Repeat after me: “My organization’s culture is an outcome of what we collectively believe about the organization and how we behave alongside each other as a result of those beliefs.”
So, what do you believe about your organization? Over the course of this blog, one prior, and two to follow, brief introductions to ten culture-embedding mechanisms will provide you with a set of levers with which to intentionally shift and set your culture into what you need it to be.
Set #2: The Less Visible Mechanisms
- Power Structures – formal, informal, public, and discreet. Whether you have a documented organizational chart or not, everyone knows there is some sort of authority structure that includes power bases and conduits for the delegation of that power and its use. Culture is influenced by the dynamics of how the formal/public structure and informal/discrete structure interact.
The more clearly an intentionally chosen authority reality is communicated and followed, the healthier the culture is. Also, when expectations around the appropriate use of power are clarified and enforced, there is less anxiety in the system, resulting in unified traction and momentum in the same direction.
- Social Control Systems – the helpful application of positive peer pressure. Whenever a group of people gathers around a common purpose, a society of some sort forms. Every society, no matter the size, develops a set of behavioral expectations and rules. Ideally, the rules are forthrightly stated and people are invited to align with them.
However, because people are always “under construction”, even adult workplaces are at times just glorified junior-high settings in which varied unwritten rules develop. It is important to clarify expectations around which rules have ultimate authority and how members of the society will hold each other mutually accountable to them. It is also important for those in official positions of authority to model personal adherence to them and healthy approaches to holding others accountable.
- Narratives – intentional use of stories to articulate and shape identity, purpose, and boundaries. Before humans developed tangible means of recording stories – families, tribes, and nations relied on something called “oral tradition”. This tribal storytelling proved highly effective in conveying to younger generations and newer members the most important ideas of who we are, what we believe, why we exist, and how we behave as a result. Today it occurs frequently through “social media”.
The above purposes for storytelling are more obvious. One less obvious purpose is to make it clear what we are not; as in “These are the boundaries we do not cross and why”. Clear boundaries provide a sense of security.
It is crucial to monitor the types of stories an organization tells itself and others about itself. They shape identity. Identity shapes behavior. Behaviors shape actions. Actions bring about results. Which results do you want, and how do you want people to feel about them? Thoughts provide clarity. Feelings provide motivation.
Stories speak to the heart.