How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Creating a positive culture
A positive culture is the holy grail of many change activities. Here are four steps for creating just such an organization.
History is important to people, giving them a sense of identity and belonging. Just look at how genealogy becomes more important to people as the grow older. Talk to an American and they will soon tell you they are Scottish or Polish in origin.
Tell stories about the history of the organization. Glorify heroes of the past who have embodied the corporate values. Tell stories of the present and link them to the past. Have displays of products created long ago. Show photographs of founders and days of thunder.
Connect the best of the past to the present and so create the future.
Leaders who bring people together talk about 'us' more than 'I'. They propagate the stories of history and present stories that create a sense of togetherness. They also create objectives for the organization and structure the workforce that ensures that they have to work together.
Highlighting the dangers from outside also brings people together, as threats from competitors and pressures from customer and governments show that the only way to survive is by working together.
Belonging also comes from the benefits that people gain, so work on the reward and recognition system. Help people manage their careers, making promotions meaningful and not being promoted acceptable.
More than anything else, the most important process in an organization is selection, whether it is promotion or recruitment from outside. Creating a meritocracy means this is done fairly, with a focus on the best person for the job rather than on favoritism.
When people join, have a very deliberate process of socialization, where they learn the culture and the present organization. Having senior managers present to the new recruits sends a very powerful message. Likewise in training and development, a consistent promotion of the culture through all things sustains the message and the meaning.
Socialization often starts with a humility-inducing experience that shows the person that they really do not understand how things work. This is followed by an in-the-trenches immersion that inculcates the culture.
Help people stay in touch with one another. This is particularly important in a global or otherwise distributed organization. Have conferences and meetings across several days so people can socialize in the evening. Bring people together deliberately for social events anyway.
Work to create inter-group cooperation and collaboration. Have work-exchange programs and move people sideways so they spread ideas and get to understand the bigger picture.
So if you want the culture to be supportive and cohesive, then it does not happen by wishing it to be so. You have to take deliberate action that may even have doubtful benefits in the short term, although the longer-term benefits will far outweigh this early cost.
Gibson, Ivancevich, Donnelly and Konopaske, Organizations: Behavior, Structure, Processes, McGraw Hill, 2003
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