I have been thinking a lot about organization culture this week because a client I have worked with for a number of years has been given the opportunity to build an organization from the ground up. When she asked for my help with this project I was simultaneously excited and terrified.
I was excited because I have a lot of education and experience in working on organization culture. When I was first named a manager 25 years ago I learned what it was like to be inserted into an existing culture. As a consultant, I have had several projects where I helped leaders better identify cultures they have created, then worked with them to make changes in those cultures.
On the other hand, I have never built an organization of any size from the ground up, and being presented with the opportunity to help do so was terrifying.
At this point I had a choice to make.
I could see myself as an expert and rely on my experience. Experts have very narrow mindsets. They rely heavily on their knowledge and experience to inform the decisions they are making.
I could take on the mindset of a beginner. Those who have the mindset of a newbie know nothing, literally nothing, about the topic.
I decided to forget what I know about culture and take on a beginner’s mindset. To do this I thought it might help for me to experience what it is like to be new at something I know nothing about.
Playing a Guitar
I have to admit to you all that I literally know nothing about music unless it is how to turn on my TV and watch The Voice on NBC. Seriously, that’s it.
I thought this fit the definition pretty well for me of having a beginner’s mindset, so I did what most of us do these days when we know nothing - I went to YouTube and searched for “guitar lesson 1.”
The expert I clicked on took for granted way too much for a person who knows nothing! He started talking about using three fingers to make a D note and to not get your fingers directly on the fret and said you count the number of fret’s from the nut.
This is exactly what I wanted! I wanted to experience what it was like to have a beginner’s mindset and experience an expert’s teaching from a level that is too high. My goal was to experience what it felt like to know nothing, struggling to learn something new when you don’t comprehend.
Being a beginner is really humbling. It takes patience, persistence, and a real thirst to learn what it is you are trying to better understand.
Building a Culture
I am hopeful that my approach to learning how to build a culture goes a bit more smoothly than what I am experiencing with the guitar.
I also realize that many of you are not building a culture from nothing; so I wanted to reframe my search as a checklist you can use to assess how the culture of your team is growing.
As always, I started my quest in culture building in the academic literature. I found a lot of information on organization culture, but surprisingly little on building culture from the ground up. What I did find were ideas on what needs to be incorporated into organizational culture.
Here are seven of the items that stood out and seemed to flow together for me:
Mission: Should describe what you are doing and who your team is designed to serve.
Vision: Articulates succinctly your future destination.
Purpose: The unselfish reason for being; who you are impacting and how lives are being changed by what you do.
Values: The fundamental subjective beliefs that guide behavior through emotional investment giving guidance to right and wrong, good and bad, how to interact with constituents and engage with customers.
Guiding Principles: Objective, prescriptive truths around expectations that provide a sense of direction for all involved.
Projected Story in 3 segments:
Adventure-Three years from now what do we want to be said about us?
Legend-Seven years from now what to we want emulated by those copying our success?
Epitaph-Fifteen years from now what do we want to be remembered for?
Behavior: Observable actions that can be articulated accurately by people
Who are new to the organization
Who just left the organization
Who are outside the organization
These behaviors should ultimately match the first 6 descriptors if we are managing our culture accurately.
I would love to know what you all think on this topic. Drop me a line and give me some feedback on what you think about this checklist. If any of you use this as a checklist with your teams, I am interested in what you found. Until next week….