UPFRONT Tribal tribulations – It’s cultcha, stupid!

The gap between what people say they’ll do and what they actually do is one into which lot of belief, hope and positive energy is doomed to fall.
For instance, your company claims to value innovation – but the hierarchy appears hard of hearing in the face of suggested improvements; and while it supposedly rewards on merit, the plum assignments largely go to favoured few. Where organisational behaviour fails to match its own good intentions, it is sorely in need of cultural makeover.
Which is where Carolyn Taylor’s recently released book Walking the Talk: building culture for success* could come in handy. recognised expert in the area of performance enhancement, the United Kingdom-trained, Australia-based Taylor has written what she describes as “a step-by-step guide” to driving desired set of values right through organisational culture.
Her message is that you can’t fake it – if the corporate leadership doesn’t ensure its stated values live and breathe through everything the organisation does and says, then they’re just so much useless window-dressing and will do little more than generate workplace cynicism.
“I’ve found it takes while for people to understand that culture is not something you do off to one side,” says Taylor. “It is actually about how you act, how you make decisions, where you spend money, how you reward employees, how you do business – all these things are your culture. In order to change it you have to put in serious effort.”
While the importance of culture may be old hat to anthropologists who’ve long been studying how shared behaviours act as social glue in tribal groupings, it’s only really emerged as management discipline in the past decade, says Taylor.
Its influence is particularly evident during mergers or acquisitions when cultural clash can cause lot of personnel fallout and loss of performance momentum. Organisations are, she says, nothing but tribes.
“Do you ever see that when mergers are going ahead – mergers are very tribal?”
But, she adds, you don’t often find culture experts on either the due diligence or merger teams. So by the time the “tribes” are being integrated some of the key decisions that influence culture will already have been made.
Taylor’s interest in the influence of organisational culture grew from some 20 years’ experience in personal development and leadership training.
“We’d take people off to do good leadership and team development work then they’d go back into the organisation and it took us several years to realise there was this major force going on there that was much stronger than the individual. So we started doing lot more research on the nature of that force, what drives it, how you change it and what happens when you do.”
Simply put, the culture of an organisation could be described as the sum of messages people receive from it about how to behave and what is really valued. And lot of those messages are non-verbal. They range from things like how other people are behaving, to how people are remunerated, how time is spent, who gets the best offices or plum jobs, and how money or resources are allocated.
“So managing the culture is about managing the messages and of course lot of those messages are non-verbal – hence walk the talk,” says Taylor.
Originally trained as behavioural psychologist in the United Kingdom, she has worked with some big-name companies on cultural issues and says one of the stumbling blocks to achieving cultural change is that people just don’t get the scale of the task.
“It seldom gets the resources, time or people input that go into something like an IT project, say. Yet, it’s vital to understand how all the various factors in organisations come together to form the messages that comprise the culture.”
Culture is also apt to fall into the “too soft to handle” basket which means it’s either left to human resources or tackled in piecemeal way rather than being treated like unified project complete with progress reports and success measures.
Of course it may not be something every company wants to tackle but there’s growing body of evidence around both the negative impact of culture (eg the culture of arrogance at Enron) and its positive impact on company performance.
Companies known for having strong, values-led culture are not only more successful – they’re cementing that position by hoovering up the best job candidates. And why not, says Taylor. People spend too much time at work for it to be debilitating, disempowering or frustrating experience.
“I think culture will become real competitive differentiator on the employment side. Plus there is so much evidence now of the difference it can make to company performance.”

*Walking the talk: building culture for success, by Carolyn Taylor, published by Random House, price $39.95.

Visited 3 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window