How Does Your Culture Operate?

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In “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business and in (Life),  Dov Seidman calls our attention to today’s leadership challenge of shaping cultures that can sustainably accomplish our strategic performance goals.

How people interpret the commitment to cultural values determines what behaviors are adopted by individuals. To demonstrate this creates a story about a group visiting several factories within a company, with each one representing a different position within a four point spectrum of commitment to one value – safety.

The group enters a factory and meets the shop supervisor/foreman before going on a tour. Grinding gears and large swinging hooks whirl around you. Some people are wearing hard-hats and safety gear and others are not. One member asks if he has to wear it. The foreman responds: “It’s your life.”  As a shower of sparks flies overhead, you decide the simple answer is to beat a hasty retreat.  In other words, it’s a culture of Anarchy and Lawlessness

In factory #2, almost everyone wears a hard hat. As the tour starts no-one offers us one. And there aren’t extras around. Ask the supervisor, she says “Yeah, the boss makes us wear them. I hate them myself, but if he catches anyone without one they get fired…and I need this job.” it’s a culture of Blind Obedience to rules.

Factor # 3 is bright and clean on the wall is a set of hats There are several safety notes on the “Visitors” wall, including one saying “Everyone must wear a hard hat.”   Everyone puts one on, except the sales person who says “I have an important meeting this afternoon and prefer not to mess my hair.”  The foreman replies, “I’d like to say ok, but there’s a rule and I don’t want to get busted. Let me ask someone higher up.” And when no-one is found, she comes back and says “I guess you don’t have to wear it”. This is a culture of Informed Acquiescence.

At Factory 4, a person meets everyone and hands out protective hats and goggles.  The sales person makes the same request, and the foreman says, “At this company we really believe in safety and you must wear the proper equipment; without it, I’m afraid I can’t let you go past this point.” The salesman complains and the foreman replies “I’m sorry, but I take personal responsibility that nothing happens to you. I f you want, you can call my boss, but I believe your safety and everyone’s, is paramount. Here is a Values-based, Self-governance culture.

Seideman sees these as 4 levels along a cultural spectrum. Level 4, where an organization is based on values and a shared sense of purpose, will be able to outlast the others. If someone visited your company, how would they perceive the culture when it comes to the values to which your senior team is committed?

How do you create and sustain a values-based culture? One answer is by using tools like ETW (ExecuteToWin) where senior leaders first clarify cultural values and performance standards and then cascade them through all levels of the company, so each employee reviews with his/her supervisor how well the employee is actually carrying out value-driven behaviors. (For more information on ETW, contact tiratricol for sale