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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

dreamstime_angry bossI’ve only recently moved to Spokane and I love it. What I love most is that Spokane is steeped in relationships. SO many people have lived here their whole life and their parents and grandparents as well. Because that is true, folks assume that everyone has been here their whole life. This has two unintended consequences; folks explain and locate things by where businesses and landmarks used to be, and they feel comfortable talking to you anywhere and at any time, on the bus or in any line. On the bus people often comment on other people’s conversations and I’ve been helped many times by someone who overheard my conversation and contributed.

As a neighborhood council member I’m seeing some of this breakdown in the neighborhoods as so many of Spokane’s homes are now rentals. This means that new people move in all the time, so long-time residents sort of withdraw and stick to themselves. Absentee landlords rent to anyone and the ‘point the finger’ relationship between landlords and tenants leads to a downward spiral of poorly maintained homes. Rising crime rates can result from these kinds of situations and all of this seems to justify ‘righteous’ anger and a ‘they are doing it to us again’ attitude.

The other force that I see working against a culture of basic friendliness is a national cultural change that is impacting all of us. One of the ‘gifts’ of the Republican party has been a public permission to hate. Their language and rhetoric over the past few years has made it permissible to show public disrespect for anyone (including the President of the United States) that they don’t like. It has fostered people like Donald Trump, who actually garners greater public approval by his public bashing of immigrants and even public figures (John McCain) he doesn’t like. For now many people have been outraged by these statements, but once statements like these become the ‘new norm’ Trump will be joined by many more and the tone of public discourse will hit a new low.

This culture has prompted some Republicans to bring in heads of state from other countries to undermine Presidential policies. This kind of behavior would have been seen as traitorous in times past, but it has raised barely a hiccup in the media. Where is public outcry? Perhaps the culture of disrespect is further along than even I imagined.

I see this culture of hate as one of the most pressing issues we face. Not only does it make public discourse problematic, it fosters a disrespect of law and due process that is very damaging to the roots of our democracy. What is most insidious about it is that once these new ‘norms’ get established, everyone contributes to that ‘normalizing’ process. Every time a public figure acts or speaks with anger and hatred, those ‘norms’ get reinforced. Every time a public figure disrespects another public figure, the need to respect each other becomes undermined.

As I observe public meetings and news events, I have seen people exhibit behavior that does not seem to be in alignment with what I perceive as a democratic value system. It doesn’t matter if the subject is one that supports the sick and needy if the discussion and presentation of it is filled with anger, name calling and recriminations, that anger shuts down discourse and the mistreatment of fellow participants undermines respect and by extension all participants.

I don’t believe that anyone intends these consequences, however each of us, in our own way, either works to create a culture where open and free discussion is safe and valued or not. Our actions in every meeting we are in and in every public forum we participate in can reinforces this negative kind of culture or dampen it. My hope is that by bringing this to your attention you will see the importance of reinforcing respect and fostering unfearful and free discussion – I believe that our democracy depends on this! You, dear reader, have the unique opportunity of becoming a public leader in reaffirming these two basic values: free and open discourse and mutual respect, if you have the courage to apologize publically when your own habits get in the way.

Changing habits is hard work! Doing so publically requires immense courage. This is how leaders change culture and help others gain an awareness of their own lapses in behavior. This is how great leaders give others the courage to make their own changes in habit. I fervently hope you are up to the challenge.

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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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