One thing is guaranteed: a culture will form in an organization, a department, and a work group. The question is whether the culture helps or hinders the organization’s ability to execute its strategic objectives.”

Chatman and Cha

Like the social scientist I quote above there is no question in my mind that the development of a culture is inevitable and it is the task of those who aspire to lead and shape organizations to cultivate their culture deliberately rather than just letting it happen.

I think we see evidence of this in both a positive and negative example every day.

At perhaps it most negative we have this great quote from Dustin McKissen, founder and CEO of McKissen and company, in his article The Rotten Core of Every MBA Program,

While Taylor's theories are viewed as harsh and impractical today, his work was still cited in every class I attended that discussed the roots of modern management science. What's not often discussed is how little Taylor thought of the people who actually produced products in the factories he studied.

Taylor wasn’t a big fan of culture. He believed that people were “hard coded” and that the average employee isn’t very bright or motivated and that the role of leadership is to bludgeon them into compliance. A lot of “leaders” still have that belief today.

On the enlightenment side we have the recent article from Josh Bersin, principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, who shared his research from 6000 companies and over 2 million employees that concluded that the most important element in high performing employment brands is culture and values, followed by career opportunities and confidence and leadership.

Their research concluded that in terms of a positive employment brand these factors were 4.9, 4.5, and 4 times more important than compensation and benefits. Interestingly the “work-life” balance we hear about so much was rated as less than half as important.

Millennials rate career opportunities in the first position, but other than that their responses are the same as preceding generations.

I think recognition of the importance of culture as a driver is especially important when we read that critical influencers like Marshall Goldsmith recently posted about how and why employee engagement isn’t working.

Based on what he shares and my own experience a big reason that most initiatives are failing is because organizations are approaching it as a program rather than a culture change and treating employees as targets rather than stakeholders.

Courtesy of a colleague (thank you J. Ingrid Kessler), I just had the opportunity to read one of the best books I have experienced in quite a while, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

Duckworth believes that grit on an individual level is built on four pillars, Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope. Her writing on those areas is fascinating at it evaluates tenacity and effort as opposed to more traditional factors like IQ and natural ability, but the really exciting part for me is when she makes the connection to culture-

Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own. We internalize them. We carry them with us. The way we do things around here and why become the way I do things and why!

She shares a discussion with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Morgan Chase and building and sustaining culture as to how he selects senior leaders for his organization that are worth borrowing-

The first are attributes, Capability, character, and how they treat people. The next are two simple, but compelling questions:

·         Would I let them run the business without me?

·         Would I let my children work for them?

How many of us ask those questions as part of our hiring process?

She also shares an evaluation process for your core values to see if they emerge beyond banality-

·         Does this help me develop and reinforce the culture I want to sustain?

 I have long been a believer that HR Human Resources) practitioners most important work should focus on helping management and leadership with what I see as the three key elements of healthy, functioning relationships-

Clarity- what is the mission or value proposition of the organization. Why does it exist?

Context- how does the role of the individual employee fit into the larger mission and how do they know they are performing appropriately.

Alignment- creating systems so that line of sight is both very clear and reinforced by other organizational systems. I believe a big part of the role of “new” HR is to train and reinforce those elements as being essential to everyone in management not just leadership and human resources.

Is it just wishful thinking or do my elements have some continuity with Duckworth’s pillars of interest, purpose and hope?

I also think when we are talking about cohesive culture we are building what Lencioni describes as organizational health.

His first three critical behaviors are building trust, mastering conflict, and achieving commitment.

That sounds a lot like culture to me.

So I guess I agree and disagree with Goldsmith that engagement has failed. I don’t think it has failed at all. We just aren’t doing it right!

I don’t think 2 million employees are wrong. They are telling us how to create an environment that is compelling to them we just need to listen.

So if you are not enjoying the organizational productivity and performance you want start with an examination of what Duckworth and others would call culture and what Lencioni calls organizational health.

You can’t build a tower on a faulty foundation……


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