Sunday, September 4, 2011

Your Corporate Culture's Personality

Culture is to organizations the way personality is to people. Culture and personality are “interior” domains. You often can’t see a culture or personality, but it doesn’t take you long to sense their presence or your willingness to be in and around them.

When we speak of culture, we are referring to the habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations that are the unwritten code for the behavior in an organization. It is the shared values or behavioral norm. It can be intense, and one of its purposes is to perpetuate itself.

In organizational life, the “wrong” personality can be asked to leave the company, but how do you address a “wrong” culture? What is right or wrong about culture anyway? How does culture become healthy or unhealthy? Why is it a worthy business subject? Harvard researchers John Kotter and James Heskett, who have spent decades researching corporate cultures and their effect on the organizational behavior, write culture is “adaptive” or “un-adaptive.”

As an example, when analyzing defensive or unadaptive cultures, Cooke and Lafferty look beneath the organizational skin to evaluate the way power, conflict, competitiveness, and perfectionism can impact culture in counter-productive ways. Also, their studies assess the non-productive effects of passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace. In other words, they look at how fear-based organizations predictably cause the undesirable behaviors of avoidance, dependency, passivity and extreme risk-avoidance.

In parallel studies, Gallop researchers have shown that 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail, 70 percent of workforces are unengaged, and 70 percent of the leadership in these organizations are actually causing counter-productive cultures and don’t know it. At its extreme, in an unhealthy culture, work is seen as a curse. As a consequence, the highest goal in these workplaces is actually to stop work – (“I can’t wait till quitting time;” “I can’t wait for the weekend;” “I can’t wait to retire.”)

When the strongest desire is to get away from the pain of work, the unconscious defense mechanism is procrastination, creative avoidance and slovenly work. Estranged from work, what we are left with is a worldwide phenomena now being called “worker fatigue”.

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