Created by Marc Chmielewski

#favouritemodel No. 25 - Designing culture in a deliberate way

Culture emerges from the sum of repetitive behaviors in a particular context. With this understanding, we are not defenseless in the face of our culture. We don't have to accept it as something that just develops but cannot be influenced. Instead, we can consciously maintain culture and shape it in a targeted way.

With our Reflect - Talk - Walk - Repeat model, we at Movendo have developed a very effective way of working with culture and one that has proven itself in practice. Reflection is always the first step in cultural work. Especially when, from the perspective of the organization, culture seems to develop automatically, it is even more crucial to think very specifically about which patterns and behaviors are currently purposeful and at which points other patterns should be established. Initially, reflection can take place individually, e.g., in order to perceive and, in the best case, understand the existing culture. With the intention of developing a common culture, this reflection also needs to take place within the team at the same time.

Suitable reflection questions in this context could be:

  • What are the typical patterns of behavior that we exhibit?
  • What feedback do we receive about our behavior?
  • How does the next level describe us as a team?

Based on these and with a jointly developed understanding of a desired culture the practical cultural work then begins. TALK stands for making experienced and desired culture discussable. It is about talking of perceived patterns in the organization and showing clear expectations about desired patterns of behavior in a transparent and understandable way. These explicit exchanges about intentions, expectations and principles are immensely important. After all, talking openly about culture ensures that the organization becomes aware of the topic of cultural work and the desired culture itself. In addition, explicit and transparently shared expectations and principles provide the necessary orientation for individual behavior. Here, personal and informal conversation is more relevant than official communication on a website or posters

Aspects for the exchange here are, for example:

  • What is important to us?
  • Where are opportunities to express these behavioral principles?
  • What stories do we have to tell to express our principles and their impact?

However, talking alone is not enough if culture is to be changed in a targeted manner.

In order for the changes to become perceptible, there also need to be clearly visible examples of behavior (WALK) which match the TALK and show what new behaviors are specifically contributing to the desired culture. Many organizational guidelines state that managers should be role models. In my view, this statement falls short and I deliberately question it. Leaders are traditionally under a lot of surveillance in organizations. How does my leader drive into the parking lot, how (and who) is greeted, what facial expressions are made in meetings, how do they react, with whom do they spend the break? Against this background, the question of "whether" I want to be a role model as a manager or not does not even arise. Instead, I must be aware that I "am" in a role model role - always! Accordingly, I have to decide whether I want to be a bad or a good role model, because my demonstrated behavior plays a key role in culture formation. Thus it must be congruent with the behavior desired in our culture. In case of doubt, my behavior has a stronger effect than my spoken word. As a leader, I should also constantly be aware of this effect.

Impulses and reflection questions for your WALK:

  • Demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the culture you want.
  • Explain the intentions behind your behavior so others understand it as you mean it.
  • What actions demonstrate that we take our principles seriously?
  • How can we highlight the examples of our desired culture?
  • How can we encourage others to copy our behavior as well?

No one expects managers to be infallible.

How one deals with one's own misconduct, on the other hand, can have a formative influence on the culture of error in an organization. If I as a manager openly admit to a mistake, that already sends a clear signal. At the same time, one-time misconduct is unlikely to cause lasting damage to the culture. However, the actual shaping of a culture requires continuous repetition. If we do something differently once, twice, or three times, the likelihood is high that this behavior will not catch the attention of others. Multiple repetitions of both TALK and WALK, on the other hand, ensure that routines can be developed anew.

I understand the 4-sound of Reflect - Talk - Walk - Repeat as the core of iterative loops we need to continuously pull if we are serious about culture development. In this respect, repetition is the key to sustainably establishing a desired leadership culture. In addition to how we regularly remind ourselves of our TALK and WALK, it will be important to establish routines and new rituals to support maintenance of the desired culture.

  • What are the new rituals and routines in applying critical actions?
  • How do we embed the desired culture into existing routines?
  • What routines do we need to abandon in order to support our desired culture?

How does my #favouritemodel help you?

There are many options for working on one's own culture. This does not mean from the outset that the culture being worked on is bad. Rather, I consider the targeted maintenance of culture to be an essential leadership task, which becomes increasingly important the more senior the leadership role is in the organization.

Both the classic formal rituals of an organization are suitable for cultural work:

  • What values and principles have we agreed upon and communicated?
  • What behavior is reinforced by our incentives?
  • What behavior leads to promotions?
  • Which behavior is encouraged by our systems, our processes, and our organizational structure, and which is not?

As well as the informal behaviors such as:

  • What typical behaviors do we find in our daily interactions?
  • How are decisions made in our organization and who is involved and how?
  • What typical rituals and routines make up our organization?
  • Which leadership behaviors are rewarded, and which are penalized in our organization?
  • What stories, for example, about the good or the bad past, are retold in our organization?

All of these rituals and opportunities not only provide clues to our culture as we live it but are also opportunities to consciously and purposefully maintain or shape that culture with Reflect - Talk -Walk - Repeat.

Feel free to drop me a line if you'd like to exchange ideas. By mail or on LinkedIn. You can find direct links to these channels in my profile.


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