The hidden secrets of your organisation’s culture

“The culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.” Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker.

Someone once told me that it is famously difficult to change organisational culture. That it is “sticky”. That you can change a whole Board and not change the culture.

I think culture can be changed. But it’s not easy.

When I work with leaders on their organisation’s culture, a big part of my job is to help them see what the culture actually is right now, because there are always blind-spots. And the very act of identifying what the culture is now can cause a shift.

Culture at its simplest, is “the way things are around here.” But how do we get at the way things are?

We look at three areas;

1.Symbols – what can we see when we look around? Who works here, what do people wear, what are the logos, what is the structure, what are the processes etc?

2.Values – what are the goals, values, aspirations, rationalisations?

3.Assumptions – what are the unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and values?

Symbols and Values are easier to spot than Assumptions.

The Assumptions are the “hidden secrets” of the title of this blog that determine behaviour, perception, thought and feeling. They are difficult to get at – because they are unconscious.

Some examples;

“He who proposes, does.” “Push back and you’ll get buy-in.” “Better to seek permission than forgiveness.” “You need a degree to get promoted.” “We’ll aways be number 2 in our market.” “Women can only be on the Board as non-Execs.”

We must try to get at these Assumptions. Because when we are faced with these secrets we can do something about them. And tough though that may be, and as sticky as culture is, it might just be worth it.

What are those Assumptions, those unconscious beliefs in your organisation? They might just be holding you back.

(My culture work is heavily influenced by that of Edgar Schein – a world renowned expert on organisational culture, credited with founding the field.)