The value in addressing organisational culture

Written by
Rana Nejem

17 Oct 2018

17 Oct 2018 • by Rana Nejem

We just don’t have time to worry about culture right now.” I hear this so often from business owners facing a range of pressures and challenges. But if you don’t pay attention to your company’s culture, you will simply replicate problems, digging yourself into an even bigger pit.

The culture of any business is essentially a reflection of the values, behavioural style and attitude of the person at the top. If the boss is consciously aware of what he or she is reflecting, and if he or she is actively creating the kind of atmosphere that encourages desired behaviour (and so help achieve the company’s objectives) then there is alignment. Unfortunately, this is not as common as it should be.

It is all too easy to lose sight of those underpinning values and the effect that the leader’s own behaviour and attitude has on everything that happens throughout the business. The focus of the person at the top quickly shifts to the details of running the business, while that less tangible issue of “culture” is left to take care of itself.

At some stage, most organisations go through the exercise of defining their mission, vision and values. These definitions are then posted on the company website and sometimes framed and mounted on walls around the office. The words are still quickly forgotten. Very few mission statements – especially in the Arab world – go beyond words, translating stated values into actual behaviour. In other words, if I were to follow you around the office for a week, what actions would demonstrate to me that you were living a specific value?

Attaining alignment

My work is all about shifting people’s behaviour and attitudes; but that does not exist in a vacuum – everything is connected and must be in alignment. This starts with the person at the head of the organisation: is he or she constantly and consistently reflecting the organisation’s values in everything he or she says and does?

Inspirational and motivational talks about respect and loyalty are not going to work if the boss is seen to lose their temper, shouting at a driver or PA; these values are not being lived if they lack the confidence to make other people feel important. Chances are, employees are going to mirror that behaviour or opt to leave the company.

To safeguard culture, everything must be in alignment: the organisation’s purpose with the leader’s values, attitude and behaviour – reflected in the company’s architecture and all the systems in place. The recruitment process must then ensure that new candidates are a good fit for culture not just a good fit for the job.

Addressing behaviour

It has been proven, time and again, that an employee’s behaviour will either grow to mirror the prevalent  culture in their organisation or they will move on to other organisations that are more reflective of their personal values. Unlike character or personality, behaviour can be changed.

However, we cannot change behaviour without addressing its motivating factors (the thinking process that leads a person to take certain actions). That is why I strongly believe in adopting an ‘inside-out approach’ to behaviour when working with leaders and staff. Behaviour begins with a thought, which creates a feeling – an emotion. From that emotion action results. We make decisions and take action based on feelings and emotions.

For example, if I walk into the office thinking “another day of problems and complaining customers, I wish I could be somewhere else!”, the resulting feelings are likely to be frustration, defeat, distress and anger. No matter how capable I might be, professionally, or how hard I try to breathe and smile, there is going to be an explosion – and it is not going to be pretty.

So there is only one way you can change behaviour – and that is by changing the way you think of, or the meaning you give to certain situations. When you change the way you look at something, the thing you are looking at changes.

Do you see that door as an exit from somewhere? Or is it an entrance to somewhere else? Thinking differently about something will change the way you feel about it; and by achieving a more positive emotional state of mind, you will gain greater clarity and the ability to tap into the creative part of your brain. The result is a more empowering course of action that will get you to your desired goal.

Behavourial risk

We all know that what gets measured, gets fixed. Historically the only way to measure behavioural risk was labour intensive and expensive. But thanks to the advances in technology, today we have tools that use psychology and technology to deliver uniquely relevant insights about the one thing that impacts performance more than any other… behaviour.

Management guru Peter Drucker was not exaggerating when he said “culture eats strategy for breakfast!” No company can afford to leave its culture to take care of itself.