Are traditional customs a source of cultural strength? Do they differentiate you in ways that make people want to be part of your organization? Do they help you attract the best talent? Do they help people deliver great brand experiences?
Or do they build walls that prevent your culture from adapting to a changing world to such an extent that clinging to them will ultimately make you irrelevant? Do they drive your best employees to leave – or worse, to stay but underperform? Do they make it impossible to attract the best new talent?
Company cultures often take great pride in their traditional practices, built over time, strengthened with years of repetitive practice to the point that acting in accordance with those “traditional ways” is instinctive. They define you. They differentiate you and – in your mind – make you better.
But what if those ways don’t make you better, they make you disconnected. They diminish your value proposition. They are the reason that your strongest performers start leaving and the best prospects won’t accept your offers. There’s a dark side to pride. Pride can make you numb. It can blind you to what is happening in your world now, before your unseeing eyes.
Practiced traditions create a comfortable state of familiarity. You do what you’ve always done. There is no anxiety, no stress, no fear. Life feels good. You handle your job, your skills, your perceived need to learn with so much ease you can do it all in your sleep.
What if that ease makes you resist keeping up with the needed changes and the personal and organizational growth you must make to remain relevant? As with pride, there is a dark side to familiarity. Familiarity can make you lazy. You become unwilling to think creatively. You refuse to embrace a future that is different from the present. You resist learning anything that does not reinforce and expand what you already know.
Ingrained traditions create an unconscious bias that has you hiring only people who fit in with your current cultural practices. When that happens, you can kiss diversity of thought goodbye, along with the creative spark that it brings you.
What do you do? How do you find answers? What do you do when you find them – and they are not the answers you wanted to hear?
You can begin by questioning your traditional, cultural behaviors around a variety of practices that shape how you relate to your primary constituencies – your customers and your employees. Are they effective? Do they motivate people to set and achieve ambitious goals? Do they build and strengthen relationships? Do they enhance your value proposition? And many more.
The answers must come from the trenches of your organization, not the C suite. And, of course, your people must feel safe enough to provide the kind of candor you need.
Here’s another thing you can do. Respond to this blog with your thoughts. Let’s start a conversation. Share your experiences. Raise questions so that a community of leaders and followers can see the broadest possible set of realities that will contribute to helping everyone see a range of issues, implications – and most importantly – solutions.
The best answers come as a result of properly framing the issue and asking the right questions. Don’t miss the opportunity. Jump in.
By Bill Leider, Managing Partner, Axíes Group