Myth #1: “Culture is a silver bullet that will take away all of our problems.”
Business today is extremely dynamic, involving increasing numbers of stakeholders who demand more input and control than ever before.
True cultural transformation often requires a multi-pronged approach to achieve the results you require while aligning your workforce around your goals. For example, clarifying and aligning stakeholders around the strategy is not enough. You must support that effort by providing people with the tools and skills to do what you are asking of them and adapting systems and processes to improve work flow through the change.
Myth #2: “Culture takes years to change.”
This is not wholly untrue. It does take time for collective norms and ways of working to develop and, through success, become more entrenched in the collective mindset as the “right way to do things.” The longer that way of doing things remains the norm (and the longer that way meets with successful results) the harder it is to change it.
That said, culture can change quickly. It usually takes a “gut punch” to the organization that clearly shows the old ways of doing things are no longer going to cut it in today’s evolving business environment.
Myth #3: “It’s HR’s job to worry about stuff like this.”
While HR can, and must, play a critical role in the culture assessment and evolution process in many organizations, one fatal pitfall is when executives extend that role to include ownership of the entire culture development process.
Culture is a collective concept and, as such, should be owned by the collective. All members of your organization need to be involved in both understanding which aspects of the culture will help drive success and which may need to change in order to keep the organization relevant in changing business environments. This is everyone’s responsibility. Leaders cannot simply delegate responsibility for leading these critical types of changes within their organization.
Myth #4: “It’s the job of senior leadership to drive culture and performance.”
Similar to Myth #3, some people operate under the assumption that a CEO or senior leader alone drives culture and performance. While senior leaders certainly have the ability to significantly influence in this arena, they do not own it in its entirety.
Myth #5: “We can’t manage what we can’t measure.”
The term “organizational culture” is pretty tough for many people to wrap their heads around in a consistent and meaningful way. Culture can cover any number of aspects of organizational functioning. It evolves constantly based on what seems to be working in the current business context and it consciously and subconsciously influences people to behave in certain ways. Often, employees are not even aware of how it’s affecting their everyday work.
There are many aspects of culture that continuously play a role in shaping the thoughts and behaviors of employees in the day-to-day, but only some of those have been studied rigorously and have been found to be directly linked to performance.
If you’re working to understand your current culture and how it may be impacting the performance of your business, start with the aspects of culture that have linked performance through empirical research; not just someone else’s opinions.
Myth #6: “We can do this internally.”
In other words, you and your team were involved in creating the culture, so it’s up to you to fix it. Yes and no.
In many instances, organizations find it difficult to assess and evolve their own culture because so much of it resides in the collective subconscious and is taken for granted in the day-to-day. Because of this, it is often much more beneficial to engage with a team of external experts who can examine your organization with fresh and unbiased eyes.
This gives you the ability to dig deeper into the beliefs and assumptions that are driving behavior than you could ever hope to get to on your own. External experts also bring proven methodologies and structure to the process to help expedite your efforts.
Additionally, in many organizations people may not always feel comfortable opening up to internal colleagues in the same way they might with an external adviser. An objective third party can help facilitate a more honest conversation and assessment of current beliefs, assumptions and behaviors.
Myth #7: “There exists one clearly defined, all encompassing culture in an organization.”
When you are leading large organizations that span multiple professional specialties or geographic locations, it’s unlikely that the entire organization has one seamless way of doing things that governs behavior in exactly the same ways.
While there are often some values and ways of doing things that generalize across the entire collective, very often there are also subcultures that may, in some cases, be at fundamental odds with each other. Even when values are shared across large organizations they may tend to manifest themselves in different ways. For example, empowerment may be a valued concept, but may play out very differently in your San Francisco office than it does in your Shanghai office.
This can also be exemplified through professional subcultures that exist within your organization. Think of the health care system. Doctors have deep and explicit beliefs and values linked to their profession. They work with many other stakeholders and subgroups, such as nurses and administrators who may not value the same things in quite the same way. Taking a “one size fits all” approach to culture can create some real problems in environments like this.