#137 – Integrity Idea 010: Culture Coordinator

ESSENCE:  From time to time, we are devoting posts to describing specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.  We are calling these Integrity Ideas.  

INTEGRITY IDEA: Culture Coordinator

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Practice

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt):  Highly Covert

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees, Customers/Clients, Suppliers/Vendors

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  “Culture Coordinator” is about a leader putting in place a coordinator for the cultivation and protection of the organization’s desired culture. “Culture Coordinator” recognizes the importance of culture to maintaining the organization’s values and pursuing its purpose.  It also recognizes that every organization has a culture, whether intentional or unintentional, and that unintentional cultures tend to become unhealthy or even toxic cultures.  An intentional culture that reflects and reinforces an organization’s purpose and values requires cultivation and curation.  Cultivating and curating a culture aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities requires the time and attention of intentional leaders.  In its most Covert form, “Culture Coordinator” is “Highly Covert” because it can and should be done by any organization that cares about its culture.  

From time to time, we are devoting posts to describing specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  We are calling these “Integrity Ideas“.

We usually say that some Integrity Ideas will feel like a good fit, and others will not, and that the choice should be based on which approach is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.  An intentional culture requires coordination, whether that is done informally by leaders or formally by a person or group of people specifically tasked with cultural cultivation and curation.

In its most Covert form, even formal coordination of culture is “Highly Covert” because it can and should be done by any organization that cares about its culture.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Culture Coordinator

“Culture Coordinator” is about a leader putting in place a coordinator specifically tasked and empowered with cultivation, curation and protection of the organization’s desired culture.

Culture Coordinator recognizes the importance of culture to maintaining the organization’s values and pursuing its purpose. You have probably heard it said that “Culture eats strategy for lunch” (or sometimes for breakfast), yet so many organizations either ignore culture or even cultivate a toxic culture.  As we have said many times in prior posts, purpose and values define the culture of an organization; the culture shapes the behavior of the people in the organization; and the behavior of the people drives the results of the organization.

“Culture Coordinator” also recognizes that every organization has a culture, whether intentional or unintentional.

• Intentional Cultures:  Intentional cultures are designed to reflect a specific purpose and set of values.

Intentional cultures can be intentionally healthy (e.g., our culture is to faithfully “do right”) or intentionally toxic (e.g., our culture is to win at all costs).

Not all intentionally healthy cultures are actually healthy, but all healthy cultures are intentional.

We believe a healthy work culture prioritizes relationships, community, human dignity and flourishing of all people.

• Unintentional Cultures:  Unintentional cultures will reflect the values that the people perceive as those valued by their leaders.

If no values are stated and reinforced, people will gravitate to “me” (the worldly defaults of self-advancement, self-protection and personal profit maximization).

Unintentional cultures tend to become unhealthy or even toxic cultures based on self-interest and the behavior of the leaders.

Unintentional “informal” cultures can exist even within organizations that are trying to cultivate intentionally healthy cultures.

“Culture Coordinator” also recognizes that being intentional about culture, particularly in a larger organization, can be time-consuming.  Culture in an organization is an ever-changing reality that must be cultivated, curated and protected.  It is growing and evolving even if management does nothing about it–in fact, it grows and evolves BECAUSE management does nothing about it.

In some sense, culture is like 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 roots structure of the weeds chokes the flowers.

CONTINUUM: Practice

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Culture Coordinator” is on the Practice Continuum.  Practices reflect, and at the same time help shape and reinforce, an organization’s culture. 

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.  “Culture Coordinator” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) because every organization, secular or faithful, has a culture, and coordination of that culture can and should be done if the leaders of an organization care about its culture.  Of course, the culture being cultivated, curated and protected can range from secular to faithful–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees, Customers/Clients, Suppliers/Vendors

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.

Culture is important because it defines the day-to-day experience that various stakeholders have with the organization.  It is how employees experience their work-day, how vendors experience contract negotiations and contract performance, and how customers experience interacting with the organization.  Unlike lofty purpose statements and value lists, culture is where the rubber meets the road and the boots hit the ground.

As such, “Culture Coordinator” most impacts those engaged in day-to-day operations: Employees, Customers/Clients and Suppliers/Vendors.

Corporate cultures do not spring from words, hopes, or even powerful ideas. (Chris Houston)

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementing “Culture Coordinator” can take many forms depending on the nature, size and circumstances of the organization. To stretch the flower garden analogy (perhaps a bit too far), it is far easier to water, fertilize and weed a small garden in your backyard than it is a farm or a network of gardens.

We think author and marketing guru Seth Godin best captures the nature of culture that makes it so challenging to cultivate, curate and protect.

The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated. . . .  People are watching you. They’re not listening to your words as much as they’re seeking to understand where the boundaries and the guard rails lie, because they’ve learned from experience that people who do what gets rewarded, get rewarded.  Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here.

Without proper cultivation, curation and protection, a shadow “informal” culture can exist behind the desired “formal” culture envisioned by the organization’s purpose and values. This idea is described well by Jacqueline Brevard, who served as Chief Ethics Officer for Merck & Co., Inc.

There is both a formal culture and an informal culture within an organization. In the formal culture, companies can say all the right things and have all the appropriate infrastructures in place. The informal culture is what actually happens within the company, how people behave, how they are rewarded, which rules are followed and which are not.

When we think of real world examples of a gross mismatch between “formal” culture and “informal” culture, Enron is the first example that comes to mind.  Its stated values were Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.  In Michael Novak’s 1996 book Business as Calling, Ken Lay, the Chairman and CEO of Enron is quoted as saying:

I was, and am, a strong believer that one of the most satisfying things in life is to create a highly moral and ethical environment in which every individual is allowed and encouraged to realize their God-given potential.

The “real” culture of Enron was famously (or infamously) a culture of pride and greed.

Here are some ideas for implementing “Culture Coordinator”:

Everybody’s Job.  This is probably the most common approach in organizations. Leaders see it as their responsibility to cultivate, curate and protect culture as they go about their normal duties.  Culture is an informal “side gig”. This is certainly the case in a small organization and may be most appropriate where everyone knows everybody else and sees everybody else all day long–where the leaders know what is happening from the top to bottom all the time.  Unfortunately, in a larger organization or when things get very busy or when the people with a culture “side gig” are rewarded for operational performance, “everybody’s job” can easily slip into “nobody’s job”.  “Everybody’s Job” lacks accountability and possibly authority.  The best intentions of being “intentional” about culture can slip into “unintentional” and an informal culture can become the “real” culture.  To once again quote Seth Godin:

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.

Somebody’s Job. Giving the responsibility of cultural cultivation, curation and protection to “Somebody” has several advantages.  First, it brings accountability.  Culture is no longer just an informal “side gig” (although it might still be a “side gig” but a formal one).  The “Somebody” feels responsible for cultural integrity and is presumably rewarded for success.  Second, it creates explicit authority.  “Somebody’s Job: can take different shapes.  Here are a few:

Chief Culture Officer.  This is an individual charged with thinking about, coordinating and monitoring the organization’s desired formal culture to ensure it is the “real” culture.  It could be a full-time position, or it could be an additional title given to someone like the head of human resources or the general counsel.  Of course, one person can’t “make culture happen” all by themself any more than the leaders can create a desired culture by decreeing it.  In past posts, we have looked to these words from Chris Houston in his book For Goodness Sake:

Corporate cultures do not spring from words, hopes, or even powerful ideas. Like strategy, culture arises from and is made real by the actions and decisions of real people. . . . 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.

A Chief Culture Officer can coordinate the culture cultivation efforts of leadership, ensure the formal culture is communicated and reinforced effectively throughout the organization, and monitor the “real” culture to ensure it is aligned with the desired “formal” culture.

Culture Office.  If the organization is big enough that the role of Chief Culture Officer is too big for one person, the Chief Culture Officer can be given a team dedicated to cultural cultivation, curation and protection.

Culture Committee.  Another alternative is for an organization to form a committee charged with overseeing cultural integrity.  This could be in lieu of, or in addition to, a Chief Culture Officer or Culture Office.  This brings accountability and authority that is lacking from “Nobody’s Job”.  It also provides the ability to include members from all levels of the organization–leaders, managers and employees.

To RE-IMAGINE and then RE-ALIGN an organizational culture in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities is a significant (and exciting) initiative, because culture impacts all aspects of the organization.  We have written several posts exploring these impacts :

Culture (#078)

Culture, Purpose and Values (#079)

Culture of Shalom (#080)

Culture and Products (#081)

Culture and Capital (#082)

Culture and Governance (#083)

Culture and People (#084)

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 (post #089–Intentional Leaders–Cultivating Culture). Cultivating and curating a Re-Imagined Culture takes intentionality, effort and time–it requires intentional coordination.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): The appointment by organizations of a DEI (Diversity, Inclusion and Equity) officer is becoming commonplace.  I think views of, and approaches toward, diversity, inclusion and equity are simply aspects of an organization’s culture.  The problem with such a narrow focus is that it can result in leaders feeling good about, and being affirmed for, their cultural “intentionality” while the overall culture of the organization is an unhealthy or even toxic business as usual culture that dehumanizes people.

A culture aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities must consider those topics in the broader context of embodying the concept of Shalom.  I believe such an alignment must pursue a Biblical organizational culture that prioritizes relationships, community, human dignity and flourishing of all people.

Wouldn’t it be better to go one level upstream from the narrow focus of DEI and appoint a Chief Culture Officer charged with coordinating the cultivation and curation of such a Biblical organizational culture (perhaps even overseeing a DEI officer if maintaining that narrower role is considered a political/cultural necessity)?  What about going even one more level upstream and appointing a Chief Integrity Officer responsible for coordinating an alignment of purpose, values and culture with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities?

Just some thoughts.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Juan Marin on Unsplash (photo cropped)