In the past 12 months we’ve seen some very public and high profile instances whereby the current culture of some major institutions have had some unsavoury consequences. The Press, the Church, the BBC and in recent days the NHS.

It’s been something we’ve been deeply immersed in over the last year as part of the culture change project which Julie has been running, so here’s my attempt to sweep aside the digital language and share with you some cultural straight talk.

So, what is this thing which we refer to as culture?
Culture is the way that people do things, in its basic form it’s ‘how stuff gets done around here’. Think your organisation doesn’t have a culture, think again. I work with dozens of big organisations and they all have their own unwritten formula as to how they behave, interact with people and make decisions. Still, can’t get your head around it? Think about your own family, you probably don’t agreed ways of working, regulation, guidelines but you will have a particular way of behaving with each other which is probably different from the family next door. You have your own cultures!

When is a culture ‘bad’?
Primarily when it doesn’t fit with the underlying purpose of the organisation and increasingly with the morals and values of society at large. Think about what the NHS stands for and how mismatched it seems the behaviours have been. The two just don’t add up. The outcome is that we decide it’s wrong and it makes us very cross!

So who decides on the culture?
We all do – leaders, employees, joe blogs in the street. Certainly there’s an argument that leaders have a central role to play in setting the tone of an organisation. In Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast Thinking Slow’ he talks about the influencing power the first person to speak in a group has……it essentially sets the tone for our own opinion and how we do things. But largely, we’ll fall into line with the norm, if everyone else is doing it, it much just be how we do things round here, right? This is the bit where we all join in.

Is it possible to change the culture?
Of course, the world continually changes doesn’t it? For example, think about how many people now take bags to the supermarket instead of relying on carrier bags. Carrier bags aren’t illegal, there have been some incentives to nudge us in that direction but ultimately we have choice and in a relatively short amount of time we’ve all organised ourselves to make this possible.

Do what does it take?
Lots of things and probably nothing you haven’t heard before. Trust, listening, humility, education, regulation and incentive. But ultimately you need to want the new culture and want it enough that you’re prepared to undergo inconvenience, tough conversations deal with any attention you draw to yourself. It starts with you.