Tuesday, September 10

Culture, Culture, Culture

Someone asked me recently why I place so much emphasis on organizational culture.  The simple answer is that it is the most potent and yet most overlooked variable in organizational performance.  If you have a connective culture, you have organizational alignment of your programs, processes, and structures with your purpose.  Most organizational leaders cannot look in a mirror and see where their organizations are misaligned.  In order to be as productive as possible, you need alignment, but this is impossible without a constructive culture in which people can communicate openly with trust; where they all know their roles, and believe they have the tools, authority, and skills to excel; and where they respect their leaders for fairness and dedication.  
I don’t make a practice of sharing negative examples on my blog, but this past week I experienced such a powerful example of a non-constructive culture that I feel compelled to share it.  A dear friend moved to DC last year to work for a highly respected federal agency.  Having spent his career in the private sector, where his work won many awards, he was eager to bring his talents and experience to serve our country.  
Hired at a very low grade level, he was promised that he would be boosted up two grades as quickly as possible.  When this didn’t happen, and it was obvious to all that he was working at a much higher level than his pay grade, he was told to, “Work at grade, and not any better.”  
Devastated, he is now wondering how long he can remain in this agency, in spite of the accomplishments he’s achieved for them.  He was born and probably hard wired to “work above grade.”  He’s now recognizing that, in spite of his achievements and the guidance he’s provided many colleagues during the last year, he may decide to leave if his only choice is to fit into a passive defensive culture where people are punished for doing more than they are paid for—and where his salary doesn’t cover his monthly rent for a studio apartment.
Please look at the signals you may be sending to your family or work group about what you expect of them.  As a leader, you are creating a culture by what and how you communicate as well as what you do or don’t do.  Look at yourself through the eyes of others and discover ways you can promote a more connective culture—one that will benefit the group as well as every member.

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