Build a winning organizational culture? Here's how

Even in cultures where action points are clears, there is a clear gap between adherence to those action pointers by the top management

Sulekha NairUpdated: Thursday, June 09, 2022, 03:13 PM IST
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Culture is a virtue - a minimal set of things that each individual of the system exhibits on a daily basis. /Representative image |

Systems like beehives, ant colonies, and the human brain are regarded as some of the most complicated structures in the universe. The commonality between these biological systems is that they do not have a single intelligence center. The fact is that the most cooperative, intelligent, and admirable biological systems in the universe have been created by distributed intelligence. This is noteworthy because an individual needs to operate by a minimal set of rules in a distributed intelligence system. The consistent adherence of all individuals to this set of rules is what gives rise to such gigantically complicated systems. These minimal set of rules are the CULTURE of a system.

Culture is not the value of the company. Culture is not the vision or mission of the company. Instead, culture is a virtue - a minimal set of things that each individual of the system exhibits on a daily basis.

According to the leading labor organization - JOLTS - more than 4.5 million employees quit their jobs every month in the US alone. The commonly cited reasons to quit a job as reported in the exit forms are things like

● Looking for a higher salary

● Needing more of a challenge

● Feeling uninspired

● Wanting to feel valued/ Looking for more recognition

● Seeking a better management relationship

● Searching for job growth and career advancement

● Needing more feedback or structure

● Needing a better work-life balance

When an independent team of social scientists at Harvard analyzed the most commonly cited reasons people quit their jobs, they realized that all causes arose from a standard underlying mechanics.

Most organizations have an operational structure that is very complicated for an individual to grasp. After all, humans evolved to survive on the Savannah, not in the corporate jungle. This discovered that corporate culture is ridden with layers of bureaucracy. As a result, there is too much talk about a lot of things and too little insight on how to act on a day-to-day basis.

Even in cultures where action points are clears, there is a clear gap between adherence to those action pointers by the top management. This gives rise to sub-conscious discomfort that a person finds very hard to articulate. The Harvard team discovered that the inability of people to articulate these complicated thoughts and emotions led them to choose a typical reason for quitting that are easier to convey.

Another analysis by Daniel Coyle, who later articulated his learning in the book "The Culture Code," discovered something similar. High-performance people do not make high-performance teams. The mechanics of winning culture are far more straightforward and hence more difficult to cultivate.

There are 5 critical components of creating a winning culture.

1. A Clear Set Of Virtues - a small set of values that are ACTIONED on a daily basis.

2. Psychological Safety - removing fear from daily interactions.

3. Establishing Purpose - this does not mean imposing the company's so-called vision on employees. This entails visualization of what the outcome of their work is.

4. Focusing On Individuals - Typical companies have a top-down focus. The focus needs to be flipped and start at an individual level.

5. Not optimizing for efficiency and creativity together

Building a winning culture is about establishing very simple rules that each individual can grasp and adhere to. These rules (virtues) can vary from organization to organization. However, non-negotiable adherence to these virtues by individuals of a system gives rise to powerful structures that a single node of intelligence can not even comprehend.

(Aanan Khurma, CEO & Co-Founder of Wellversed)

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