“Culture isn’t one aspect of the game, it is the game.”………….Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. (past chairman of IBM)
Louis said that an organisation is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. So many leaders including Gerstner Jr have recognised that mastering culture must be at the forefront of business priority.
As a culture consultant, what a load of s…, let’s try that again, as a past employee of a business that had a thriving and constructive culture I want to share. Tell my story. And help create those very stories for other businesses. You see as a parent of eight and five-year-old boys I am in a steep learning curve. How to be a better parent. And geez do I wish there was a manual. Or maybe not, the experience is certainly one of trials, tribulations and a heck of fun.
Creating a great business culture is somewhat the same. Each day a new adventure, challenge and opportunity to demonstrate the values of your business to your aspiring leaders and staff. As a parent I want to be a great teacher. Demonstrating behaviours more-so than just giving instructions. There are still moments and days that are testing. That’s just life. Our workplaces have those days too. Where culture seems the furthest thing from our minds. That is until one of our staff “calls us” on a behaviour they see as unacceptable. As a leader we can feel embarrassed, ashamed and often silly. How on earth did I let that slip? Then a humbleness, a courage shows up. Reminds us to thank the staff member for calling out our poor behaviour and congratulate them on knowing the company values before we retreat to our office with our tail between our legs. Or is that just me?
Rewind a few steps to how the culture ever got to that place. Staff calling leaders on poor behaviour. Wow. What a culture that I somewhat took for granted.
The business took a measurement of culture when I first joined. I didn’t really understand what culture was let alone a measurement company called Human Synergistics. Never heard of the them before, likewise certainly didn’t understand the fancy graph in front of me measuring culture. One thing I did understand though was those very values I was interviewed on. Determining whether I was ‘a fit’ for the organisation. My organisation recruiting not on past experience but rather values. All new to me as I went about answering a mountain of questions on “so tell me about a time when ……..”. Before long I was shown my very first Values Matrix. A one-page document that highlighted the expected behaviours within the company. I didn’t know it right there but this one-page document would become my dear friend. My partner in crime as a leader. Guiding my actions, conversations, helping to hold myself and others accountable.
Kids being kids it is important to give structure and boundaries. Once again, no book, more like a whole heap of trial and error. I still often second guess as to whether I need to be more flexible as a dad or more direct. Yeah, the battles of life. Leadership is no different. Setting a clear vision with expectations of achievement is helpful. For staff and self. Learning, often the hard way, that staff respect a real, authentic and genuine approach to the task at hand and relationships in general. The more of my heart they could see, the more they trusted me. Telling stories to gain alignment, build relationship and sharing the vision. It sounds like common sense but I got it wrong plenty.
I found as a leader I learned far more from my teams that they ever learnt from me. Servant leadership, a foreign concept to me was ripe amongst my peers. Wanting to see each other succeed with no one seeking the glory was awesome to watch. Learn from even. When you have a constructive culture, your weaknesses feel accepted and blame feels like the enemy. Momentum is the buzz word but also the feeling. When everyone is pulling in a common direction. The greatest gift though was humbleness. The pecking order was squashed with humble leadership. Everyone approachable. Everyone wanting to help. Atleast most of the time. Does perfect even really exist?
Call me a softie but I can often be slow to discipline my children. No surprises that this was often my achilles heel in the workplace. Many a time good leaders would tell me to assist those swimming against the tide to either swim with the tide or help them swim out the door. This did not mean giving up on staff but rather recognising that not everyone is a fit for the culture. I was penalising the great performers by allowing the non-performers extra grace. Over time I grew muscle in helping the non-performers swim faster in another bowl. Another business. This certainly didn’t feel natural however the respect of my teams grew.
Working in an organisation with a great culture is so different to what I expected. Certainly no Kumbaya around the campfire. Not all about ping-pong tables in the lunchroom either. Rather clarity on the Vision, Mission and Values. Accountability created through great leadership, a high behavioural standard and a sense of excellence in your daily work. The structure, systems and technology all complimenting rather than detracting from that very culture. Everyone encouraged to be themselves. Their very best selves.
So why did my journey end in this great business. A few reasons;
To spend more time with those little guys I have mentioned a few times already. Still growing, still challenging me daily to grow as a dad but have fun along the way.
To help me grow personally in a new environment. I had become somewhat institutionalised and knew I needed a new patch of dirt to keep growing in.
To trust. I needed to step out of the boat and have faith. That all would be just fine.
To get out of the way of great leaders coming through the organisation.
Lastly, to share my story. With the hope of creating brand new stories in many more businesses I get to partner with. This isn’t to say every day is bells and whistles. But if it’s bells and whistles you’re after then head to your closest party hire.