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Influencing & Evolving work cultures in organizations

Author Raja Krishnamoorthy / Kitty - Sep 22, 2013

In my quest to live life unlimited, I seem to express in many modes, on many facets of life. I write (and intend to write & express thru) notes, concept papers, poems or BLO-KUs(blog haikus!), podcasts, videos, photographs and my caricature and sketches…

So walk with me and enjoy this unlimited variety of expressions!

I am happy to share the first of the many notes in this blog site, about developing organizations and influencing social systems. Over the last many decades I have come to learn that the behavior patterns that we see in individuals are indicators of patterns in organizations. And patterns that we see in organizations are similar to the patterns of flow, influence and behavior of social systems.

A. Understanding organizational Culture:

I.         Culture of an organization represents its’ collective mind, and behavior. It is experienced thru the various constituents of the organization: its’ people, its physical environment, in the ways and means it operates and transacts its business.

II.         Culture reflects the values and operating principles that the organization seems to “cherish” and comes alive with. In essence CULTURE is the “WAY” of the organization, its’ “state of being”.

B. CULTURE: Cannot be pressure cooked, unlike performance!

I.         The process of “managing culture” is very different from the “managing of performance” of the organization. Performance is based on the ability or competence factors: skills, talent, capability, technology and all such enablers. Performance represents the “result orientation” of the organization, its delivery efficacy. Performance is probably the most essential or critical factor that justifies organizations’ success.

II.         As a result it is largely objective, measurable, and evident and well understood by most members of the organization. But “Culture” is understood very differently. It happens to be the “experienced reality”, is a lot more subjective, is not so measurable and often not “obviously seen as essential” for the organization’s success.

 III.         A simple analogy for this would be as follows:  Performance is akin to the vehicle that runs with its engine of “competency”; Culture is the road or pathway  that the organization chooses  to drive the vehicle. One can “drive performance” but one needs to “lay” the culture or “evolve” a culture!

IV.         It is notable (at least in the Indian context that I am working for almost 3 decades) that most organizations seem to pay less attention to building a strong and distinct work culture. They are willing to go all the way for “performance enhancement” but pay little attention to “the mind factor” –evolving a strong, enabling work culture.

C. Manager vs. Leader

I.         Who really influences the culture of the organization? The same people who drive the performance of the organization – its people, especially its’ Managers. But there is a subtle difference.

II.         Normally the “performance” of the organization is taken for granted as THE important focus area. It is seen as  its’ state of health, especially its economic health, and hence performance gets all the attention : be it Performance planning, goals & target setting, ensuring strict review systems, analysis of trends and patterns, developing strategies for  enhancement of competitive performance..the list goes on!  As a result of this focus and primary importance, performance is far more easily managed than “developing culture”.

 III.         How is performance enhanced? It is driven  by  pushing the achievement factors  of the organization , such as  goals & objective  setting , bettering  the performance review systems, developing people capability, improving technological competence,  updating the infrastructure support, upgrading the  rewards and punishment motivations such as incentives & bonuses, and influencing the market factors. “Performance” is critical; it is ALWAYS high on priority.

IV. but Culture can wait, it seems for most organizations! Since performance has a direct impact on the top and bottom line, it gets all the attention of managers. But in this pursuit of being excellent “delivery boys of results”, they get on with the “somehow, anyhow manage performance” trip. They miss out on being “the cultural ambassadors” and as a result they fall short of being real LEADERS.

 V.         Yes. Culture is a LEADERSHIP agenda, more than a MANAGERIAL agenda. Leaders envision, cause and impact the culture of the organization. It is a process of influencing the mind of the population about the Beliefs, values, and the principles on which the edifice of the organization will stand. It is the culture that demonstrates the organizations differentiating quality- its’ UNIQUE IDENTITY.

VI.         It is imperative that culture is owned, influenced and represented by every employee  in the organization – at all levels! I have some amazing examples of 1st line workers being far more passionate and focused on developing the right work culture of an organization than some of the managers.

D. The cycle of “evolving” Culture

I.         Organization is  a living entity, and hence goes thru an evolutionary process. Since the evolution is cyclical and ongoing, both the performance and culture are distinctly impacted by different levels of managers and leaders in the organization. In fact, the quality that any employee demonstrates in strengthening the WORK CULTURE is an indication of LEADERSHIP quality.

II.         The top management- The enterprise leaders- define & clarify the core values & operating principles. The middle level managers create supportive systems and processes to make those Values and principles a habit in the organizations way of working.

III.         However, it is the first line supervisor or team leader who has the maximum impact on establishing and evolving the culture. He demonstrates how to live the values and principles. He is a role model, a mentor and guide. As the first level controller of team discipline, he creates implications if the values and principles are violated.

IV.         As a result, the employees develop their understanding and practice of the culture thru their 1st level supervisors or team leaders. Based on this learning, they demonstrate their “absorption”:  thru their display of accountability, ownership & discipline; Live the culture of the organization by “the way they do things, and the impact they create on the experiences of their internal & external customers”.

Since this is a cyclical process, the influence can be from the top to the bottom of the organization or social system, yet the responses and behavior of the lower echelons of the population can encourage the leadership to perpetuate certain cultural patterns. This is how socio-political systems particularly get strengthened.

E.     KALA –CHARAM, the INDIAN  meaning : Culture is evolving , and everyone is responsible !

I.         I find a very interesting similarity between the English word “CULTURE” (which sounds as “KUL-CHUR”) and the Indian Tamil word “KALACHARAM”.

II.         KALACHARAM is actually a combination of 2 parts: KALA and ACHARAM. KALA means ARTISTIC: aesthetic, beautiful, pleasing, refined, and creative expressions. ACHARAM means repeated, regualr, ongoing practices and behavior in a social system. Put together KALACHARAM means “the expressions and behavior which are refined & aesthetic… and are practiced repeatedly, regularly over long periods of time – with positive intent of well being of all”.

III.         KALACHARAM is sustained by all members of the social system and not merely by the top leadership. This understanding of CULTURE recognizes the following:

  • Developing CULTURE is the COLLECTIVE responsibility of all members.
  • Like organizational performance, culture requires clear long term and short term commitment.
  • The top Leadership team has an important facilitative role in evolving and strengthening the work culture.
  • There are distinct ways in which CULTURE can be ingrained into the minds of the people across various levels of the organization or the social system.
  • That if we do not choose to focus on culture, some random culture- by default- will any way emerge. It may be perpetuated by the various significant influencers of the system (e.g. The owners in the family run enterprises, the trade union leaders in many companies in India!
  • By the way, the concepts of this note are as much applicable to the socio-political culture as they are applicable to the organizational culture

More on role of leadership in evolving culture in the coming blogs!

Love

Rajaah


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