If you haven’t already been in discussions about your organization’s culture in 2020, expect that word to be common really soon. We have awareness to the culture of our communities, and certainly of the democracy of our country, for a long time. In more recent times, say the last 20 years or so, we have elevated our awareness and attention to the culture of our workplace.

Remember when you first started searching websites for information about companies? Maybe you remember putting together the first website for your organization. Either way, someone decided on some value statements that would be representative of your organization and then listed them on the site. That was our first real attention to visibly claiming values to the world. Oh sure, lots of companies had value statements inside their four walls, but the arrival of websites posted them publicly…to be measured against in service expectations.

Now, we transition to a time where values are reviewed, interpreted, advanced, and measured internally. Some profess them while ignoring them. Some revel in them and create a cadre of folks watching over these sacred statements. Leaders are in the advantageous position to measure and adjust behaviors to align with values on a regular basis.

That sounds like a tall order – after all, aren’t leaders busy strategizing about the future of the organization inside a competitive marketplace? Strategy only advances in cultures that have alignment. Consider any strategy and underneath it is the need for human capital. When human capital turns over (i.e. people leave), strategy stalls.

How often do we have a great story about turnover? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came along, they wanted to be closer to home, the new place had better compensation, need I go on? Back up that story and wonder what happened that these three amazing people were entertaining ideas about new places. That’s where you can learn about your culture.

The stories we tell about our culture can be great impediments to the future. These stories can turn into games…and who doesn’t like a good game? Here are a few to watch out for.

The Blame Game

Have you been the messenger who shares the disgruntled team’s concerns? Sometimes that’s the manager of the team, who is in turn encouraged to team build, build morale, or do some development work to manage better. Anytime you think about one of your managers “doing something” that disrupted the culture on that team, pause.  Reflect on the barometer this could be for the whole company and pull back on the blame.

The manager may indeed benefit from additional development, and this is a barometer of the team, so engage the team in solution-oriented problem solving, using the stated values and the lived values as the starting point for conversation.

The Measuring Game

What gets measured gets managed. Right?  Well, at least what gets measured, gets measured! All those engagement surveys are data. Those exit interviews, 30/60/90 day check-ins, and even performance reviews are data points. But data is only as good as the reporting…and the responding. Having an annual survey in a time of continuous feedback isn’t gathering information in real time. It’s passive and puts you in a responsive (read: defensive) position to the information. Feedback can be found every day, what are you paying attention to today?

Incorporating values into meetings as wins and opportunities demonstrates the importance of them while providing examples of how to live them. Powerful and active.

The Card Game

Ever been in a lively and forward-looking discussion when someone jumps in and says – that’s not how our culture works? Or, in the middle of discussion about a new change initiative, a stakeholder worries about the impact on culture? These are two examples of playing the culture card. A real showstopper.

Yes, change is unknown and, therefore, difficult at times. Putting culture ahead of innovation stifles growth and stagnation leads to diminished returns on employee engagement and profit.  Call out the culture card, explore what values are important to attend to during change, and keep going.

The Water Works Game

Ever had a leak? A pipe, a drain, anything that carries water? How did you fix it?  A Iittle putty in the hole? And then, the leak springs anew downstream. More putty. For how long? Until you know you need to replace the pipe, which is often painful, right?

When there is a value not being honored, the leak begins. Leaders often start plugging the leak by shifting reporting lines and creating new programs (like a retention committee, a social committee, a bonus program, an incentives program, need I go on?). These work for a brief while, and mostly become the subject of banter as employees know these are band aids for a bigger problem. A healthy culture doesn’t need these programs because the environment itself is what they enjoy and why they engage.

So what game are you vulnerable to playing? Notice where these may show up in pockets in your organization and put effort and attention to addressing them. Even better, be a watchdog for your culture. Look into the future and create ways to align with your values before you have any games to play!

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