Sometimes people approach everything as an engineering problem.
While this can work very well, not everything can be engineered, some things are emergent – they are a property of the system. This means you can’t engineer them directly, you need to instead create the conditions that encourage the properties you want.
That’s how organisational culture works and I wish more people knew it.
Culture can’t be engineered per se – it is what emerges in response to the environment, ceremonies and systems in a business.
It’s as much about the little things that affect people’s work day-to-day as it is about grand principles and high-profile initiatives. Above all, it’s about people, their attitudes and how they behave.
Leaders play an important role in culture change – but it isn’t the one they normally have in mind. It’s not about ‘addressing the people’ like a Roman Emperor and telling everyone to change.
Instead it’s about embodying the culture they have in mind and showing the way with actions not words.
Just as the fastest way to destroy trust in the leadership is ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’, so the fastest way to build it is ‘do-as-I-do-put-actions-above-words’.
So leaders need to spend their time inside the business, learning what’s actually happening on the ground, listening, learning and then encouraging and supporting changes that enable and grow the culture they want to see.
I’ve written before about how many leaders are not doing the right job: Leaders: stop making decisions and start leading instead.
We need a revolution in our understanding of what leadership means and how culture change works.
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