I was talking with a friend recently and he lamented that his employees email him over everything. Without hesitation, I told him that someone in his organization must have taught them to do that. Either knowingly or unknowingly someone has modeled this behavior. It was not necessarily done with malice. He went on to say that a former supervisor had caused some issues internally and it was at that moment it occurred to me that his culture had the flu. Cultural flu is passed to unsuspecting individuals through behaviors and actions. You see, culture is very much the central nervous system of an organization. Organizational culture, like any culture, holds our beliefs, values and behavioral norms. While they may not have intended on creating an organizational bottleneck, the presence of certain actions may have modeled behaviors that eventually infected other members within the organization. Organizational culture is very interesting to study because it is so pervasive. The problem we encounter is that when one is immersed long enough in a given culture, we begin to grow accustom to the norms and may even participate in those norms knowingly or otherwise. Once a cultural norm has been established, it is difficult to change it. We can use a fancy phrase called cultural relativism to describe what happens when you take on a cultures belief system. Simply put, we will defend what we hold to be true; even when what we hold to be true is not healthy or helpful. I would caution that culture should not be a scapegoat for every problem an organization encounters. Sometimes our problems begin with bad leadership, ineffective training, or poorly designed processes. Regardless, each could play to the bigger problem of how the culture of an organization is changed over time. While change is never easy, beginning to identify and address these cultural issues is important to your organizations long-term success. As an organizational doctor, I would prescribe a regime of assessments to help determine whether your organization has a cultural flu. Once identified, we can begin to develop an approach that is specific needs of the organization. The pathway to a healthy organization runs through the organizations culture.
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