Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

dreamstime_Nature_In_HandsI went to see Spy with a friend the other day. This is not a movie I’d have chosen and truthfully, I knew very little about it, but I loved it! It was funny and clever and it was a very nice model of pushing women forward. The language, however, was full of F bombs. Now that sort of fit the content, but both my friend and I felt the need to comment on the rather excessive use of that word. I, for one, have always wondered why an act that gives such pleasure would be used to show such disrespect.

Impact of Language

Sharon Ellison, in her book Taking the War Out Of Our Words: The art of powerful non-defensive communication gives example after example of how we seek to hide and ‘protect’ ourselves through our choice of words. She demonstrates how our choices of words (tone and body language too) can cause lasting harm, prevent us from achieving what we say we want, and put us on a path of no return as we engage in power struggles instead of co-creation. Words matter!

So many young people use ‘bad’ words to make a statement about their ‘freedom’ and ‘adulthood’. They use the constant stream of epithets to declare that they are big, bad and powerful, at a time when all of those things are up for grabs. I remember doing just that at a certain time in my life. I stopped because I didn’t want people to think of me the same way as I thought about people who used foul language. I also sensed the weakness inherent in using language to demonstrate power when real confidence was lacking. After all, if I was really big, bad and powerful why would I need to use slang and cursing to prove it?

Language Impact Relationships

Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou held a rich discussion on the damage of using ‘it’. He described how distancing that word is in relationships. The word ‘it’ objectifies the world and makes everything an ‘other,’ an other that is less than, one that can be/should be ‘managed.’ Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Anishinaabe tribe makes that same point in a more lyrical and heartfelt way in her article, Alternative Grammar: A new language of kinship in the 2015 spring issue of Yes! Her solution, however, is one I find thrilling and very clever. There is no word for the ‘other’ that is relationship-based, in the English language. We need another word to replace ‘it,’ she writes. Her choice is ‘ki’ to refer to living things. Her example, “Oh, that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.”  Makes me feel warm and close to the tree. For me the difference is profound – and that’s the point!

Language Impacts Climate Change

We ask ourselves what we can do to end global warming and climate change, but language is not the first place we look. Yet we will not make this shift without changing our relationship to the natural world and a good first place to start would be language. I challenge you to take this up in your own life. Replace ‘it’ with ‘ki’ – the plural is ‘kin,’ her example, “Look kin are flying south for the winter, come back soon.” (nice or what?) in your own speech. By doing this you will do a number of things. You will become a warrior for the Earth as you risk the taunting of your friends; you will engage yourself in your own reframing and in a rebuilding of your own awareness of your relationship with life; you will become a bright light – showing the way into the future; and, you will become a model for the kind of deep and lasting change we need to make – as a people – to ensure that we can live on this dear Earth for generations to come.

If you find this small task too daunting, then ask yourself how likely is it others will make the changes you see they need to make? Look into your own commitment and see what it lacks to make the difference that needs to be made. Listen to your own rationalizations about how this is ‘not important,’ too small to make and ‘real’ difference, or what other ‘reason’ you give yourself to not take this very small step.

Climate change requires behavior change, but we won’t change our behavior if WE don’t change our behavior. We gripe about changing light bulbs, about using alternative – anything, and we have ‘real’ and easy excuses about why our actions won’t make an impact, so we can justify our own reluctance to change. At the same time we desperately hope that someone else will make those changes, that someone else will do what must be done, that someone else will save us.

Change your language and change your relationship with all the other beings on the planet. If we can change that, then changing our actions will be a piece of cake. We will find it offensive to do harm to what we love. We will find it outrageous to kill a tree to make a parking lot. We will reduce our own water use so that fish and wildlife may live, as see that action as an obvious one. The first value of the sustainable Values Set is: All actions create the conditions that support Life. Our language should reflect that!

Explore the Sustainable Values Set



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On Amazon – Culture Values & Unintended Consequences: A Workbook

Knowing what to do and knowing why are two very different things. With ethics, for most of human existence, we have been focusing on the what. Ethics has become a rulebook, often codified into laws that have attempted to provide us with all of the ‘right’ things to do and the consequences for the ‘wrong’ things. Has that approach worked? Certainly the Ten Commandments are part of that approach, and we seem to have some difficulty dealing effectively with only ten rules let alone the myriads of rules we currently live under.

Conflating ethics with rules and laws with ethical behavior leaves much to be desired. Not only is it not possible to codify all behavior (the army has tried), who has time to read them and that doesn’t help in the throes of a crisis or in the heat of decision-making. Simply put the what doesn’t tell us why so that we can act coherently in new and unusual situations. Why do we want to be ‘good’ as an inherent part of our nature? No child is born wanting to be ‘bad,’ bad is a strategy.

If humans are an integral and inherent part of nature, then, perhaps, the answer can be found there. Is nature inherently ‘good?’ Janine Benyus of biomimicry fame stated that in nature all actions create the conditions that support Life. This, for me, is a very clear, and even easy to apply what. It seats us into the natural web of life and provides us with a clear mission and direction for how we contribute to the health of the planet. What could be more ethical than that? This value is one of the key values in the Sustainable Values Set®, and a useful way to think about creating culture. It doesn’t address the deeper why, however.

Closely allied with ethics is integrity. When I look up integrity I get: truthfulness, honor, veracity, reliability, uprightness. Veracity means; reality, actuality, authenticity, genuineness, trueness. When I ask students about integrity they usually settle on reliability. This has always bothered me, because Hitler was reliable, but we would not call him ethical and would be hard put to say he had integrity, so there seems to be more to the word than just being reliable.

Veracity comes closer to the deeper meaning of integrity, I think. What makes something have trueness or reality? Why is being authentic important? The answers to these questions can be found, I believe, in nature. In nature, what is true and authentic supports the integrity of the entire system. Nature is NOT about parts and pieces, the world in which humans seem to live so comfortably. Nature is about the larger system, always. It is by keeping that healthy, intact, working well that all of the ‘parts’ (us included) can function well. Health is intrinsic to nature. Sickness happens only when the system is out of wack. The natural state of Life, is health.

Look at your company culture. Would you say it is healthy? Is it vibrant and robust? It is creative and responsive, resilient in the face of challenges? Can you name the people in your organization that you would say have integrity? Who holds the entire organization as the focus for decision-making? Who can extend that concern into the community and the environment? Who is responsible for your organizations integrity? How does your organization contribute to the health and integrity of your community, of the planet?

I’m going to challenge you again. Send me examples of thorny ethical questions and let’s see if looking at the health and integrity of the larger system offers up solutions. I will share your questions and my thoughts on solutions I future articles, so send them in!

Walking your talk is not easy – that’s why working with a coach/mentor is helpful! Check out my Coaching with Kathryn website, and let’s talk!

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When we make laws or contest the making of those laws, when we speak philosophically, we often forget that we are talking about human beings. There are three current news stories that make this point. The first is the hubris of Elliot Roger. People are wondering if being half Asian and half white drove him to kill. People are wondering if his class/status drove his to kill. Posh, his arrogance (tied to both of these) and his unwillingness to look into the mirror are see what an arrogant B****rd he was, is what allowed him to think he had the right to kill.

The second story has to do with the Open Carry Texas (OCT) brazen act of going, en mass, into a local burrito store carrying big guns across their chests and assuming that they had the right and privilege to scare everyone else. Their willingness to provoke everyone else in order to justify their behavior was simply hubris.

The third story has to do with Amazon and the tactics it is using to derail sales of the books published by Hachette. By ensuring that their books take 2-3 weeks to get to the purchaser, that there are no pre-order buy buttons, that their books cost more etc. They are trying to force that publisher to meet Amazon’s lower pricing demands. Andrew Leonard, in his Salon article about this makes a strong comparison with Walmart. When the true cost of any product is artificially manipulated, then the true costs are deflected onto others parts of the system and/or the quality suffers. This is a lose lose scenario – a race to the bottom. The whole situation stems from the fact that Amazon now controls the publishing industry because they control book selling. While it appears to help the consumer (cheaper books, etc.) it has the potential to destroy the publishing industry and majorly reduce the quality of the books that do get published (we are already seeing that). Amazon is doing this because it can, because Jim Bezos wants to be the winner in this contest of wills.

Can you see the thread that ties all of these stories together? Try arrogance and ego and an incredible indifference to the impact of the chosen behavior on anyone else. Try a sense of superiority and entitlement – a feeling of being “special” with no need to be accountable or respectful of anyone else. This, my friends, is what power does to human nature. Is anyone immune? I doubt it. The bigger question is how do we, as a society handle it? There was a time in our history when both religion and community could bring some pressure to bear in these kinds of situations. That is why we used to have checks and balances in our governmental structure – to counterbalance this tendency. That is the claim made for the ‘free’ market 9a whole other article) and the seduction of many other utopian dreams. If only, if only people didn’t have egos, if only power didn’t corrupt – but it does!

Today the true counterbalance is massive public indignation. That too, seems to be disappearing. We are feeling less powerful not more, we are too busy trying survive to turn our attention to anything outside of our own survival. We are too much in debt to take the risks we need to take to ensure that the system works. We are tired and scared and choose distraction and entertainment to the hard work of change. We can, however, look into our own mirrors and see our own entitlements and deal with those. If we do not, then we will co-conspire with others who won’t and rationalize that it was race, class, or greed that caused them to act that way, tisk, tisk, tisk. That allows us to continue to go on feeling good about ourselves, feeling sure that we are different and maybe just a little bit special.

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For over 15 years I’ve worked on and with culture. Culture in organizations is the bedrock of beliefs that determine what behavior employees see as both possible and beneficial. The bottom-line is that if behavior is not see as beneficial (to the employees) then anything requiring that kind of behavior is not possible.

This is why I’m so keen on matching the strategic needs important to a company’s future with the culture. Ask anyone and they will tell you stories of companies that have created strategic plans, only to have them sit on the shelf. This is one reason why – the behaviors needed to implement that strategy did not live in the culture.

If the new strategy required innovation, for example, and employees have been systematically restricted from experimenting, if their suggestions have been ignored, or if mistakes and failures are severely punished, then no employee will really believe that the leadership wants innovation and no one will take the risks needed to make innovation happen.

As companies move toward sustainability this becomes even more important. One of the key benefits of strategic sustainability efforts is the generation of new ways of thinking and working that lead to innovative processes, products and revenue streams. If the culture of the organization does not led itself to creativity and experimentation, then the deeper and more strategic aspects of sustainability will not resonate.

Additionally, if the goal is to put sustainability into the DNA of the organization, then a major piece of that process is the revamping of the company culture. The Triplepundent talks about the ‘value’ employee, one for whom the connection between personal values and company values is key. This connection will reduce turnover, attract more capable employees, and generate a sense of empowerment that increases productivity. This is the holy grail of culture – a cemented connection between the beliefs and values of the employees with the strategic needs of the company. When these two meet magic happens!

The Network for Business Sustainability, in a recent report, says, “93% of CEOs see sustainability as important to their company’s future success. Yet, most do not know how to embed sustainability into their company.” Culture has always been an opaque subject to those who are used to dealing with tangible and easily measurable subjects.  This was the reason we have worked so hard to create tools that measure culture and that offer companies a way to determine the depth of leadership understanding and how well their management style evokes desired behavior in employees.

As we move forward in greening our businesses, we will need to make some serious shifts in how we mange if we wish to see the extraordinary benefits to be gained from ‘thinking like the planet’ actually manifest in increased profit and reduced costs. This is the direction we are going and this is where the true benefits of being Deep Green will manifest themselves!

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