In this fascinating conversation Emeritus Professor Gary Martin, CEO of the Australian Institute of Management Western Australia, dissects culture into active components to provide a deeper level of understanding and avoid the growing tendency to use it as a ‘catch all’ phrase.
My own personal key learning nuggets I took from the conversation:-
The Great Divide: the difference in views and perceptions within an organisation between leaders and the everyday workers.
If you want a wider fuller perception of an organisation speak to both – often conversations with the everyday workers are different, more raw, to those who lead the organisation
The wider the divide, the more the culture is likely to be described as toxic, and visa versa.
Gary suggests rather than using ‘culture’ as a catch all, it should be broken down into components for more specifics and to be analysed
Interactions in the workplace both shape and act as an indicator of cultural health. Gary breaks this down further to include:
Corporate Numbness – created by the confusion that arises from a constant stream of mixed messages; particularly between being told one thing while behaviours and actions suggest something quite different (e.g. open door policy that is closed in reality)
Use of jargon – When overused it can be ‘jargonmonoxide’ to the culture
‘Wet Noodle Managers’ – managers who are constantly trying to please and in doing so flip flop around the place and end up making make no real decisions
Checked out behaviours – ‘I really don’t care what goes on in this place anymore’, often a result from too much of the above
Work arrangements: particularly in relation to flexible, part-time employees who are often not considered and therefore miss out on opportunities and career advancement despite organisational policies and messages suggesting otherwise – this creates ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ based on presenteeism. Also does a 4 day week actually serve the organisation and the individual simultaneously? It has the potential to radically change culture.
‘Desk Bombing’ – increasingly employees are becoming concerned about when is it appropriate to talk to another colleague; often people have visible cues that suggest interaction is not welcome.
Respect – all too often people can identify disrespectful behaviour (particularly the worst behaviours e.g. harassment and discrimination) but there is little focus on respectful behaviour to complete the continuum.
This then breeds the growing (and unhelpful) assumption that the absence/removal of disrespectful behaviours results in a respectful workplace, but the absence of one thing is different to the presence of another.
Concept of ‘cultural fit’ particularly in recruitment – is it ‘fit’ i.e. you’re like me so you fit and therefore can assimilate, or should we be looking for ‘cultural add’ i.e. subscribe and work by the shared values and resonate to the purpose to express diversity.
Is this driven by wanting to feel safe and a deeper fear of someone different?
The connecting question arises as to whether the highlighted components above are not isolated parts but symptoms of disregarding human nature that then become accelerating dynamics to further create a toxic culture?
This returns us to the Great Divide and the lack of connection to what is really occurring.
It highlights the requirement to truly understand the reality of job design and demands on a job (rust out v burn out).
It also raises how responses to COVID and keeping businesses running didn’t necessarily put people and cultural impacts front of mind.
It raises a the suggestion that when creating strategy and business planning to include other measures to provide multiple lenses such as Emotional intelligence, Cultural intelligence, Adaptability quotient within the organisation - all of which boil down to people impact.
Another cultural impact is how employees reconcile within themselves when their employers make significant profits while customers struggle e.g. energy companies.
What is the real message being communicated in this instance - One of exploitation?
Purpose works as a great compass to align to in this situation while also shaping the culture.
Underneath there is a need for a deeper shared understanding of culture, with differing dimensions, rather than using it a catch all phrase to throw around and cover all ills.
Improving culture may well be answering a series of questions that are related.
Another culture change challenge is facing up to ‘where is our culture today?’ and meeting it where it is at (good, bad and ugly).
Frank conversations are needed to unwind the contradictory messages and remedy the numbness that many employees encounter in the workplace – clear line of clarity and consistency throughout.
Culture is also not just about leaders and managers – every individual is an active player in culture, there is individual responsibility.
Should we bring all of ourselves to work and be our authentic self? Particularly if that includes poor behaviour?
If we are indeed connected to who we really and can manage our own behaviour, yes, bring all of yourself this is a good idea; if not, then it may be best to just bring the best parts.
What also made the discussion particularly interesting and valuable for me personally was the interplay between Gary’s focus on dissecting culture into components and part and my own focus on connecting the parts into a fully connected detailed picture.
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