"What we need is to develop a risk culture."

"We’re focused on creating a sales culture."
"Our priority is safety.  It’s all about a safety culture."
"It’s important that we have a culture of innovation."
"We’re going to create a truly customer focused culture, where the customer always comes first."
"We’ll address under-performance by developing a performance management culture."
"We’ll ensure a culture of cost consciousness."

I hear statements like these all the time!  

Typically they are statements made by people seeking to raise the priority of their function in a business so that achieving their objectives becomes easier.  Unfortunately they’re parochial and position the requirements of their function in competition with the requirements of other functions.  And sadly, they illustrate a fundamental lack of understanding about what culture is.

This is a big problem because shaping culture becomes extraordinarily difficult when leaders, who play a key role in changing culture see only part of the picture.  Organisations don’t have a risk culture which is distinct from a sales culture or a safety culture which is distinct from cost culture.  Instead organisational culture is an amalgam of the attitudes, beliefs, values, opinions, ideologies, habits, language, rituals, rules, policies, behaviours and so on that exist in the organisation. Culture can’t be diced up into bits, it’s one whole, interconnected, and must be viewed as such.

Incidentally, I recognise of course that organisations don’t have a uniform culture throughout. Depending on the degree of autonomy there may be sub-cultures in different teams, departments, functions and certainly in different locations.  Differences may be subtle, or distinct.  A sales team is likely to have a culture focused primarily on sales, risk management focused first on risk, finance on cost, and so on.  My point here is that each organisation, or sub-organisation has one culture, not multiple cultures. 

Back to the point – culture practitioners in organisations should think of the word culture as singular rather than plural.  They should view it like a jigsaw with lots of pieces, each of which represent different organisational needs which need to be absorbed and reflected in the picture as a whole.  The key thing is that the individual pieces create one picture not lots of independent ones.  So the practitioner should focus on shaping a culture that encapsulates requirements from across the organisation rather than allowing multiple areas to refer to and promote their cultural requirements only.

When the statements leaders make start to sound more like:

"We need an organisational culture that reflects our organisational risk appetite…"


"We’d like to raise the level of safety consciousness in our culture…"


"We need to develop our culture to balance the needs of the organisation as a whole and enable delivery of our strategy…"

that’s when there is clear evidence that the pieces of the jigsaw can fit together.

In my next blog I’ll focus on the key to actually making the jigsaw and fitting the pieces together.

LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/timhadfield
Twitter: @accordengage
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