Part 2: Where to start? Understand what you're trying to change

The band-aid: Discourse on the topic of culture and ethics too often focuses on defining and communicating a set of core values and principles, and little else. It’s not uncommon to see well-intentioned executives promoting lofty principles, without engaging in the difficult work of re-aligning their processes, structures, and systems within their company to support those priorities. 

In fact, we frequently see day-to-day practices throughout a company, directly at odds with the buzzy corporate values and market-facing brand. When leaders in an organization say one thing, but then create an environment that encourages another, that dissonance creates painful and often costly problems. This frequently stems, in part, from a lack of understanding around culture and how to influence it.  

What is culture? How do we change it? Organizational culture has less to do with dress code or office space, and more to do with the different values, motivations, and environmental pressures that shape how we think about the decisions in front of us. Those choices we ultimately make every day - those beliefs and actions that form our culture over time and directly inform our own and business' performance - they directly impact risk tolerance, adaptability, ability to innovate, and our resilience in the face of crisis. 

B=f(P,E) Kurt Lewin, one of the modern pioneers of social organizational psychology, coined the equation behavior is a function of the individual and their environment. Over time, people learn to think and behave a certain way based on their collective values, individual motivations, and on the environment in which they operate. If you can understand how and why these factors influence day-to-day decisions in your company, you can start to influence your culture.

But first, seek to understand. Before taking steps to dramatically influence the fabric of your organization, invest the up-front time and resources to first understand:

  • What direction do we need to move in? Why? At what cost? 
  • What are the barriers to our success and what friciton points need to be addressed?
  • What elements of our culture are core to our identity and must not be lost?
  • What are the trade-offs we are willing to make along the way?

The first place to look for these answers? Your business strategy. It may seem simple, but not taking this step is a sure way to do more harm than good.