When money’s tight, we cut back on routine maintenance. It’s the same for individuals, families, businesses and the country as a whole. But there comes a point where prudence can turn into neglect. An example of this at home would be delaying painting wooden window frames to the point where the frames start to rot.
The same principle of maintenance applies to organisational culture. If it’s not maintained, things can start to go very wrong. I’ve written a good deal about failures of culture in the past; you can see examples here and here.
We continue to hear of flaky paint in the public and private sector with culture being blamed for failings of everything from patient care to safety and mis-selling. But we still don’t hear much about how to change organisational culture. The problem is that there are no quick fixes; changing culture is a multi-year undertaking which requires commitment and resources.
There are many definitions of culture but the simpler ones are often more helpful – such as the way we see and do things around here. To change culture, people need to see and do things differently. Unless a hearts and minds approach is adopted individuals are unlikely to change the way they see and do things. Issuing management edicts just won’t cut it.
O.K., so changing culture can’t be done by barking orders, it takes time and it’s a bit nebulous or perhaps even fluffy bunny? Correct on the first two points but not the third.
Organisational culture can be measured using diagnostics such as the Organisational Culture Inventory, which includes a model of culture called the Circumplex. The benefit of these tools, when used as part of a change management programme, is that they enable the current culture to be properly understood and a direction of future travel to be set for the preferred culture.
It’s time to get the sand paper and paint brushes out. Rather than blaming culture for so many rotten goings-on, it’s time for our leaders to get involved and start taking care of the organisational culture.