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Mar 17 2023
Strengthening Practice Of Cultural Values From The Inside Out


Most efforts to strengthen organizational culture work from the top down. Leaders agree on the values, model the practices, and in one way or another lead the culture.

This is important, but seldom sufficient, unless it begins with a start-up like Apple or SpaceX, where culture began with a few Founders.

Our cross-cultural work for much of the last decade, particularly the years we spent working with large South Korean companies, such as the LG Group and GS Caltex, taught us a lot about culture. The South Korean business culture had been successsful with command-and-control, and everything that goes with that. Follow orders, don't question your Seniors. Execute. Korean businesses have been extraordinarily successful by being "fast followers" in so many ways. It's how they rose from the ashes after WWII and the Korean Conflict to become an economic power.

But to be innovative, and keep up with accelerating trends, you have to push back, to be a little messier, to engage in vigorous disagreements and welcome new ideas. So when I spoke with the Chairmen of some of the larger companies, they realized they needed to change culture. They were sending many of their young people to American universities for MBAs, betting on American innovation culture. But successful middle and senior management had gotten where they were via command and control.

As I worked with a group of senior leaders at one large companies, I realized that we have a sort of "secret" built into our Performance Thinking® models and logic – a secret for strengthening the practice of cultural values at the ground level.  The units of analysis we have in the Performance Chain model, plus support with the Six Boxes® Model, can address two challenges in important ways.

1) Practices that embody cultural value statements may vary depending on your department, function, or process. Focus on the Customer, or Quality First, or Innovation Leads, might be practiced differently in IT compared with HR or Customer Service. So it's hard to specify practices for individuals and teams from the top, as general forms of behavior, while being specific enough to enable everyone to adapt the values to their contributions.  At least not with certainty. Diversity and Inclusion, for example, might affect the design of user interfaces for IT, hiring and promotion decisions and the configurationof hiring talent acquisition teams for HR, and the photographs chosen for sales collateral by Marketing Communication. And so on.

2) To model, teach, shape, and recognize cultural practices we need more than executives giving occasional awards or HR producing videos of exceptional teams. We need leaders, managers and supervisors helping their people identify what we call their work outputs or contributions (as "countable nouns"), and highlight the ones that might be affected by cultural values. They need to then discuss how criteria for "good" might change based on the agreed-upon value statement, and talk about behavior for making those specific contributions that practices that value.

In other words, we need to help managers and supervisors get specific with their people. And our Performance Thinking approach can help. You can read a slightly nerdy article I published a few years ago on culture or watch our recorded webinar that covers much the same ground.

We address cultural values and practices based on participant interest in both our performance consulting certification program and in our coaching and leadership programs .

- Carl Binder, CEO


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