Tag Archives: culture

What Does It Say About a Company?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Many companies are using recruiters or screeners or consultants for the pre-interview. How does that process differ mainly from how questions are asked and answered? I gave notice, am leaving my current company, and I found it easier to be less formal with the consultant. The consultant may get a better sense of the company they are representing and whether I would fit in the new culture or not.

Response:
What does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

Every company has a culture and they have the culture they deserve.

This is a problem of introspection, documentation and rituals.

Most companies do not spend time thinking about behaviors connected to what they believe. This introspective process is mostly absent. Events occur, behaviors happen and we seldom look back. Every behavior and our response to that behavior sets a precedent.

Even if we think we understand behaviors we want (behaviors we tolerate), we seldom write them down. If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we cannot continually make them visible to the company, to ourselves.

If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we can never institutionalize them into customs and rituals. If we do not document safe behaviors (culture of safety), we cannot continually review those behaviors in a morning safety meeting (ritual).

So, yes, what does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

Point A to Point B

An event is anything that gets our attention. An event, at work, is any decision or problem that gets our attention. Decisions and problems present themselves as isolated events, yet they exist inside a context. That context will have significant bearing on the outcome of the decision and the solution to the problem.

When we measure the context in terms of time, or timespan, we gain insight into the impact of the decision made or the problem solved.

We can certainly walk from point A to point B. And to carry a payload, we are limited to our backs. In the long term, if we are to carry many payloads, we may want to invest in a vehicle to carry each payload. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

If we are to carry many payloads in our vehicle faster over a longer period of time, we may want to invest in a road. If we want to go faster, we may top that road with smooth asphalt. If we want the smooth asphalt to remain smooth with minimum repair, over time, we may invest in a strong sub-structure for the road. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

Still, we can certainly walk from point A to point B.

It is the role of management to think about longer timespan impact at higher levels of work.

The Source of Organizational Pain

Sometimes people on your team don’t fit. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. Some people don’t fit. It doesn’t make them a bad person, they just don’t fit.

Some companies hire for culture, assuming the company can train the technical stuff. Some companies require the technical stuff assuming the candidate can adapt to the culture.

Organizational structure is the way we define the working relationships between each other. Organizational structure is culture.

Based on your product or service, your business model, what is the relationship your customer wants with your organization? The Discipline of Market Leaders documents three types of relationships (why customers buy from us).

  • Product Superiority (Quality)
  • Low Cost
  • Customer Intimacy

This narrative set the stage in 1995, and, now, there are more ways to define the customer relationship. (I would like to hear how you describe yours.)

Your customer relationship platform drives everything else, specifically your structure. It is the basis of your business model. When your organization structure (your unwritten set of rules) gets out of sync with your customer relationship, you will experience pain.

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.”

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?

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.

Requires a Conscious Mindset

“So, how do I get the team back to productive work?” Miriam asked.

“Facing the issue of having to work together, in a conscious, cooperative way, takes effort,” I replied. “It doesn’t happen by itself. As the manager, when you push the issue back to the center of the table, there are four predictable responses. The team will go into fight or flight. They will freeze or appease, not necessarily in that order.”

“I just have to outlast the panic,” Miriam remembered.

“To work together, the team has to change its belief about the way it works together. Culture starts with the way we see the world, the way we see our circumstances. Teams that work together have a different mindset. They don’t cooperate (for long) because we tell them to. They support and help each other because they believe that is the way things are done around here. It may not be comfortable at first, but high performing teams not only live with the discomfort, but create rituals to meet adversity head on. I can always tell a team is making progress when they trade in (solve) old problems for a new set of problems.” -Tom