Simon Terry

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The Cultural Renaissance

The way people behave matters. We are experiencing a renaissance in focus on culture in our organizations. After emphasising process and systems, we are recognising the value of culture for collaboration, innovation, agility and the ability to realise the potential of an organisation. However culture is a challenging realm for managers more used to tangible systems to change.

Culture is Behaviour

‘Culture is how people behave’ – Mary Barra

Many organisations don’t understand culture. They treat it as an abstraction or a communication issue. The mindset believes that posters, communications and effective change management workshops can drive culture change. If everyone is clear on our values then the culture will change.

Nobody changed a corporate culture with a values statement. Values are subject to conflicts, interpretation and there is a gap to implementation in action.

What Behaviour do you Expect?

‘Culture is what happens when managers are not in the room’

Culture is about behaviours. A culture appears in action, not ideas. That’s why it has a positive or negative impact in a business.

Watching the actions of others is how we determine what actions are required and what is allowed. When a group of people form an expectation that some behaviours will happen and others are prohibited, those expectations shape their actions.

We know words mislead. The surest test of a culture is what behaviours happen when nobody is watching. We know a single action might be a fluke. We want consistency before we change our expectations of how people behave. Leaders need to take particular care to not announce new behaviours that they can’t live consistently.

Changing Culture Takes Actions

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ -Peter Drucker

If your culture change program remains in the realm of ideas and ideals then the culture of the organisation will defeat it. Make sure you consider the following questions:

– what are your actions today before the change?
-are the actions you expect clear practical and realistic for people?
– who will lead the way in consistently & visibly demonstrating the new behaviours?
– which actions will you discourage?
– how will you ensure the changes in action are noticed and shared widely to reinforce the need for change?

Action is the heart of culture. Change the actions to change the behavioural expectation that is culture.


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