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.
cc 124 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.