Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The role of "Culture"

On another site, a person asked the role of "culture" in an organization. I've often heard owners, sales exdecutives and managers refer to a "sales culture." In my view, culture is a conversation. Listen to the conversation and you hear the culture - explicit and implied.

After 37 years working with organization, some that work, others that don't, it appears to me that a focus on culture deflects people away from the business at hand. What is the purpose of the enterprise, in addition to making money? The culture issue only answers one question, "How do we choose to operate?" The future of the enterprise rests on the answers to other, less internally focused issues. “Do we have a viable offing to our market? Who is our market and what are they motivated to buy? What are we doing to make it easy to do business with us? What is irritating or frustrating to our prospective clients?” etc.

The implication that a particular “culture” will take care of all this is dangerous. I realize this is not the intent of those who focus on culture, but it is implied.

My cynical side is looking for a website where a company has integrity as a value and then, in all honesty, clearly states: "We don't care about our people – they are a "disposable resource" [Human Resource] to us. We do everything we can to get money from our clients and work towards having them think we are better than we are. We lie when it's convenient and could care less about our customer's issues or problems. So what if we're late in deliveries or our products don't work they way they should? Buyers beware. Etc. etc. Unfortunately, I've seen all these behaviors in organizations that have incredible vision - values statements.

A case in point, people with integrity rarely speak of it. It's just who they are. A high percentage of liars speak incessantly about "honesty", "integrity" and act highly insulted if you imply they are less than honest. Fortunately, most people are fundamentally honest. Values are in people, not organizations. Meaning is in people, not in words.

Executives have vision and core values. When they leave the organization and others take over with different values – almost overnight the culture will change since the conversations will change.

If we desire a particular culture, then it is imperative that conversations align with that culture. Inconsistencies give clues. Is the inconsistency just sloppy speaking, or does it represent the "real" beliefs of the people expressing it?

I'm a bit soft on pursuing "culture", but know its significance. However, once a person with incongruent values begins to "talk" about the culture - it is destroyed.

Culture matters, but excessive focus on it can destroy its impact.

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