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Culture is the track record
Leaders who think organizational culture is a set of concepts attempt to change it using words and concepts – and inevitably fail, because organizational culture is not a set of concepts.
It’s a track record.
In particular, it’s the track record of which behaviors are a waste of time and which lead to good personal outcomes.
For example, what happens when someone raises a hand – do they get listened to, or do they learn that raising a hand is a wasted effort?
In other words, what’s the track record of what happens when someone raises a hand? That’s what determines whether raising hands is part of the team’s culture.
Culture is the track record. You change culture by changing the track record.
Defining Core Values and communicating them doesn’t change cultures.
It’s not a useless exercise but merely a first step. After Core Values are defined, track records must be changed.
This cannot be achieved through words, only actions.
Or, more precisely, words can initiate and facilitate the process, but only words backed by action count.
Engagement is also a track record
It is the track record of what happens when one cares.
What happens when someone works hard? When someone points out a problem? When someone comes up with an idea? Does it lead to good or bad outcomes?
What’s the track record of caring? Does it lead to good personal outcomes? Or does it lead to wasted effort?
If you want your people to be more engaged, change the track record of caring.
Make sure that the next time someone cares, good things happen to them. Or at least they aren’t taught the lesson that it would have been better to care less.
Teamwork is a track record
Similarly, and contrary to common belief, teamwork is not about liking or trusting your colleagues.
Instead, teamwork is the track record of what happens when colleagues interact.
What happens when someone asks a colleague for help? Does what follows teach them that it was a good idea to ask for help? Or that asking for help is a waste of time?
What happens when someone gives feedback to a colleague? Are they listened to and thanked? Or are they made wish that they hadn’t voiced their feedback?
Again, to improve teamwork, improve the track record of interactions.
Improving the track record
Let’s work on this last point. How do you improve the track record of interactions?
The trick is to not address all interactions at once – such a generic goal will produce a generic approach that won’t be effective. Instead, begin by picking one type of interaction and working on that.
For example, let’s work with the interaction of “asking and receiving feedback.”
People won’t ask for feedback unless, in your team, there is a track record that, when people ask for feedback, they receive helpful and actionable feedback that doesn’t feel personal. And people won’t give good feedback unless the track record in your team is that, when people give feedback, it is well received and taken seriously.
So, if you want your people to give more feedback to each other, you need to create these two track records.
Achieving this requires, first and foremost, that your personal actions contribute to the new track record. Whenever you give feedback, make sure it’s not just correct but also helpful, and that makes the receiver glad to have you as a manager rather than wishing you didn’t exist. And whenever you receive feedback, make sure you take it seriously. This doesn’t mean accepting all feedback as correct – some will be wrong – but always making your interlocutor feel listened to, and if you disagree, let them know why. Never take any feedback you receive personally, and never make any colleague giving you feedback feel like they wasted their time.
The more your actions show that in your team there is a good track record associated with giving feedback, the more people will give and request feedback.
However, leading by example is necessary but not sufficient. Not only must your people be open to giving and receiving feedback, but they must also have the skills to do it in a helpful way that makes their interlocutor want to have more such interactions in the future. This requires you to train and coach them on how to give and receive feedback.
Note that doing “politically correct” things, such as forcing people to say thank you even when they receive bad feedback, won’t work. Instead, what will work is to teach your people to give such helpful feedback that saying “thank you” is a natural reaction.
So, to summarize what we’ve seen so far.
Organizational culture – what your team does, what your team cares about, what your team doesn’t do – is not a bunch of words but a track record of actions and reactions.
So, changing your organizational culture means changing the track record.
Find out the behaviors you want your team to exhibit, and ensure that there’s a track record of good things happening to those who exhibit them.
Find more about the work I do on changing organizational cultures on Luca-Dellanna.com/management