In all organisations from a family, a local school, to a large multi-national corporation, everyone, whether they realise it or not, is actively participating in a second job. They are building the culture. This may be deliberate or, as is more often the case, unconscious. Culture can be the single biggest determinant of the success, or failure, of any organisation. If it is not nurtured, weeds will grow and thrive.
The collective values and beliefs of every member of the organisation will form the ‘lived culture’. Ed Schien describes culture as, “among other things, a set of routines and practices for getting things done, a unique language, and shared deep assumptions about how the world works, how problems get solved, and what is valued.”
Deliberately creating a positive and productive culture involves tapping into the strengths and talents of all concerned and valuing every contribution equally. This creates shared ownership which is far more powerful than buy-in. It is necessary to ensure ample time is given for the team to identify, clarify and create living definitions of what the values are that we wish to align around. Once decided, it will invariably mean we all need to make changes in the way we behave. As Edwards and Martin state, “Tension exists between the culture and values we have been living and the new values and culture we want – our future. This is essential, healthy tension.” This tension is what will drive the change we need to create our preferred future. Human change takes time, a long time, along with an unrelenting focus.
Once the desired culture has been collectively identified and articulated, the real work of leaders is to practice vulnerability and transparency, ensuring they model the aligned behaviours regularly themselves. As they model they start to learn to live differently. Some days they will succeed and others, fail. Over time they consciously articulate what is happening, recognising aligned action in others and celebrating it. This slowly teaches everyone the ‘values in action’. It further inspires the team to work together to build new ways of being and ultimately their new culture. In her book, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown states, “Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk – we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviours align with those beliefs.”
For a leader, deliberately building a culture is a journey of openness and trust, leading to deeper self-awareness. Seeking feedback from others who observe our behaviour supports building alignment. Gaining insights from different perspectives helps us to understand how others experience our actions. It has been said that we judge others on what we see, however we judge ourselves on our intentions. The corollary, is how we are judged by others.
As the prophet Krishnamurti said,
“I think you should put these questions to yourself, not occasionally, but every day.
Find out. Listen to everything … to the birds, to that cow calling.
Learn about everything in yourself, because if you learn from yourself about yourself, then you will not be a second-hand human being.
So you should, if I may suggest, from now on, find out how to live entirely differently and that is going to be difficult, for I am afraid most of us like to find an easier way of living.
We like to repeat and follow what other people say, what other people do, because it is the easiest way to live – to conform to the old pattern or to a new pattern.
We have to find out what it means never to conform and what it means to live without fear.
This is your life and nobody is going to teach you, no book, no guru. You have to learn from yourself, not from books.
There is a great deal to learn about yourself. It is an endless thing,
it is a fascinating thing and when you learn about yourself, from yourself, out of that learning wisdom comes.
Then you can live a most extraordinary, happy, beautiful life.”
If you want to discuss how to build culture deliberately, give us a call.
The Bats Team
1. Schien, Edgar H (1984). Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
2. Brown, Brené (2019). Dare to lead: brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. Random House Large Print Publishing.
3. Edwards, John & Martin, Bill (2016) Schools That Deliver. Corwin Press
4. Krishnamurti, Jiddu (1954) The First and Last Freedom. HarperCollins Publishers