Culture as a survival kit

Understand the survival kit

However big or small your company is, it has a set of behaviours which people consistently adopt and expect others to adopt around them. They do this without paying attention, simply unconsciously replicating what they see around them.

Remember your first day in your organization? How quickly you took that tie off when you noticed that noone was wearing any? How awkward you felt when you were wearing this beautiful dress while everyone was wearing jeans? How embarassed you felt when the jokes they made didn’t feel right?…

In business like in our private lives, groups have unwritten rules that glue people together. As social animals, we want to « fit in », be accepted by others. And we are more desperate than we sometimes think. To fit in, we will do what it takes, including sometimes weird things, even contrary to our values and beliefs.

So the set of shared unconscious behaviours becomes our “survival kit” you tap into to « survive » in the group. Sometimes they are good behaviours, and sometimes they are bad behaviours.

The thing is: it is an unconscious process, but we are certainly not going to drop any behaviour in our survival kit unless we are absolutely sure that it is safe. How will we know that it is safe? Well, by interpreting signals from our environment. We will screen how people behave around us, especially the ones we feel close to, the ones we admire or who inspire us. Our social antennas are extremely well developed.

Change the survival kit

When you know that, then changing culture is about changing the survival kit. What you need to do is send consistent signals to your employees. Signals that it is ok to change their behaviour, that is is socially acceptable, that they will not be rejected by the group. People will not want to abandon behaviours who kept them safe until then so quickly. They will test their environment, look for opposite signals, possibly revert their behaviour having perceived or only heard from colleagues of one such signal etc… it is a battle and you want to win. So you will need to be patient and determined, and keep sending positive signals showing that the desired behaviours are spreading should be added to the survival kit.

Our experience at humanize is that, because your culture is constantly watching you to identify what it needs to do to survive, you need signals coming from 4 different streams for people to change their behaviour, and have a sensible communication strategy to demonstrate intent and determination (contact us if you need support on any of these).

1) leaders exemplifying, in particular when noone is watching

2) informal influencers supporting and adopting the desired behaviour

3) memorable stories and quantified proof that « it is happening » in the organization

4) consistency across key company processes & initiatives (in particular HR processes)

Focus on what you want to see

Key learning: focus on behaviours you want to see (more on that in another article: click here) and make sure they grow. We tend to invest time and energy to control and eradicate bad behaviours, create rules to avoid them, punishment and sanctions etc… Yet, even if it can sound counterintuitive, the more noise we make around bad behaviours, the more we focus people’s attention on them on them, and the more people will think of them and adopt them (read more on this in this other article on what we at humanize call the « barbecue approach »). So don’t focus resources and communications on the wrong behaviours or in places lagging behind to try and « fix them ». Instead, if you want to see a new behaviour to be adopted widely, you need to focus on it and make sure it grows. For that, create a counter-epidemic of good behaviours that will replace the epidemic of bad behaviours. Make sure to address each of the 4 streams of signals. And collect stories that circulate in the organization. This will shape the survival kit of your employees called “culture”. Easier said than done?

Don’t think you can ever « achieve your target » culture. Your culture is constantly in movement. The process never stops. It requires constant orchestration and humanize can help you put the right things in place for that! (more on what it takes to orchestrate a culture transformation by clicking here)…

The good news is WE CAN HELP YOU: contact us