Thursday Thoughts No. 7 (9/16/21)

IS YOUR CULTURE ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?

Culture is a vital facet in a successful business and a successful community.

Back in 2003, I was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq as a military police officer. We were three months into the war and my squad was working in an Iraqi Police station on the northeast side of Baghdad. Our police station was decrepit with broken panes of glass in the windowsills, cigarette butts piled in the corner on the blackened floor, and no flushing toilets. On this particular day, I was sitting in the front of the station taking complaints from Iraqi citizens. During one of the quieter moments the female interpreter, Nada, said, “The reason why the Iraqis are not behaving is that they don’t know how to respond to freedom. Under Saddam’s dictatorship, they would lose their life or limb for infractions. Now they can loot, drive down the wrong side of the street, slight their neighbor, and barely anything happens.”  I had an epic epiphany at that moment. We, as Americans, couldn’t possibly comprehend the Iraqi’s emotions, thoughts, and the fallout that occurred after liberating Iraq. The saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” not only existed in Iraq but the native culture killed our foreign policy—both in Iraq and Afghanistan. One could say that the same thing happened in Vietnam. Our inability to empathize and develop policies that directly correlate with the centuries-old culture left us unable to make the impact we hoped for. Our democratic values and ethos aren’t a match for the complexities of the middle east.

As a new leader, do you fully understand the culture in your workplace? What about a seasoned leader, is your workplace culture the same as you envision it to be?

This week, new research revealed that Instagram is toxic for teen girls and their mental health. Additionally, Facebook tried to make its platform a healthier place but it got angrier instead. Both are negatively impacting the social media culture. What are they going to do about it? There could be societal and workplace nuances pulling your operating culture away from your envisioned culture. When was the last time you checked your organization’s cultural pulse?

Misunderstanding culture can ruin progress. Inability to empathize with your employees and understand their intricacies can diminish trust.
Culture is a fragile entity within a working environment. A change in procedures, employees, leadership, or the environment around us can cause the culture to fluctuate. As a principal, I saw how the pandemic drastically affected our school’s culture. It was disheartening and tragic to witness our community complain about one another. Tensions caused discontent. Misinformation and assumptions divided the workforce. To combat the change, I utilized several tactics to retain our culture, to provide support, and to create lasting memories even though we weren’t face-to-face. The results created a community of understanding and buy-in, which enabled the staff to work together and focus on their priority―student learning.

Is your culture really as good as you think it is? Are you asking the right questions and looking at the correct indicators to make sure your envisioned culture and your operating culture are consistent? What suggests they are out of whack.

Action steps:

Keep an eye on your culture. Check in often with all of your employee levels and be fully present. Look past the “please-the-boss” facade and see what your employees see.

Don’t ever settle when hiring.  You’ll gain a reputation for hiring the best and your employees will appreciate the fact that they work with the best and they are the best.

Make sure you’re not blind to a slowly declining culture. Sometimes the change is so subtle we don’t notice it happening. An outside perspective (consultant) can be a vital asset for this action step.

Be a part of the positive change. Lead by example―treat everyone with respect and dignity. Do not gossip and vent at work.

Purposefully plan events to bring your employees together to create a sense of belonging and use that opportunity to grow as a team. A greater sense of belonging equates to greater productivity.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!laura.colbert@strategicleadersacademy.com

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