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Culture – an intangible tangible


Photo by Helena Lopes

Culture is about the collective you: what you do, why and how you do it. Underlying all that are the beliefs, habits, biases, and expected outcomes of what your culture helps produce. Your culture creates a quietly powerful reality that most leaders and followers accept with a sense of permanence and inevitability. It operates fluidly but does not change its fundamental nature. It has many moving parts. It can be unified across the entire organization, or fragmented and driven by multiple goals, styles and agendas. All of that is intangible; it defies being measured as a series of line items or data points in any report. 

The tangible aspect of a culture emerges from the fact that we can look at our measurable achievements – our goals and our overall financial performance over time – and connect some dots between what we have achieved (or failed to achieve), and the construct and performance of our culture. We can determine to what extent our cultural norms helped or hindered us in being who we want to be and getting where we want to go. 

And most people never take the time to analyze, understand and act on those nuanced elements of culture.  

More often culture is seen as either unchangeable or somewhat changeable, but with great effort over a long period of time. These are myths, often perpetrated by people that obstruct change but need a good story to make themselves look good in the process of impeding growth.

So, culture takes on the character of something that just IS. And because it IS, it is often not considered when people formulate strategies and goals and create the plans and tactics needed to achieve them. If you’re lucky, your culture will align with your strategies. Your execution will not be impeded by cultural beliefs and behaviors that run contrary to your goals. If your culture and your strategies are not aligned, you’re screwed before you even begin. 

Cultures CAN be changed. Outmoded, dysfunctional beliefs that can put you on a path to irrelevance CAN be discarded and replaced by a new set of values and behaviors that will make your culture adaptable to current and future needs and opportunities. 

Instead of embracing that challenge, however, we do “work-arounds” to adjust to the dysfunctional behavior of various people. A different set of standards have been established for sacred cows, such as: family members of owners or senior executives; people with hard-to-replace subject matter expertise; high performers – especially in sales; people with political connections that are deemed “untouchables;” or people with seniority. All of those compromises, made to deal with the “specialness” of certain people, ALWAYS prevent the organization from operating and achieving at its full potential. ALWAYS. 

What level of compromise have you accepted? What price are you paying? Are you willing to change that?   

By Bill Leider, Managing Partner, Axíes Group

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