Culture: It’ll Be Alright Mate…

Culture is a critical element of success with a huge impact on performance. Track it like your business depends on it – because it does.

 “Here is an idea. Let’s not worry about tracking our sales this year. Instead, we can just intuitively figure how we are going. We are in tune with our market, aren’t we? At the end of the year, we can cobble together what we think we know and work it all out.”

 Who thinks that’s a good idea? Please tick here……

 “And what about our financials. Let’s not be concerned about the monthly P & L, we’ve got a pretty good idea of how we are tracking haven’t we? We get bank statements. They look okay. We can just manage this intuitively. Good idea? What do you think?”

“And as for our customers, we talk to them quite a lot, so we know how they feel about us, so let’s not do any formal customer survey analysis. We can just wing it. Is that okay by you?”

 I have asked these questions to individuals and both large and small groups often, with resounding comments like:

 “No way,”

“That would be irresponsible.”

“You’re joking of course.”

“We have to know what is going on. If we did this, we’d no have no idea about our performance.”

“We couldn’t do any repair work or forecasting.”

 Well of course not, you would never do this. You would not know if your plans were working, or your investments were worthwhile, and would probably easily settle for mediocrity. The ship would sail rudderless. It would be folly, neglectful and no better than guessing which means you would have given up any control over performance. 

 In 23 years, work working with over 200 clients, I cannot think of a single person who would contemplate this. 

 And yet for culture (a critical element of success with a huge impact on performance), some organisations are often happy to just guess at their what their culture and climate are or put off finding out for a variety of reasons – cost, busyness, the time it takes, the simple quick solutions or simply that it’s a low priority or, more alarmingly, ​“we know what it is anyway.”

 And yet, culture is the one variable you can manage and control. There are endless studies that tell us that constructive cultures positively affect everything an organisation does. Culture is about behaviour, systems, processes, and structure.

 As has been said countless times and initiated by Edgar Shine in the 1980s, culture has 3 elements:

  1. Artifacts – the overt and obvious visible elements of an organisation. They are typically the things even an outsider can see, such as furniture and office layout, dress norms, mementos, trophies, language, slogans, stories, myths, ceremonies, rituals ad so on. Can you quickly and easily identify these?
  2. Espoused Values are the company’s declared set of values and norms. Values affect how employees interact and represent the organisation. Most often, values are reinforced in public declarations, like its core values, but also in the common phrases and norms people often repeat. They reflect levels of consciousness and shared opinion on ‘how things should be’. This does not mean that they are blindingly adhered to, but the question is wouldn’t you want to know how aligned people are?
  3.  Shared basic assumptions are, however, the bedrock. They are the beliefs and behaviours so deeply embedded that they can sometimes go unnoticed. They are the plumb line that espoused values and artifacts square themselves against. Do you know what these are? Do you know what your ideal culture is? Really? Do you know what it actually is, how constructive it is? Do you know what caused it? Do you know what outcomes it is producing?

 These basic assumptions are hard to see, so they need to be bought to light regularly and systematically or you are either flying in the dark, keeping your fingers crossed or taking a leap of faith that you know what is going on. So often I have seen leaders surprised when, what they think they know what is going culturally is contrasted via an objective assessment that tells them something else. Their perceptions can be far from true, often superficial and with little idea about the cultural causes or outcomes.

By not measuring culture regularly and properly, leaders may have missed countless opportunities to address any issues. They are looking in the rear vision mirror, often too late to mitigate the damage. These folks would never do this with sales or financials or customers.

“But hey, let’s not measure culture just yet, we know our people, it costs a bit, it takes up people’s valuable time … maybe next year.”

“…….It’ll be alright mate.”