Category Archives: Culture

I Care What You Do

There are four pieces to the Culture Cycle

  • Beliefs, assumptions, values, way we see the world
  • Connected behaviors
  • Connected behaviors tested by the consequences of reality
  • Customs and rituals

Unfortunately, we often spend too much time attempting to define our beliefs, assumptions and values, and too little time defining connected behaviors. I don’t care what you know, don’t care how you feel. I care what you do.

Whose Drama?

“Work is personal,” Marjorie said.

“Would you want it any other way?” I asked.

“But, I don’t want the personal drama at work.”

“If there is no drama, people will bring it. What is your role, as a manager, to create drama, at work?”

“But, I don’t want drama,” Marjorie protested.

“The absence of drama in a person’s life is pathological. Why do you occasionally observe pathological behavior, yes, at work? If there must be drama, at work, whose drama do you want it to be?”

“You are telling me that I have to create drama at work?” Marjorie questioned.

“Drama is meaning, the interpretation of our world. Yes, I want you to create drama, I want you to create meaning, I want you to create context. Context for the work. Work is personal.”

Work is Personal

“I don’t understand why people have to bring their personal lives to work,” complained Marjorie. “I don’t need the drama. Can’t they just put up this virtual wall between their work life and their personal life?”

“So, why do you think people bring their personal lives to work?” I asked.

“I don’t know, because they have them, I suppose.”

“If there is no drama in a person’s life, what do most people do?” I prodded.

“Now, that’s funny. If there is no drama, people create it,” Marjorie spouted.

“If there is no drama, at work, what do most people do?”

“I told you, if there is no drama, people create it.”

“Please, understand that an absence of drama is a pathological condition. Drama is the meaning, the interpretation of our human experience. If there is no drama, at work, most people will bring it. And, in the absence of drama, in the absence of meaning, most people will bring it. If you, as a manager, have not created the context for the work, people will bring it. If what happens outside of work is more meaningful than what happens inside of work, you notice that people bring that outside in.”

Marjorie was listening. She spoke. “So, what you are saying is, that work is personal.”

Home for the Holidays

People are scurrying to take off for the holidays. I see the hustle, bustle and last minute shopping. I, too, am battened down for a winter holiday, a little feasting, a little skiing. We will see you back here in January. For now, hug those around you and give thanks. This is our traditional post from Dec 2005.
_____

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch. The mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

See you all next year. -Tom

A Manager’s Accountability for Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
This is not a simple question. What is company culture? And what is my accountability, as a manager, related to culture?

Response:
Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

Company culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is unwritten in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. Culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the source of culture, where does it start? How is culture visible, how do we see it? How is culture tested? How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated? These are the four steps in the Culture Cycle.

1. The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our beliefs, bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

2. Culture, the way we see the world drives our behavior. We cannot see the bias in others. We cannot see their interpretations of the world. We cannot see the story people carry in their minds, but, we can see behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

3. Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Our culture stands for what we tolerate. This is counter to the notion of the lofty intentions of honesty and integrity. Our culture stands for the behaviors we tolerate related to the lofty intentions.

4. Behaviors that survive, for better or worse, are institutionalized in our rituals and customs. This ranges from the peer lunch on a team member’s first day at work to the hazing in a fraternity house. But, it all starts with the way we see the world.

There is accountability, for a manager, in each of the four steps in the culture cycle.

Beliefs and assumptions. Every manager must be able to verbalize and discuss the beliefs held by the organization. This discussion may be in the form of stories, or observations of specific behaviors that support those beliefs. If the belief is that all team members must return home each day with all their fingers and toes, the manager must be able to tell stories that illustrate safe and unsafe work practices and the consequence of each.

Connected behaviors. Every manager must be able to identify behaviors that support the beliefs of the organization (positive behavior) and behaviors inconsistent with those beliefs (negative behavior). Every manager must be able to verbalize and coach those behaviors, acknowledging positive behavior and intervening negative behavior. If the belief is that every team member must return home each day with all their fingers and toes, the manager must be able to verbalize safe work practices and coach corrective behavior.

Testing against reality. Every manager must be able to reconcile connected behaviors with the consequences of reality. There must be consistency between positive behaviors and negative behaviors with what really happens as a result. If the behavior related to safety is to wear protective gear (safety glasses and gloves), then the manager may not allow unsafe work practices just because it is more convenient. Convenience often wins. We stand for what we tolerate.

Customs and rituals. Every manager must execute in the customs and rituals that support the beliefs of the organization. If it is the ritual to reinforce behaviors related to safety, the manager cannot cancel the morning safety meeting because she is too busy.

How We Get to Customs and Rituals

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture. The one I currently kick around is –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

  • What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  • How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  • How is culture tested?
  • How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

Culture Starts
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

Culture is Visible
Culture, the way we see the world drives our behavior. We cannot see the bias in others. We cannot see their interpretations of the world. We cannot see the story people carry in their minds, but, we can see behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

Tested
Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Our culture stands for what we tolerate. This is counter to the notion of the lofty intentions of honesty and integrity. Our culture stands for the behaviors we tolerate.

Customs and Rituals
Behaviors that survive, for better or worse, are institutionalized in our rituals and customs. This ranges from the peer lunch on a team member’s first day at work (for better), to the hazing in a fraternity house (for worse). But, it all starts with the way we see the world. -Tom Foster

Embedding Culture as a Key Result Area

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area (KRA). What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

  1. What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  2. How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  3. How is culture tested?
  4. How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

What is the source of culture, where does it start?
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

How is culture visible, how do we see it?
Culture, the way we see the world, drives our behavior. We cannot see our bias. We cannot see our interpretation. We cannot see the story we carry in our minds, but, we can see our behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

How is culture tested?
Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Where there is congruence between behavioral intentions and the test of consequences, intentions (the way we see the world) moves forward. Where there is a disconnect between behavioral intentions and the test of consequences, intentional culture stops DEAD.

How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?
Those behaviors that survive the test of consequences become institutionalized, for better or worse. Positive behaviors that survive the test against reality can become the customs and rituals that reinforce the way we see the world. Alternatively, counterproductive behaviors that survive can be institutionalized in the underground of our organization and will prevail, more powerful than our official rules and enforcement.

You get to decide. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

What the Manager Must Know

Welcoming a new group of students to my leadership program in Fort Lauderdale.

In 1999, Marcus Buckingham, with the help of the Gallup organization published their findings of an extensive survey on employee retention. First Break All the Rules documents the most important reasopn that a team member leaves a company, is not for money, but the relationship they have with their manager.

A company may have the best benefit package, the best food in the cafeteria, flexible working hours, free car washes, but if the team member has a lousy relationship with their manager, they will leave. On the other hand, the company may struggle to provide benefits, make everyone bring their own lunch and wash their own car at home, but if the team member has a good working relationship with their manager, the team member will likely stay with the company.

What do I expect from every manager. I expect every manager to know their team. I expect every manager to engage in regular 1-1 meetings with each team member. And, during that meeting, I expect the manager to learn something about the team member, outside of work.

Become genuinely interested in other people. – Dale Carnegie. It’s the most important retention tool for every company.

Culture, Munoz and United

Because I occasionally fly United Airlines, I received an email from Oscar Munoz, CEO at United Airlines that illustrates an often missed step in the culture cycle. Here is what he said in his email, “Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes. It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”

So, here is the culture cycle. Pay close attention to step 3.

  1. We hold beliefs and assumptions, about the way we see the world.
  2. We connect behaviors to those beliefs and assumptions.
  3. We test those behaviors against the reality of consequences.
  4. The behaviors that survive the test become our customs and rituals.

We can say we hold values of integrity, honesty, fairness. We can even define behaviors connected to those beliefs like courtesy, listening, understanding another’s viewpoint. But, somewhere along the line, for the crew on that United Airlines flight, they had learned that NOT following the rules ended in a reprimand. They attempted to displace four passengers for four crew trying to meet a schedule in another city. That was the rule. Had they not followed the rule, they knew there would be hell to pay, a write-up in their employee file, a graveyard shift, a demotion or skipped promotion. They knew that defined behavior of courtesy would never stand up against the reality of consequences.

So, someone got dragged out the door. Based on the settlement with the passenger, it would have been cheaper to purchase four Tesla automobiles for each of the four flight crew and ask them to drive instead of displacing the four passengers.

And right about now, every employee at United Airlines is confused about what to do in spite of what Munoz says.

The Reality Step Always Wins

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about culture and the importance of culture. How can culture be created? How can culture be sustained?

Response:
Culture gets created every day. Whether you intended or not, the culture you have today was created yesterday. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behaviors in the work that we do together. It is a cycle.

  • We hold beliefs and assumptions, about the way we see the world.
  • We connect behaviors to those beliefs and assumptions.
  • We test those behaviors against the reality of consequences.
  • The behaviors that survive the test become our customs and rituals.
  • Customs and rituals reinforce our beliefs and assumptions about the way we see the world.
  • Rinse, repeat.

You can start almost anywhere on the cycle to define your culture. Ultimately, the reality step always wins and redefines the rest of the cycle until the next test against reality occurs.