09 Nov #146 – Integrity Idea 014: Understand Your “Real” Culture
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: Understand Your “Real” Culture
COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action): Practices
COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees
Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. “Understanding Your Real Culture” is about undertaking an honest assessment of the nature and health of the organization’s current culture, and an honest assessment of culture requires an honest assessment of what employees experience to be the real WHY behind the organization’s purpose, values and culture. Regardless of what is communicated as an organization’s formal purpose and values, the human beings in the organization will manage and perform based on what they perceive to be the real purpose and real values. In turn, the real culture experienced by the organization’s stakeholders is likely to reflect the real purpose and real values. If the real culture of the organization is not reflecting and reinforcing its stated purpose and values, it is likely eroding them. “Understanding Your Real Culture” requires prayer, courage, humility and planning on the part of faithful leaders, but it is a critical step on the path to leading faithfully through business a better way.
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“.
Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process. Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY. “Understand Your Real Culture” is somewhere in-between. An honest assessment of where you are is necessary to move forward to where you want to be, but the implementation of that honest assessment will depend upon the nature of the organization.
INTEGRITY IDEA: Understand Your “Real” Culture
Our second Integrity Idea back in post #128 was Proclaim a Faithful Purpose., and our most recent in post #145 was Set a Values “Plumb-Line”. Regardless of what is communicated as an organization’s formal “Faithful Purpose” and “Values Plumb-Line”, the human beings in the organization will manage and perform based on what they perceive to be the real purpose and real values.
In turn, the real culture experienced by the organization’s stakeholders is likely to reflect the real purpose and real values. If the real culture of the organization is not reflecting and reinforcing its stated purpose and values, it is likely eroding them.
“Understand Your Real Culture” is about undertaking an honest assessment of the nature and health of the organization’s current culture, and an honest assessment of culture requires an honest assessment of what employees experience to be the real WHY behind the organization’s purpose, values and culture. In a larger organization, an assessment may also uncover the existence of sub-cultures operating in different ways to undermine the organization’s desired purpose and values.
A recent report on business purpose found that 89% of business leaders felt “purpose” mattered but only 39% felt that the business model and operations of their organization were actually aligned with its stated purpose! It makes you wonder if its stated purpose was its real purpose.
People care about authenticity and alignment. In the book Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World, the authors note a survey of employees by the Mars Corporation finding that working for a company actually living out its stated values was worth 30% in pay. Employees, customers and other stakeholders drawn by a passion for an organization’s “Faithful Purpose” and “Values Plumb-Line” may do an about-face when they experience a real culture that is out of alignment.
Think back to Enron. 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.
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.
“Understand Your Real Culture” is on the Practices Continuum. It is something an organization’s leaders can put in place to help move toward leading faithfully through business a better way. While it should certainly be done as part of RE-IMAGINING and RE-ALIGNING the organization, we believe leaders should consider establishing cultural assessments as a periodic practice, just like an annual physical.
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. “Understand Your Real Culture” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) because every organization, secular or faithful, can (and we believe should) benefit from understanding whether there is a real culture (or even real sub-cultures) out of alignment with, and eroding, the organization’s desired purpose, values, culture and, ultimately, results.
“Set a Values Plumb-Line” can also be Overt to Highly Overt to the extent an organization uses an assessment process that is openly faith-based or explains the Biblical basis behind the assessment and its stated purpose and values and its desired culture.
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees
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. “Understand Your Real Culture” serves employees by helping the organization align its real culture with its “Faithful Purpose” and “Values Plumb-Line”. It shows a commitment to uncovering and addressing aspects of the culture that erode employee engagement and enthusiasm.
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. (Jacqueline Brevard)
“Understand Your Real Culture” requires an honest assessment of:
• Policies and Practices. The organization’s current culture, as reflected in its policies and practices related to areas such as hiring, termination, discipline, compensation, ethical behavior, training, vacation, family leave, customer service, vendors, and community service. Such an assessment must dig underneath the culture to examine the assumptions and motivations (such as Scarcity, Self-Interest and “Can We” Ethics) that may have underpinned the current policies and practices.
• Purpose. The real WHY behind the organization’s purpose, values and culture. Lofty purpose statements and value lists can be created in order to appeal to the perceived demands of investors, employees, vendors or customers, rather than in an effort to lead faithfully through business a better way.
Even healthy cultures can be intentionally curated for the “wrong” reasons–often the real WHY for “doing good” (or even being “Godly”) is profit. In the wise words of Larry Crabb:
Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they’re followed in order to gain the ‘better life’ we demand.
• People: What employees perceive to be the real purpose, values and culture of the organization. Whether they believe the informal culture aligns with the formal culture. Jacqueline Brevard, who served as Chief Ethics Officer for Merck & Co., Inc., described the informal/formal phenomenon:
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.
Leaders can begin to implement the “People” assessment of “Understand Your Real Culture” on their own through larger-group forums, team meetings, table discussions, and one-on-one meetings. It takes courage, tremendous humility and thoughtful planning for leaders to create spaces for employees to be honest and questions that will elicit helpful information.
But even with the best-intentioned courage, humility and planning, one problem is that leaders may be part of the problem. After all, if there is an unhealthy culture (or unhealthy subcultures) in the organization, it developed, or at least existed, right under the noses of the leaders. It can be difficult to do an honest assessment when it involves looking in a mirror.
Back in post #023 (Work As Usual–Unhealthy Relationships), we noted some Gallup conclusions:
• Managers account for 70% of the variance in worker engagement.
• Businesses pick the wrong managers 82% of the time.
• Untalented managers compensate with manipulation and politics.
• CEO’s actually tend to have the lowest EQ in an organization.
It can also be difficult to get employees to respond honestly about problems if responses are being returned to management. The greater the assurance of anonymity, the higher the likelihood of an honest assessment.
“Understand Your Real Culture” can benefit from a third-party assistance. Here are two examples of groups that can help with a cultural assessment:
• Connection Culture Group: We have frequently discussed the work of Michael Stallard and his book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work. Stallard’s Connection Culture Group offers an assessment tool they call the Connection Culture Pulse that can be used to assess the culture within organizations and teams. Although the Connection Culture model is grounded in Biblical principles, it is expressed in secular terms.
• Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Back in post #103 (Business As Usual in “Ministry”), we mentioned a of a prominent non-profit (The Gideons International) that recognized it had a toxic culture and took steps to address the problem. One of the steps they took was to engage the Best Christian Workplaces Institute to help them implement a cultural assessment. BCWI offers various assessment tools and services.
These are obviously just two examples of organizations who can help with “Understand Your Real Culture”.
“Understanding Your Real Culture” requires prayer, courage, humility and planning on the part of faithful leaders, but it is a critical step on the path to leading faithfully through business a better way. It is leadership in the tradition of David and Mordecai:
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:72)
For Mordecai . . . was . . . popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.
As suggested above, the best place to start is with an honest assessment, but culture in an organization is an ever-changing reality that must be cultivated and curated. It is growing and evolving even if management does nothing about it–in fact, it grows and evolves BECAUSE management does nothing about it. Regular “check-ups” is a wise way to keep things healthy.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I heard the story of Gideons when I attended the 2015 C12 National Leaders Conference in Orlando. One of the speakers was Craig Warner, Executive Director of The Gideons International. With remarkable transparency, Warner described the toxic culture that existed at The Gideons and the courageous steps he took to begin a transformation. A link to the video of Craig’s talk is below. I highly recommend watching it.