It's one of those words that conjures up all sorts of images. I used to think it was a very cool word. I'd picture the cultures in many of the start-up companies I worked with, and then I remembered the high energy, the people learning, and the ability to move or pivot, as they now say, very quickly. Culture was the thing that allowed us to get things done.
Today, after working with many larger and mid-size companies, I find the culture word something that makes me want to throw up. Culture is fun in small companies, and it's used to get work done. But more and more I find that culture in both mid-size and large firms is the thing that everyone uses to STOP CHANGE. Why? Because culture is the excuse used to describe why new things won't work, why things can't get done, or why the company is stuck.
Here's the line I run into ALL THE TIME:
"That would never work here because of our culture."
Then I ask what the culture is, and I don't get much of an answer. That's because culture is sacred, culture is the thing that everyone understands but can't describe, and what I really think is happening is that:
CULTURE IS A CRUTCH
Culture has become an excuse.
So let's quit using the word. As often as possible, and as quickly as feasible, move the dialogue to one about HABITS. Let's talk about the way people work, their habits or their behaviors and then dig into which habits will get in the way of the 'new thing' being successful.
When we talk about habits, we start down a path of success. Most people know that habits can be changed. They think of pets, children, breaking their own bad habits (e.g. smoking). There are ways to change habits, and once the conversation moves in this direction, success is not too far away.
CULTURE IS A CRUTCH
HABITS CAN BE CHANGED
NEW HABITS CAN BE LEARNED
True enough. Its not really "culture" but boils down to human behaviour. Its more like "this is my territory and do not encroach on my boundaries". The ill-effect of such unseemingly unjustice working environment spells only on thing in a small company - fish dish serve in a restaurant - which means literally - dead.
Great post, and I so agree. What's even better with habits is that you can build new habits by following a specific process. And these good habits replace the bad habits. In other words, don't bother breaking bad habits; instead, focus on building new habits. The success you get by doing things differently will reinforce the good, and you'll drop the bad.
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