Monday, May 28, 2012

Seven Deadly Sins of “Culture So Yesterday”

Culture is a habit. Habits can be changed with understanding and strong will.

Every organization has its unique style of working which often contributes to its culture. Culture is a blend of core values, belief, myth (how people think and do things) that translates to the overall success of any company. it becomes the most invisible, but powerful fabric surrounding in modern business (micro-culture) and society (macro-culture) today, as the old saying: “culture eats strategy for breakfast” or “culture eats process for lunch”, more critically, culture now becomes key factors for talent to decide their next career journey, as culture likes water, can lift or sink the ship, or push it towards the right direction.
A healthy culture will always encourage an employee to stay motivated otherwise lead you to quit. Usually organization has mix bag of cultural ingredients,  if it turns to be too toxic or salty, then business will tarnish its brand, and alienate its employees and customers. Here are seven deadly sins of “Culture So Yesterday”:

1.   Homogenous Leadership Team

Culture is set "intentionally" or "unintentionally," and  is (always) "set from the TOP." To quote Drucker: “The spirit of the organization comes from the top.” The homogenous leadership team is uninspiring for the diversified, multi-generational workforce today, it will also leave the blind spot in strategy crafting and culture inertia for business transformation.  

The numbers speak for themselves ---- Gallup reports only 17% of employees are engaged. A well-defined culture can 'make' an organization thrive, however, it takes leadership who "walk the talk." Those who don't, destroy their own credibility as well as their organization!

2.   Bureaucratic Business Process

The bureaucratic business culture and process are not agile to adapt to the expedited change facing business today, over-trust the process, not people, and excessive bureaucracy impedes quick, hypothesis-driven decision-making, also stifles innovation and business progression. Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, "adhocracy" replaces bureaucratic.  In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, a new era of information sharing replaces hierarchy.

3.   Negative Office Politics

Then there’s mini-culture or sub-culture within cultures unknown to the chiefs, which is called office politics that can lie, cheat, and steal, even beat up / kill outsiders, even consort to take down other tribal members. Culture is indeed important. Most of us may not like to be too deep in the office politics on which your performance evaluation is based on, or being in an office where the relationships have gradually been damaged by the inefficient management decisions. 

4.   Toxic Macro-Culture Embedded in Business Culture

Culture is a habit. Habits can be changed with understanding and strong will. Every race, country, religion, and each region has different habits. Some cultures may still inherit the primitive old habit back in agricultural or earlier industrial age, they do not fit in the dynamic and contemporary theme needed to advance human society.

As the world is becoming a single village due to globalization, we need to check our culture, retain the good in it and adapt the one that's better. It's the same for business organizations. The better culture means winning organization. The toxic macro-culture may infect business culture, on the contrary, the progressive business culture will influence macro-culture positively and push human society forward.

5.   Culture of Silo Thinking

Silos develop as organizations grow. From executives to middle managers and employees, silo thinking may hurt organization as a whole, functions compete with each other for limited resources, such silo thinking is political at the extreme, the leaders of business divisions are playing for their own teams rather than for the whole business’s benefit, make it challenging to orchestrate business effectively and efficiently.

Moreover, those who have the ability to attract capital may think themselves or their functions superior, with ignorance of the possible reduction in resources to their division benefits the company as a whole, or without considering the criticality of collective team leadership and holistic business perspective.

6.   Culture of Distrust

When a company hires a new professional, it is hiring not only for their experience, skills, talent, knowledge and professional skills, also for connecting talent with the philosophy and business culture of the organization. There is thus a mutual trust, win-win & enrichment between the two parties.

The culture of distrust breaks such links makes win-lose or lose-lose for company and employees. Old-school companies and leaders may think trust is embodied in a paycheck, but it’s not. Trust is earned, like respect. Workers who trust management will also trust the brand. If the individuals don’t think their value congruence with business mission or vision, they may not trust their managers for performance review or feedback; On the other side, managers may micro-manage their employees due to distrust, which may cause stress, tension, fear between management and employees, reduce productivity and staff engagement.  

7.   Folly Stretch Goal without Value & Purpose

Be definition, a stretch goal is a goal "That cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but require extending oneself to the limit to be actualized”.  Expressed in the saying, "You cannot cross a chasm in two steps.”, it may have good intention to unleash human potential; However, the folly stretch goal may turn to be  “destructive financial goal pursuit”, that leads to de-motivating / unethical behavior and/or excessive risk taking.

It’s not the goal, but vision energizes people. the stretch goal should not just be the 'crunching finance data", but also need have a vivid picture, embedded with business's value and culture, to energize individual, it also needs to adjust to the very nature of talent. Albert Einstein once said that you "can't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree" and he was right. Make the goals attainable/reasonable and the outcomes are positive for all, and the next generation of performance management should include both culture and number.

Every organization will need periodically review their culture, to pay more attention to the toxicity rate of their culture, as the higher the rate, the shorter their business’s life span.

Also, the talent need be culture agile: Culture is a friend, culture is an enemy. today it's a buddy, tomorrow it's a foe. Understanding the culture of an organization is to know where should we compromise & where should we put our foot down? Change or you will be changed. Each one of us is part of culture, we also need to become the change we’d like to see.


I think #6 is one of the most harmful to businesses that I know of. No one likes being questioned at every step!

HI, David, appreciate your comment, I agree, without trust, nothing can be done effectively, and building culture takes time, energy, and human's positivity, may need still start from top. thanks

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