Few concepts in the organisational world are as misunderstood as “culture”.
All too frequently, it is relegated to the sphere of so-called “soft skills” … those things that ‘don’t really matter in business’. Still today, in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s common to encounter the attitude that, “If we ask HR to organise a few training sessions for employees to improve understanding, we’ll be on the road to improving our culture, right?”
In fact, organisations that take this approach could not be more wrong. Furthermore, they fail to address the root of the Question that governs how people add value for the organisation and themselves, of course.
Firstly, “soft skills” do not exist. The notion is a fallacy. The quality of interaction (including communication) among people directly effects results. This is the outward observable expression of the organisation’s culture and impacts business directly. Interaction skills are hard business skills.
Secondly, we cannot “train” communication skills. They need to be developed. But this topic requires a space of its own.
Thirdly, HR needs to be considered as an internal business partner rather than a task performer and staffed accordingly. This too is a separate topic.
Fourthly, and most significantly, Culture is the Soul of the Organisation. It lies at the core of who the organisation is, determining the life that management, employees, customers, suppliers, and all other stakeholders experience. This is why we need to understand how it impacts individuals and organisations, enabling us to leverage the inherent potential of all members, adding value for the organisation.
So … What is Culture?
Culture: The continuously evolving dynamic interaction of mindsets and gutsets of actors in the system(s).
It describes the standard patterns (norms) for attitude and behaviour in any one environment and/or group. Values form the foundation with beliefs at the core.
It is a dynamic notion, as any changes within the environment result in shifts – and these changes occur continuously.
At both the individual and group level, culture reflects identity.
As the soul, it constitutes the spirit of the organisation.
Seven Core Layers of Culture
The core influencers of our Interactions in an Organisational Context
When people refer to “culture”, for most it tends to be limited to the notions of “nationality” (a construct), “belief” (frequently confused with the construct of “religion”) and “ethnicity” (frequently undefinable). Culture is much more.
In organisational life, the prevailing “Organisation Culture” as well as “Professional Culture” of employees are strong determinants of attitude and behaviour.
“Gender” and “Age” will always influence our interactions, consciously or subconsciously.
Of course there are additional important influencers that form our identity and impact the manner of our interactions with others in any specific context. These include: the specific environment in which someone grew up, parental home, sexual orientation, social structure of interest groups to which someone belongs.
In organisational life the seven layers form the core. And, like culture itself the manner in which they influence changes continuously.
Conversations about culture, and especially so-called “training courses” on the theme of culture, frequently ignore one essential: it is always an individual who interacts, not a culture.
Cultures can’t interact; … culture is merely a notion. … People interact!!!
We do not encounter and engage with each other as representatives of a specific cultural group.
We engage in a context, as individual whole beings: humans, with our personal history, experience, influencers, intrinsic motivators.
What does this mean in practice for Change and Integration Processes in Organisations?
What does this mean in practice for our interactions with people from a different background?
- We need to enable people to get aligned while focusing on the “business”.
- We need to enable people to start talking WITH each other … rather than ABOUT each other.
- We need to learn to LISTEN to others, enabling us to expand our world view.
- We need to learn to ASK QUESTIONS, rather than presenting answers (often to the wrong Questions).
- We need to generate conversations that facilitate genuine discovery.
… Prerequisites for Positive Change …
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