06 Oct #089 – Integriosity – Re-Align Ingredient #2 – Intentional Leaders – Cultivating Culture
ESSENCE: An organization will not faithfully “do right” through business a better way without Intentional Leaders. One of the four important aspects of the Intentional Leadership required to lead an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way is a commitment to cultivating a Re-Imagined Culture. There are no “magic beans”, “magic formulas” or “quick fixes” to realizing a Re-Imagined Culture that aligns with, and reinforces, a Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values. Culture is transformed by small, intentional actions. Leaders can’t implement a Re-Imagined Culture all by themselves, but an intentional Re-Imagined Culture requires Intentional Leaders committed to its cultivation and curation. Cultivating and curating a Re-Imagined Culture takes intentionality, effort and time–it is where real change occurs.
In our last two posts (#087 and #088), we began to explain the second of five key ingredients for executing a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture–Intentional Leaders. We considered two of the four aspects of Intentional Leaders (Commitment to a WHO Identity and Commitment to a Bigger WHY), and this post will consider a third–Commitment to a Cultivating Culture.
Re-Align Ingredient #2: The Nature and Challenge of Culture
A Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values can be declared–decided upon by a leader, announced from a podium, posted on a website, pinned to walls, incorporated into training materials, embodied in performance reviews, and enforced through reward and punishment (of course, if you have been reading our posts, you will know that is not the ideal way to go about it). A Re-Imagined Culture can’t be declared, which is why we use the words like “cultivated” and “curated”.
In an earlier post (#078), we likened organizational Culture to a flower garden. You can’t just throw seeds (a purpose statement) on the ground and dump water and fertilizer (values). You need to loosen the ground in order to bury the seeds (buy-in) and then regularly water and fertilize (reinforcing the purpose and values through statements, education, reminders, reinforcements, rewards). It is also critical to weed the garden (eliminating forces and influences, such as disruptive employees or ineffective managers, that are working against the flowers) before the root structure of the weeds chokes the flowers.
In short, there are no “magic beans”, “magic formulas” or “quick fixes” to realizing a Re-Imagined Culture that aligns with, and reinforces, a Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values. Culture is transformed by small, intentional actions. In his book For Goodness Sake, Chris Houston writes:
The enterprise that becomes purposeful does not do so solely because of extraordinary leadership, though that helps. Instead, it is a host of small yet intentional decisions made by extraordinary leaders, yes, but also by every rank-and-file member of the organization that accumulate to produce a cascade of movement in a positive direction.
Cultivating and curating a Re-Imagined Culture takes intentionality, effort and time, but it is where real change occurs. In the words of marketing guru and author Seth Godin:
Change the culture (slowly and persistently) and you can change everything.
Re-Align Ingredient #2: Intentional Leaders Committed to Cultivating Culture
Leaders can’t implement a Re-Imagined Culture all by themselves, but an intentional Re-Imagined Culture requires Intentional Leaders committed to its cultivation and curation. Alignment of an organization’s Culture with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities is a process that must start from the top and maintain commitment from the top:
- Identify Biblical beliefs, values and priorities the leader would like embodied in the organization.
- Engage others in translate and shaping those Biblical beliefs, values and priorities into a Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values.
- Formulate ways to communicate and reinforce the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values effectively.
- Prioritize the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values at every level of the organization.
- Develop ways to cultivate a Culture that embodies the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values across every aspect of the organization–in all its policies, procedures and practices.
- Create ways to identify aspects of the organization that are not aligned with the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values.
Seth Godin–one of our favorite (and one of the most eloquent) commentators on organizational culture–suggests what is needed:
A commitment, from the top, that this place is going to be different. The commitment is open-ended. It involves leading and showing up and keeping promises, for months and years into the future. . . . This is going to take a long time, and it’s not going to be the cheapest path. It turns out, though, in industries where people matter (which is more and more of the work we do) that this path pays for itself eventually.
Whatever the industry or organization, faithfully “doing right” through business a better way means people always matter!
Change the culture (slowly and persistently) and you can change everything. (Seth Godin)
Re-Align Ingredient #2: Cultivating an Extreme Culture
A leader committed to cultivating a Re-Imagined Culture in line with faithfully “doing right” through business a better way must recognize that it may be perceived as an “extreme culture”, particularly if leaders choose to implement policies, practices and procedures closer to the overt end of the Covert-Overt Continuums.
- An extreme culture should be disclosed upfront to potential employees to avoid misunderstandings and disappointments. Recognize that people will either love the extreme culture or hate it. Those who “love it” will be loyal and engaged. Those who hate it will be disengaged and should leave.
- An extreme culture requires special cultivation:
- Preserving the values underpinning the extreme culture is critical.
- The extreme culture must shape the behavior of participants rather than allowing disruptive behavior of participants to distort the extreme culture.
- Recognize that some qualified and even highly productive people will not be willing to work in, or behave in a way that aligns with, an extreme culture.
- Seth Godin observes generally about organizational culture:
Fire for attitude, fix for skills. The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated. If you reward a cynic merely because he got something done, you’ve made it clear to everyone else that cynicism is okay. If you overlook the person who is hiding mistakes because his productivity is high, then you are rewarding obfuscation and stealth. . . . Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here.
Leading an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way requires mind-shifts that lead to heart-shifts, both in the leaders and in the organization. Anything less can bring the the missed purpose for organizations, the missed calling for leaders, the missed flourishing for people and the increased misery that was explained in post #036 (Placebos–The Problem). We believe it is time to begin executing business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities–it is time to begin faithfully “doing right” through Integriosity®.
SPOILER ALERT: Our next post will explore the final aspects of Intentional Leadership–a Commitment to Authenticity.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): While a culture aligned with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities may be perceived in today’s increasingly secular world as an extreme culture, the world accepts and even celebrates extreme cultures in organizations–particularly when the organization is “successful” by the world’s standards. When I think of examples of extreme cultures in organizations, the first two that always come to mind are the culture at Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest and most successful hedge funds, and SAS Institute, the world’s largest privately-held software business.
- Bridgewater. It has a culture that has been called “creepy”. The Bridgewater culture is aligned with an organizational and management philosophy of its founder, Ray Dalio, that he elaborated in a document called “The Principles”. Once an internal document (growing to 100+ pages) that was reportedly required reading for all new hires, Dalio’s “Principles” have now been published in a book called Principles: Life & Work, which became a New York Times bestseller. Bridgewater’s culture may be “love it or hate it”, but it is not a secret and it does not appear to change or bend to accommodate resistant employees, no matter how senior or how productive. Front and center on Bridgewater’s website is a section titled “Principles & Culture”, which highlights the Principles of “radical truth and radical transparency”. A 2010 version of “The Principles” says:
I believe that for any individual and for any organization to live up to their potentials, they must have clearly understood 1) values, 2) goals that are consistent with these values, and 3) ways of operating that are consistent with these
values and goals.
Add alignment of those goals, values and “ways of operating” with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities and you have Integriosity!
- SAS Institute. It was once named the world’s best multi-national workplace and is renowned for the benefits it offers its employees. Founder Jim Goodnight has said he wanted to create an organization in which people were treated the way he wished he were treated when an employee. SAS is also an extreme culture by market standards. A 2013 article about SAS noted that it had experienced 37 consecutive years of record earnings, and following the 2008 financial crisis announced that none of its then 13,000 employees would lose their jobs. The author concluded:
More than anything, SAS has found that by being an especially benevolent and respectful organization, they consistently produce the most optimal workplace performance. Their highly nontraditional insight is that workers instinctively and positively respond to an organization that routinely demonstrates that they matter and are individually valued. . . . The foundation of employee happiness at SAS, Goodnight believes, is its culture of trust. By ensuring that workers consistently respect the organization’s management, he knows that they will put forth their greatest commitment and contribution.