Choices

Culture
Man with tattoo and tie

If you have ever gone to another country or a different part of this one, or even an unfamiliar part of the city you are in, you will notice differences. Of course there are the obvious differences of the surroundings, the people, the energy level, maybe even the weather. But you may not notice the change in you.

The more time you spend in a particular environment, the more you absorb its culture and adapt to its rituals. Eating and talking quickly in New York is not something born in New Yorkers. It is behavior learned by watching others. Additionally, it’s very difficult not to leave England, Ireland or Scotland without picking up a bit of their vocal inflections. The more you expose yourself to the environment, the faster the local customs and rituals become yours, if only for a limited time.

On the other hand, you can resist the local culture, eat at McDonald's, stay in Holiday Inns, use limos, avoid all conversation other than business talk, and you will isolate yourself from the environment.

Successful businesses would never let themselves, their people or their products get isolated from the sales environment by ignoring the culture of their customers. It's just bad business not to attempt to understand the local customer. In today’s competitive environment, it is inconceivable to print a brochure, publish an ad, air a commercial or design a package without considering the language, vernacular, symbols, customs and culture of the potential customers. This concept also applies to a culture much closer to home: your own corporate culture.

Yes, your organization has a culture. It has rituals, even its own language. How many times have we heard (or said ourselves), "He's an IBM or P&G kind of person"? Maybe, "She's one of those Silicon Valley types... he's from the home office... she's from the 23rd floor.”

“That's not how we do things around here,” or “we've never done it that way before,” are ritual chants. "We tried that years ago and it didn't work," is both a ritual pattern and a resistance to other cultural influences.

Your communication materials and methods, from how the phone is answered to the images on the cover of your annual report, from the company letterhead design to the facade of your new building, tells not only your customer who you think you are, but it also tells your people what you value.

A corporation can present itself to all of its audiences, both internal and external, in ways that define its character, articulate its values and clarify its goals by understanding the elements, rituals and symbols that comprise its culture.

If your organization has a history of teamwork, strong interdependence between planning, manufacturing, shipping and sales, where each group understands that it is part of a whole, not a piece of the process, then your people see themselves as builders not carpenters, as parents not baby-sitters, as players not fans.

The value of defining, understanding and communicating your corporate culture and values through symbols and rituals is both profound and powerful. If all of your people share similar values and not just approved behavior, working together to solve problems and maximizing opportunities is an act of collaboration and participation, not repetition and acquiescence.

The choice to participate fully comes when people understand that their efforts are appreciated. Historically, most business cultures are exclusive. This practice produces sameness, repetition and isolation. Innovation and differences are unacceptable. Al Gore said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Everybody knows it is very hard to walk against a crowd on your way to the subway at 5:15 in the afternoon. It is almost impossible for new ideas to be conceived or grow when they have to fight historic patterns of behavior.

The goal is to communicate the cultural and ritual attitudes and activities that promote growth and explore the potential of your people and their process. This also means creating an environment that permits a periodic evaluation of those character traits to both reaffirm their value to the organization and to prompt consideration of new ideas.

The result of the identification of your corporate culture and the articulation of its positive rituals has an enormous and unifying effect on your entire organization. The residual impact is that your customer is also the beneficiary. Successful teams with shared goals, producing products and providing services in ways and patterns that demonstrate their values to an appreciative audience not only prosper but thrive.

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