Those who don’t understand the importance of relationship building
to affect culture change are not leading but simply taking a meandering walk.
At the end of this month I’ll address an audience in Austin, Texas on strategies to motivate people within an organization to take charge of their own professional growth and resilience. One of the categories for conversation is that of incentives and disincentives, within an organization, for professional and personal development. When I shared the items on this list with my wife, she asked about two in particular.
“What is the difference,” she asked, “between institutional culture and institutional climate?”
Every organization would do well to ask itself the same question. They are connected but they most definitely differ.
Culture refers to the deeply held behaviors and expectations that an organization has built over time. It’s more than the way we do things around here. It’s the way we have done things around here for a long time.
Climate more aptly describes “the shared perceptions and attitudes about the organization” that have an impact on the employees and the clients they serve. These can change with new leadership. The climate change, however, in of itself does not necessarily create culture change.
In other words, people will come and go but culture remains over time.
Consider a meteorological metaphor. This past Christmas season saw unseasonably warm temperatures in many areas of the nation. In the Northeast for example, traditional ugly holiday sweaters gave way to shorts and t-shirts. Can we conclude that due to this recent temperature change that the culture of that part of the nation will change? Will people decide to toss out their boots and parkas and forever replace them with flip flops and tank tops? Doubtful. The momentary (climatologically speaking) change will not have a sustainable impact on the behaviors and expectations that have accumulated over the years.
The same in an organization. A new leader can come in and offer a vision of cultural change. But if the leader cannot deliver then she will not affect cultural change. I’ve seen it in higher education. A new president arrives promising sweeping changes (always touted for the better in his or her perception). Two, three or more years later and the culture remains. Why, because the new management provides superficial climate changes.
Perhaps the new management team presents something along the lines of “we will right-size our workforce to better serve our client base. We will be more nimble and responsive.” In addition to “reorganization” management brings in new people with needed “skill-sets.” The spoken word implies a cultural change to provide more appropriate service delivery. Changing the workforce will not in and of itself bring cultural change. In fact, if the new people (part of the climate change) do not fit with the existing culture damage may be done to what had been working in the culture. What the people of the organization may only see is massive job loss and/or salary reductions–and new people who do not appreciate what they have done to build the organization to that point.
Video recommendation of the week.
Listen to what Tony Hsieh experienced in his pre-Zappos culture-and what he created at Zappos.
Yes, the climate has changed with the new management initiatives. But if the message is explicitly or implicitly delivered that “you should be happy that you still have a job,” well do you really think that will lead to sustainable cultural change? Again, doubtful.
Edgar Schein, a recognized expert in the area of workplace culture, says that employee engagement (part of the culture) is dependent upon managers understanding the human factors of leadership. As Schein states, “There is beginning to be recognition that relationships matter. Our pragmatic culture that’s all about get the work done, don’t bother me with feelings and relationships, is working less and less well…”
Those who don’t understand the importance of relationship building to affect culture change are not leading but simply taking a meandering walk. And their climate change may just result in a walk in the rain without an umbrella.
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(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.