I ask leaders what their understanding of “Culture” is. And a lot of them share similar statements, how it is “A group of people who share the same values and beliefs.” Which is true. But then what?
Why should we care about Culture? Why should we create an environment where people share the same values and beliefs? What is Culture really? How does it fit into an organization?
A lot of articles talk about Culture, yet, I am figuring out how I can best explain it in a simple way so that leaders and organizations can better understand it.
What is Culture really?
Culture comes from the latin word “Colere” which means to cultivate, which I find very beautiful. Because in business, organizations, even family, we forget to ask ourselves “What do we want to cultivate and harness here?”
When formed, Culture is the invisible bond that tie people together. It is your DNA — it is a sum of who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in.
When a Culture is empowering, it becomes the “soul” of your organization. It is what makes your organization inspiring. It is what creates internal motivation and a sense of purpose for the people. It generates good feeling and meaning.
Why is Culture important?
The number 1 question I get from leaders are: How can I motivate and inspire my team? Well, what motivates and inspires the organizations? What motivates and inspires the team? Are they aligned? If not, then you will have such a tough time motivating and inspiring your people — and they will focus on external motivations such as salary, compensation and benefit.
If culture is the invisible bond that tie people together, what is this invisible bond?
Why do most Organization fail at Implementing Culture?
Watching organizations learn how to better their Culture, I learn that these are the top 5 reasons why they fail at Culture Activation.
1. They don’t know what they believe in. They haven’t figured out their purpose.
Most organizations already have their vision, mission, values. Great. But the way I test if those vision, mission and values are understood and internalized by the people is by asking one question: “Here in your organization, what do you believe in?”
Oh it is a simple question yet so hard to answer. And most people, even the President Directors, have a hard time answering this question. If you don’t know your WHY, every thing else become meaningless.
Because the Vision, Mission and Values should come from this belief. This is why most organization’s Visions, Missions and Values don’t become inspiring. They merely become writings on the wall. If you are not inspired by the organization, how can the people be inspired? Then we have a tough time inspiring and motivating them.
2. The people, especially the Leaders, don’t talk about the values.
What are values for? It becomes our guide when we are faced with decisions and difficulties.
I know a company with one of their values be “Create Meaning and Fun.” During team meeting, when they see a team member facing difficulties, the leader would ask them “What can we do to make this work more meaningful for you?”
They were also faced with the decision to pick between 2 clients. Client A which will give them more profit, even though they are not the most ‘ideal’ people to work with (you know what I mean here, right?) Client B which will receive less profit but they will have more fun working with the clients. Which one will you choose? Walking the talk of this values, they decide to go with Client B.
What happens here? The team has a new level of respect for the Leaders, because not only they care about the team but also live the values.
In most organizations, people can remember their values, but when I ask them “Can you give me an example of this value in action?” they would have a hard time answering it. Why? Because they don’t use it. They don’t talk about it.
3. They focus on the ‘artifacts’ instead of the ‘habits’.
Many people think of the companies with great cultures are companies that have great office space and design. They think that as long as values are posted on the wall, it is enough. Well, is it?
So, the question I usually ask is “What is one of the habits that you do in this organization that inspire you?”
Most organizations can’t answer it. They can name big townhall meetings that they do, but that’s not a habit. They can name exciting things that they do, but that’s not a habit.
In one company, one of their habits is to have Thursday and Friday sharing session. On Thursday, for 1-1.5 hours they would learn about skills that would be beneficial to their growth. They usually invite someone from the community to share a certain skill. On Friday, one of the people would have the opportunity to share just about anything — what they find, learn, experience. And apparently, this little routine is something that the people really appreciate and are proud of.
In another company, one of their habits is to prepare good news during their weekly meeting. They believe that it is important to share their progresses and successes. So that’s what they do. What happens is that people are actually excited to go to meetings because they know they will learn something and talk about ideas instead of problems.
4. They fail to align people’s aspirations with the organization’s aspirations.
When was the last time you ask your people what they want to experience, learn and contribute in the organization? How can leaders align this with their role? How can leaders create opportunities for them inside the organization?
We usually ask the wrong questions. We ask people what their GOALS are in 3-5 years. And of course, most people’s goals are promotion, salary raise, better opportunities. It is very hard to promise that. But, to give them experiences, opportunity to learn and opportunity to contribute not only easier but also more meaningful.
5. They rather focus on what can be measured.
It is definitely easier to focus on targets, goals, strategies, KPIs because the are easily measured. How do you measure values, trust, love, passion, loyalty, contribution, experiences, opportunities? It is not easy. Yet, as I write here, when something is harder to measure, it has a greater value. Like love, trust, purpose.
Value is not something that is measured. Value is something that is felt. And we can continue to do what is easy by measuring what is easy, or we can start living up to our potential by focusing on value.
People say that Culture is hard. I say, Culture is easy. It really depends on how much you are willing to focus and invest on what matters most.