In 1988 I took a course from a leading environmentalist who has since become one of my mentors. Allan Savory’s life-long work to restore the world’s grasslands through Holistic Management is demonstrated in one of TED Talks popular speeches (http://bit.ly/1kI51ft). What I’ve learned from Allan over the years is to think holistically. That is, humans, their economics, and the environment are inseparable. And it follows that what we do to the land we do to people. How we treat our environment is a reflection of how we treat each other. The health of the cultures that we live and work in echoes our response to the natural world.
Creating a healthy culture begins with an honest assessment of the current health of your organization. Depending on the parameters of the culture you are committed to create, you can apply these questions to a department, a division, or an entire organization. You can even adapt them to your family.
- How clear – and aligned – is every employee about the core purpose of your organization, your organization’s most fundamental reason for being?
- How clear are people in your organization about the core values and the kind of culture that your organization is committed to build?
- To what extent was your most recent hire or promotion decision flexed against the culture you are committed to create?
- When was the last time you heard a senior executive say they expected to be held accountable for living the core values of the organization? Or an employee taking this responsibility?
- How cohesive is the executive team that leads this organization?
- How energized are people and how much enjoyment and fun do they experience when they come to work?
- How clear are people’s expectations of themselves and of each other? How supported do they feel?
- What is your level of tolerance for mediocrity and poor performance?
- How open are people in your organization to discussing the answers to these questions – and move toward a solution?
- How honest can people be about the answers to these questions when the boss is in the room?
A healthy culture doesn’t get this perfect or live with a pretense of perfection, nor does it live in denial. A healthy culture is, instead, an honest culture. Like a healthy ecosystem, a healthy culture is open and diverse. A healthy culture is willing to look honestly at itself, to see both its functional and dysfunctional sides. A healthy culture realizes that change, conflict, and problems, when faced openly and honestly, are the pathways to growth. And a healthy culture starts with healthy employees – at every level.
Decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time and take responsibility for creating a better culture around you now by taking positive action toward even one of these culture questions. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
– Regardless of your position, step away from your computer in the next week and start discussing these questions. Listen carefully to how people respond.
– Notice your own reaction. Do you find yourself part of the problem, or are you part of the solution? Create an open, respectful dialogue.
– Commit to changing even one thing.
– Focus on the positive, acknowledging actions that are leading to a healthy organization.
– Embrace the negative. Don’t be afraid to get bad news. Every culture has a dark side. Responding to the negative respectfully, responsibly and honestly is the doorway to change.
– Start small. Make incremental improvements. Culture, like most important things in life, is about direction, not velocity.