Organisational culture (or organizational culture as my spell check insists on calling it) is a worrying distraction, despite the fact that some firms have improved theirs as part of their strong growth. The concept is (at best) useless and at worst damaging and yet a better culture is important to growing your firm!
A phrase to kill
Talking to a partner at a two partner firm recently I heard the immortal words “that’s not what we do, it’s not our organisational culture“. My swift reply was “you mean, you don’t want to do it. Be more honest with yourselves, as it may help you”
My recent day off….
The other day I was watching some “street theatre”, I’m sure you’ve seen the trick with the peach stones? To lots of great applause the volunteer walked up to the table, she picked a coloured peach stone from a large bucket and handed it to the “magician”. He put it on the table and covered it with a beaker, placed two other beakers adjacent to it and then moved them around. The volunteer then chose the beaker with the stone, only she didn’t! There is a much longer version of the story, but this will do.
Why is it that the volunteers never manage to locate the peach stone? The volunteers are carefully watching the beaker get moved around, only they’re watching the wrong thing. Concentrating on the magicians hand movement would allow them to get the result, watching the changing beakers never does.
Organisational culture is “hard to change”, many business owners spend ages thinking about culture in their firm, trying to retrain their team (or was that indoctrinate their team?), to no benefit. It’s a bit like the trick with the three beakers. They’re focusing on the wrong thing.
What is organisational culture?
In a sense it’s the personality of the whole firm, or “the way do things around here”. People often forget they are part of that culture! A really useful model is Drennan’s 12 elements of culture. He suggests that the culture in an organisation is built on the following factors.
- Influence of a dominant leader – the vision, management style and personality of the leader in a business often has a significant influence
- History and tradition of the business – how things have always been done
- Type of technology used by the business and the services it gives
- Industry or sector the business is in, and how much and what type of competition it faces
- Customers of the business – who they are and what they expect
- Company expectations – based to a large extent on past performance
- Types of information and control systems used;
- Legislation and wider business environment
- Procedures and policies within the business – ever-evolving, but often a good indicator of underlying values
- Reward systems and the measurement of performance
- Organisation – how the business is organised and resourced
- Goals, values and beliefs – reflected in objects, actions and language
The key thing about this, and other, models is it focuses the mind onto changing one or two elements, rather than tackling the whole monster head on. Unless you’re name is George (and you’ve been sanctified), it’s probably not worth trying to tackle a dragon head on. Most of us could pick one of two elements of that list which we could change, for the better.
Why do people want culture change ?
Very often the way a firm (e.g. all its components) is acting is not helping them achieve their objectives. Training has, maybe, helped; however it’s their collective habits that are holding them back. In a very practical sense I previously wrote about 13 indicators of the “company culture” in your firm, it could give more reasons to consider the culture in your firm.
How to change things and help your small firm to grow?
The key phrase in the last section was “collective habits”. the way you are acting as a group is preventing progress. It is the habits and beliefs that you collectively have that need focus, not culture.
- The firm where staff tend to slow down and stop dead on 5
- The firm where all the admiration goes to one or two that buck the system (and get results), when the firm is trying to get more adherence to process.
- The firm where clients, especially those on the phone, are regarded as a nuisance and habitually talked about as such. I’ve seen it lead to ideas like “don’t answer the phone, let everything go to voice mail this week”.
- What is the small talk like before, during, and after meetings? How does it change when you’re there? How do you contribute to it?
- What damaging habits have you seen in various firms?
By not trying to tackle the monster that is culture, but merely habits and beliefs the whole thing looks different. This often unlocks the change and allows it to happen.
“Organisational culture change” is less relevant to small firms than large, in a small firm. Focus on habits and beliefs, as they can be changed. A small firm where the team has similar values and beliefs can be useful and help what you’re trying to do with your firm.
What habits and beliefs have you changed in your firm?