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Your Culture is What You Tolerate and Reward

We love telling people "This is our culture" but when people enter the workforce they hardly ever feel that culture. Why? Because organisations have multiple cultures and thinking otherwise is mad!

Each team will have different cultures and the organisation will have one overarching one, a wishlist if you ask me. It is a farmers market when you enter a company. You find everything and we really should not be using culture as our strategy to attract people into the organisation. You will fail them!

Organisational culture narratives resemble religion in general (No offence to religious people! My grandma would smack me writing this but hey:-)). There is a script, belief, expected behaviours, values on the walls etc. we should all live by.

And then, there is the behaviour of individuals and the collective. When individuals sway off the guidelines they quickly find an explanation why they did it. The more individual do that the more it becomes the norm and the culture. Going against that with a "This is not our culture" will be futile. It is now tolerated and often even rewarded despite what is expected or told.

Each time I investigate culture (sometimes just for my entertainment) I ask one question: "What behaviour do you reward and tolerate here?" These are the things I found:

  • Being promoted or hired as a result of a sexual relationship with the boss.

  • Low performers are being kept because of family ties or friendships.

  • Corrupt leaders who take illegal actions are being promoted.

  • Sexual harassment is overlooked and rewarded with a pay rise 2 months later.

  • The bullying manager is moved and promoted to another area of the organisation upon complaints about him.

  • Whistleblowers being fired for using the whistleblowing platform and following the process.

  • Promoting incompetent people.

  • Keeping toxic people in their roles.

  • The head of the department was fired from one hotel for stealing money but hired in another (same group) because the General Manager gave a reference of good conduct. Once I walked in on them doing the deed in the office.

The list is endless. Looking at these behaviours is more important than looking at what the company wishes the culture to be or the occasional behaviour that matches the company's vision of culture. Yes, those are the ones that are organised and end up on LinkedIn. We went to clean up the forest to fight against plastic pollution... OK, Brenda, how about if I look at your employees' behaviour outside of that orchestrated context? You will find that they couldn't care less about plastic pollution and they are the ones who leave rubbish behind and litter when they go for a picnic. Yes, that is a true example of my staff when I took them for desert clean up and two days later saw them wanting to leave the rubbish behind after a picnic.

Culture is hardly ever what companies are putting out there because it is a dream! It is as impossible to impose/implement as getting every religious person to follow their faith. Even those who have a weekly or even daily reminder (prayers) of the required behaviour will not comply so what makes us think in organisations that a poster on the wall or the occasional organised event will shape people's behaviour the way we want it to be?

What will shape though is not tolerating or rewarding it. But for that companies need to take their culture seriously and believe in what they preach.

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