The « Culture Barbecue » approach

Focus on the hot coal

If you have ever tried to start and run a barbecue, you know it pretty well: it is no use blowing on the cold coal! It is much more efficient to try and lit up 3 or 4 and blow on them so that they contaminate coals around them. It is the same with culture: do not try to lit up every single person in your organization. Don’t get obsessed with where it is NOT going as you would like, and try to fix it. Not for a barbecue, i.e. not in culture! Focus on the places/people where the right behaviours are already adopted (we will call them the « hot spots »).

Make sure to have several of these “hot spots” in your organization. Then find a way to spread that energy to other places. At some point you will you reach the “tipping point”, which is when hot places are active and large enough to contaminate around them and eventually reach out to other hot spots.

You get the logic.

From fixing to growing

Focusing on the hot coal sounds obvious when talking about a barbecue but it may not be so obvious in an organization. Indeed, many of us in companies tend to focus on the “cold coal”, assuming that places where everything goes well do not need our attention. We often believe we should concentrate our efforts where things are going wrong, where the expected results have not been achieved, where we see problems or inefficiencies. Management becomes a « fixing » thing, with sanctions, course corrections and problem solving. That approach might prove useful for business topics (is it really sustainable?). However, it would be disastrous to use for culture transformation. Why? Because in this configuration, people become the problem. Your culture very quickly picks this signal up as a threat. It starts fighting back by sending negative signals to your employees. What happens next? People start blaming each other, not taking accountability, the level of trust goes down, real problems do not surface anymore, people complain and disengage etc… And your barbecue quickly slows down instead of growing. Does that sound familiar?

The art of blowing

To get your barbecue to get hot quickly, you need to blow on it strategically. What does it mean? First, be intentional about spotting a few hot coals / already active places in your organization. Once you’ve spotted a hot spot of your organization, send encouragements (thanks, support, recognition, visibility, promotion…). Then, make it a story for others to see and tell.

In culture, good behaviours spread through stories. Stories are the energy you need to contaminate other coals. It is most efficiently spread through informal influencers (your biggest pipeces of coal). Don’t try to contaminate far away (cold) spots in your barbecue, i.e. those departments not very well connected with your part of the organization. The energy needed to contaminate them would be too high and you would lose momentum. Instead, try to spot close coals (well connected) to your initial hot spot, and start with them. Others will follow eventually.

Something else you need to do: avoid water to be thrown at your barbecue. From leaders not walking the talk to useless sanctions, promotion of the wrong people, inefficient talent management approaches etc… all signals not in line with the behaviours you are trying to spread in the organization will act like splashes of water over your barbecue, slowing it down and ruining all your efforts to keep it alive.

Remember: you don’t need all coals to be hot for your barbecue to be efficient. Some coals will never get hot (resistant negative people, typically 10%), and that is ok as long as they are not all in the same area. You can get over that to some extent if you change something (move cold coals to hotter places, bring a hot coals to cold places…).

Monitor and start cooking

Now that you have been blowing long and strategically enough, your barbecue will soon be ready. This is when you can start cooking and have your drink! Translation: take good care of your culture, and you can reach any sustainable result you want with optimized resources. Caveat: ignore your culture, and get unpredictable (burnt or half cooked) performance. A healthy culture suited to the needs of your business will cook anything for you. On culture, you can cook collaboration, inclusion, innovation, supply reliability, etc… All are outcomes that will lead to healthy sustainable revenues and customer satisfaction.

Mind you: even if at this stage, the barbecue pretty much takes care of itself without much intervention, it is not yet the end of the game. Culture is never « achieved ». If you want more meals, you need to keep your barbecue active. You will need to check on it, see if you need to rearrange (move hot coals around, add new coal on a regular basis). This is less work than the ignition phase, but you will still need people that manage the barbecue continuously. Some resources centrally, and light support locally in different parts of your business. Their task: take a look from time to time to see if more coal is needed (more active informal influencers) or blow a little bit more somewhere to keep it alive (more stories), but basically you can go and have your drink. More on how to orchestrate the moment in this other article.

Want to start or monitor your culture barbecue? Call us, we can help you!