“We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you are willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”
– Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
Let us go deeper into this conversation about company culture…
When you observe an organization’s culture and their employees’ behavior, I would guess that the word indigenous is not at the top of your mind. My pastor used that word in a message one Sunday and it gave me pause that it is applicable to organizational structures and cultures.
For example, I served as a credit union executive for almost thirty years. I witnessed behaviors, good and bad, in the people and organizations within that industry. Perhaps no organizations exhibited more dubious behaviors than the federal and state examiners. To be fair, not all their employees should be painted with such an imprecise brush. The horrible behaviors, attitudes and historical patterns I observed in dealing with them made it appear that these kinds of occurrences were their norm. In other words, the behaviors were indigenous to their cultures.
Indigenous means belonging to a place, originating in and naturally living, growing, or occurring in a region or country. We usually attribute the word to the native tribes of an area, such as the Aborigines in Australia. In the same way when an organization is created, the patterns of behavior established and encouraged, and if not encouraged then at least tolerated and perhaps even rewarded, become part of its indigenous culture.
So, when an organization supports the growth of devious and dysfunctional behaviors, including little or no accountability and a lack of transparency, for example, these characteristics become indigenous to it.
Employees model what they are taught through their observation of leadership and coworkers.
The culture continues to grow and lives naturally within an unhealthy organization that enables its employees to exhibit objectionable behaviors. Those behaviors are then passed down to future employees and become ingrained as the new standard.
Picture an organization that has a culture of allowing its leaders and employees to deny personal accountability. Or a culture so blind to the possibility something is amiss, even after receiving numerous complaints from its clients/stakeholders, that they cannot offer an apology or refrain from deflecting any responsibility. Instead, they react by attacking the messenger. Government agencies have no competition and no plan to grow in a healthy way and attract loyal customers. They simply run amuck. The leadership in these cases has given their approval to a growing, living culture of dysfunction…the exact opposite of what private organizations covet.
Leadership has to set the tone and be a positive role model. They determine what each organization’s indigenous character and traditions are and will be.
If you work for an organization that sounds like the any I mentioned, I am sorry. Odds are you cannot change the culture there. It is difficult and stressful to work for any organization that has deceptive leadership and allows employees to behave in such a manner that it unfairly casts criticism on the good ones.
To alter an indigenous culture of wrongdoing is an uphill fight. If the leaders are not supportive and provide their backing, it will not happen. It starts at the top and rolls downhill.
You can begin that process; however, by connecting with others you work with to create understanding across departments and plan a course of action. You may be able to secure a commitment from leadership to clarify for the organization what is acceptable behavior and what is not and the rewards and consequences going forward.
People want to do the right thing, take right action and be connected with others of like mind. Having established, written values should be essential to all leaders. Allowing a culture to grow that is not based upon non-negotiable values is aberrant. It is careless and ultimately leads to the organization’s demise.
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Business Mentor, Strategic Planning, Executive Coach, Leadership Development, Team Building, Credit Union Executives