By Guest Blogger, Dr. Lee Meadows
Organizational cultures are, in most cases, a tightly woven fabric in which both design and style come together to provide a picture in which values are on display for all to see and admire or question. The reliance on culture is to reinforce and sustain legacies in which all future actions are measured. When new employees are brought into an organization, they are provided with rules and policies that govern most of their interactions so as to ensure a uniformity of behavioral principles as well as a conformity to the unstated agreements that support the value structure. Cultures are a point of pride and reverence that, after immersion, cover participants’ in a cascading current of symbolism and transparency. Cultural sustainability requires a commitment to the value structure and a willingness to suborn some degree of individuality in order to support the larger institutional demand. The ever changing local, national and global landscape positions most organizations to staunchly defend the legacy of their culture and the preservation of what was. When an unwavering culture is confronted by an unstoppable change, the fabric of the culture becomes stretched to extreme points as these two polarities seek their own equilibrium.
Any fabric, when being stretched by extreme points, runs the risk of loosening the threads that holds it all together and creating little holes in which little beams of light shine through the openings and expose the weaknesses in the structure and the inconsistencies in the behavior. Far too many times the holes are glossed or patched over as temporary steps in the hopes of a quick heal. The tendency to self-defend, in the face of loosening threads, is pervasive and when employees of good will start to point out the holes, the resulting actions are punitive. The punitive actions are based on the question, “Why can’t you leave well enough along?” as opposed to the question, “What is that you see as inconsistent?” If the majority of employees don’t see any holes in the fabric then the cultural design is allowed to remain and, in time, the holes become unrepairable. When allowed to remain unchecked then, in an analogy reminiscent of ‘The emperor has no clothes!’, then ‘The organizational fabric has no thread!’ Now, naked and exposed, the fabric of the culture begins to sag and wither in a futile effort to weave itself within a wind tunnel. Great pressure is brought to bear in order to maintain the design without considering the thread.
The employee who points out the hole in the fabric understands that the culture is under no pressure to change, unless under extreme measures, and its primary obligation is to its own internal landscape. The ability to self-exam and self-reflect is inherent in most cultures through a built in mechanism called the ‘mindset’ of its employee base. Unquestioning conformity is the moth that eats at the fabric, so much so, that the greater pressure lies in creating the dialog in which the holes can be acknowledged and the culture can be strengthened.
Cultures, in essence, exist due to majority consent. The majority uses sheer numbers to position the culture to, consistently, say “This is what it is!” and to pressure the few into not saying, “This is what it isn’t?” Laughter, ridicule and isolation are extreme ways of applying conforming pressure to ‘cultural-hole-acknowledgers’, yet the greater pressure comes from trying to create a space where its value structure does more than just say, “This is our culture, love it or leave it!”, but prides itself on saying, “This is our culture, where are its inconsistencies?” More often than not it will be revealed that the simplicity of the dialog leads to consistency in the culture.
Dr. Meadows is a professor at Walsh College, teaching online and on-ground management and MBA courses. In addition, Dr. Meadows is a keynote speaker, training and development consultant, and motivational speaker for corporate and community groups and professional associations.
In 2006, Dr. Meadows published “Take the Lull by the Horns: Closing the Leadership Gap”. He is also the author of numerous articles on leadership, management, diversity, career paths and projections and education.