The True Multiculturalism of Organizations

Culture, and its impact on the success of organizations, is a hot topic these days. There seems to an awakening going on to the reality that buying more software and making more rules will not fix most problems. Discussions are now centering on people and corporate cultures. It is refreshing for those of us who have been championing this message to see it come to the forefront.

In my class this week we were discussing firms measuring themselves and culture came up multiple times. It was interesting to me to see that different definitions and mindsets around what culture is. It made me realize that to truly address the topic new terminology may be needed, that culture has become too big a term with multiple meanings.

Most firms have at least three cultures:

External – What is the impression that is presented to clients, customers and competitors. Is the firm seen as ethical, reliable, trustworthy? Are they known for being on time and producing quality work? Are their products innovative and do their provide good customer service?

Internal Societal – What is the atmosphere internally? Do people like and respect each other? Is the firm like a family and everyone tries to take care of each other? Is it a fun or serious place to work?

Internal Citizenship – What is allowed behaviorally? Are people held accountable? When people aren’t accountable is it addressed? What happens when a team member isn’t following policies or is ignoring their responsibilities? How long does it take for change when issues occur?

For a large or geographically diverse firm, they may have multiple occurrences of all three.

All three co-exist as one in most people’s minds and as a result cultural change can be difficult. Often when change is needed in one area there is great angst that the other areas will be compromised and as a result efforts are limited or halted. One of the primary concerns firms have as they grow and need to formalize their internal citizenship is that it will come at the cost of their societal culture. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Successfully making internal citizenship change while preserving societal culture requires:

1 – Recognizing that the three components are separate and can change independently but also keeping an eye on their independent impacts

2 – Depersonalizing accountability and repercussions. A clear line has to be created between how individuals feel about each other as people and how business issues are addressed.

3 – Always presenting the business case (the ‘why’) for any changes, policies or rules.

4 – Having clearly defined goals and priorities that are shared across the organization

5 – Communication!!!

Location, Location, Location

Bear with me, this post is a bit different than most I write. The topic is still change and leadership but instead of practical matters I want to ramble about space and human existence.

Again today Stephen Hawking is in the news. He is advocating for another moon landing and the development of a moon colony in the next 20 years. Specifically the comment he made that struck me was, “if we don’t colonize other plans in the next 100 years, we may not survive climate change, disease, and other versions of doom we’re bound to inflict on ourselves.” For a very intelligent man, this hit me as a very short sighted suggestion for that problem.

Much like my clients who I see buy different software packages, expecting their process and culture issues to be erased, moving a broken humanity, responsible for its own doom, to another planet seems like a fool hardy solution that will only result in delaying the same outcome. Changing tools, changing location, changing universes even is denial at best when you are facing a culture or behavioral problem. Moving humans to Mars will no more solve our impact on the environment or our bodies than JC Penny can save itself right now by moving all its stores one block north.

If Hawking is right and we are the makers of our own demise then facing the root causes of that extinction and proactively changing our behavior seems like the only logical answer to me.

That’s Not How We Do It Here!!!

For anyone who has known me a while or followed this blog, it is no secret I am a fan of John Kotter. I have read his books, I have studied him in multiple classes in school, I use his books and knowledge with my clients and I have reviewed his book “Our Iceberg is Melting” in a previous post . For many reasons I was ecstatic when a classmate pointed out he had a new book out. In “That’s Not How We Do It Here!” Dr Kotter co-authors with the same partner, Holger Rathgeber, that he did in ‘Iceberg’

Beyond the author being one of my favorite, I loved the book because it addresses a major issue in the change management and change leadership realms, the perpetual problem of people being stuck in always doing what they have always done. And just like with ‘Iceberg’ the book is delivered in a fable format. I have found that these fables are not only easier to get people to read, due to their length, but they also have an added factor of being able to get people out of their heads in a way that helps them absorbed the message. For that reason I use these type of books regularly with my clients.

I bought the book the minute I learned about it and went to my favorite place, the pasture, to read it. My mare and foal got story time. I was in no way disappointed as I devoured it in under an hour.

The story is centered around meerkats and their survival in the Kalahari. Kotter explores how different clans adapt to novel threats such as vultures and sandstorms, how they deal with growth in their organizational size and how they find a balance between the needs to manage the current and how to innovate for long-term survival. The lessons are directly applicable to business, to social organizations and day to day life.

An overview video of the book is available: but I highly suggest reading the whole book. Use the video while you wait for the book to arrive but the greatest little lessons are lost if you count on only the video.

Read this book and buy your boss a copy!!!!