Stan Slap defines culture as “Your employees shared beliefs about the rules of survival and emotional prosperity.” p.14 — “Under The Hood” An employee culture exists to protect itself. Employees look back to the way things were for security and emotional stability. Leaders look toward the future, toward change and improvement. This becomes a dynamic tension or a raging battle between the leader and the employee.
Culture is what makes a place real and descriptive. Countries have culture. Businesses have culture. Families have culture. Schools have culture. Cities have culture. Some people ‘fit’ well in certain cultures and not so well in others. During change people leave cultures because either their sense of certainty is diminished and they would like to find their own path to certainty.
After spending a summer in Turkey, I returned to the United States with what is termed as “Culture Shock.” Culture shock is the intensive non-transitional experience in which you abruptly leave the old for the new. One shock to my system upon returning to the United States was the amount of choice I had as it relates to material possessions. The individuals I befriended in Turkey seemed to value the relationship over the gathering of the material.
Employees in businesses experience culture shock, when change occurs. They are directed, pushed or pulled in a direction often without any input. As Stan Slap shares in his book “Under The Hood” —employees look back to retain status quo and remove anxiety, while leaders look ahead to continuous improvement and a vision.
What are leaders to do with culture?
1.) Embrace and Enhance: Your culture was created by the originators of the business and hold the cultural standards in their hands. Leaders need to embrace the culture by living it. Leaders enhance culture by continually living and speaking ‘culture-eese’…I do not speak Turkish, but I do know how to say “Ice Cream” & “Hello” — (Dondurma & Merhaba)
2.) Language: Cultures around the world speak a tongue or a language. Your company has a language used to describe things like customer service, your product and your process. Leaders need to be fluent in the language of their own culture and teach others this language.
3.) Employee Chatter: Employees are always talking. They will talk after you make a decision, don’t make a decision or communicate something new. Complaining is not necessarily bad, it means that people care and want to be heard. Leaders do need to listen to it and build trust. Stan Slap suggests that you need to continually sell the change that is about to occur and do not be afraid of employee chatter. This is part of the process.
4.) Change: As corporations change, remember to talk about what is NOT changing. What is not changing helps your employees recognize the good that remains and allows them to pursue their top priority, which is stability and certainty.
5.) Values: This past week I took a group of 20 managers through a personal values exercise. One question I ask them to reflect upon is the question of “Who in your story best represents or helped solidify this value?”
The stories that emerge from this question are inspiring. Managers have mentioned family members, teachers, prior managers and parents. My point with the exercise is to strengthen culture by giving leaders permission to lead with their values in mind.
In 1996, I visited China for 8 weeks. China provides a great illustration of what happens in business. Walking down the street in Beijing you commonly see a man pulling a rickshaw and a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant with locals devouring the Colonel’s Original Recipe. Here you see the pressing of the future with the persistence of many to hold onto the past. Both goals are relevant as it pertains to culture.