They can do this easily and simply, by changing how they lead. When leaders, show openness, trust, and participation in their actions, they change the work environment, and the culture adapts (evolves) to it. An evolved or developed work culture is good for people and excellent for business success. Here are the principles of evolution.

What Is Evolution?

In its broadest sense evolution is change over time. In its more technical “Darwinian” usage, biological evolution occurs when a genetic change spreads to large populations of a species, because it helps the species survive. In everyday usage we say “evolution” occurs in organisms, galaxies, languages, cultures, people and politics.

Evolution Requires Adapting to the Environment

Billions of years ago when Earth’s temperature dropped and the right chemicals were present, life emerged. Life was a remarkable response to a changed environment. Organisms became increasingly complex, in response to complex environments, eventually occupying every conceivable ecological niche.

Organisms survive when they are well adapted. If the environment changes and the organism does not change, it will die. Dinosaurs expired when a large meteor hit the Earth, dramatically changing the climate. You don’t want this to happen to your company. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

Human Evolution

“Human evolution” has three common meanings.

    • Biological evolution that took us from early primates to modern man. Notable additions were the large brain, the upright gait, and the opposable thumb.
    • Personal development of the individual from childhood to adulthood, from relative simplicity to psychological complexity.
    • Social evolution with our highly developed communication and social skills. Outstanding among these are language and culture.

 

Company Evolution

A company culture evolves if it develops in a direction that is good for people, and good for business. The process mirrors biological evolution, where genetic changes survive because they are advantageous to the species. Similarly, desirable corporate changes are those that ensure the health and long-term survival of the company.

When an evolved culture allows people to bring more of themselves to the task, the company will be more productive, profitable, and competitive. In evolutionary terms, this means the company will be stronger, more vital, more robust. When changes occur in the marketplace, the more evolved company will be more responsive and adaptable. It will thrive, while less developed, less adaptable companies fail.

A Well Developed Company Culture

Culture and personality are very similar. A well-developed company culture would be similar to a mature adult. It might be: open, secure, confident, responsible, empathetic, tolerant, self-aware, caring, engaged and engaging, trusting and trustable, productive, complex, self-directed, with actions based on a good and clear set of values.

A poorly developed company culture would be similar to a poorly developed person. For example it might be described as: impulsive, exploitive, aggressive, manipulative, blaming, fearful, controlling, dependent, retaliatory and having conceptual simplicity e.g. sees things in black and white terms instead of shades of gray, or, blames a person instead of looking at the situation.

Evolution Is Not a Motivational Session

While seminars and motivational events may be part of a company’s culture, such events will not change a work culture. There is no quick fix. Evolution is a long-term process of change, where desired characteristics are retained, undesirable ones allowed to regress, and undeveloped ones encouraged.

Ironically, attempts to change the culture by directives or motivational events may actually move the culture backwards. Such top-down actions reinforce the strong authoritarian qualities typical of most underdeveloped work cultures.

Evolution Is Unpredictable

At the start of the universe, who could have imagined life, people, or cultures? Evolution is certainly unpredictable, a real surprise. There are infinite ways:

      • The world could have evolved.
      • The day might turn out.
      • To be a mature person.
      • To become a well-developed company culture.

 

To illustrate unpredictability, let’s say managers decide to open decisions to the participation of people affected. What happens is often surprising, e.g.

A group of engineers at a chemical plant made a presentation to a work crew about a new supply system they were planning to install in the crew’s area. When they opened the meeting to questions one of the long-term employees casually mentioned that a similar system was currently accessible close by (though apparently missing from the plant’s ‘as-built’ engineering drawings). Surprised at the new information, the engineers cancelled their proposed project — at considerable saving.

Cultures Evolve Because People Want Them to Evolve

People want to be more productive, more involved, recognized, communicate better, and have stronger working relationships. So there is a natural pressure for the company to move in that direction. That’s why when leaders show that they want the culture to evolve, people quickly join them. You might say that leadership’s challenge is to get out of the way and let natural selection work.

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121 — The Structure of Culture, The Five Levels

 

You don’t need to know the structure of your brain or personality to change your attitude and behavior. Similarly you don’t need to know the structure of you company culture in order to change it. However for those managers who’d like to know the basic structure of culture, here are the five distinct parts or levels. In a well developed work culture, these parts are balanced. The first three you can analyze, the last two you can’t. See also Balance The Two Halves of Culture.

1. Physical Objects — equipment

bridge 039This is the first level of any culture. It includes tools and objects people use to build and make, the clothes they wear, the structures they live and work in, the products they trade or sell, and the art they create and cherish. This is the level of physics and chemistry, equipment, hardware, engineering, and technology. (more…)

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122 — Balance the Two Halves of Culture

Company cultures have two halves, the Human and the Operations. The key to building a more engaged and productive workplace is balancing these — balancing what we do with how we do it.

The human, or top-half of culture, includes feelings, communications, and values. The operational half includes everything that is not distinctively human, such as equipment and processes. See also The Five Levels of Culture.

The human half carries the why and how of culture. For example, we do things because they meet our desires, and we do things through communications and relationships. The bottom half, or operational half, contains what we do. For example we build a bridge, we manufacture products, we sell goods at a retail outlet, we move production offshore.

Balancing the Two Halves — What and How

What we might change is a production line. How we do it might involve — or not involve — the people affected by the change.

Unbalanced culture diagramBalanced culture diagram

People’s attitudes are more affected by how things are done than by what is done. Most of what people do in organizations comes from outside their control; from customers, markets, technology changes, regulations and laws. In contrast managers can mostly control how they do things.

People usually don’t mind changes if they are involved in them. On the other hand, if the changes are made by upper managers, and then announced to employees, they will usually be unhappy. Balancing the culture means paying attention to how you do what you do.

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