In 2016, I first discussed the notion of an organization’s culture core. Reader response to that post — and the numerous discussions which have ensued — have fueled an intense interest in both individual and organizational core stability. Of late, I’ve been exploring a set of key concepts and contributing psychological constructs (psychological contracts, psychological safety, etc.) that either build or work against a culture’s potential to provide needed stability.
To orient you to that discussion, here is an excerpt from that post:
“In this ever-changing world of work, I’m going to go out on a proverbial limb and vote for stability. Not the type of stability that shoots you in the foot and has the potential to signal an organizational downfall (resting on laurels, complacency, lack of customer connection). I’m speaking of the kind of internal stability that allows your organization’s engines to really rev and take flight. The kind of security borne of trust and understanding.
This is your organization’s cultural core.
The idea may sound a bit esoteric and difficult to grasp. Never the less, discussing its presence is vital. It is essential because great employees do not simply leave bad bosses — they run (where possible) from an unhealthy culture.”
The Enemy: Declared vs. Operating Culture
Interestingly, we often conflate the notion of declared culture and the experienced operating culture. The misunderstandings that ensue can affect not only the larger organization’s ability to meet its goals, but individual contributors and teams as well. In recent work exploring “dark side” factors, we discussed what might stand in the way of core stability — and how the operating culture belies its positive intentions. When organizations seek excellence, these elements can work against progress — ultimately driving real-time behaviors. In a way, they live as destructive undercurrents.
Righting the course demands that we pay attention to the cultural environment and expose its reality. If not, we function within cultures that exert silent (and negative) pressure, because we fail to acknowledge the operating “energy field”. We might invest in training — and nothing seems to change, or we reiterate the organization’s mission & values — but somehow behavior (and metrics) remain out of alignment. These are symptoms of this ongoing mismatch.
Taking the time to identify and expose, what is standing in the way of progress is a vital conversation. This demands that we listen intently to the environment in which we work and to those immersed in it. I’ve found that in my work with high-performance teams, this has become an important diagnostic exercise. The process is rooted in my early exposure to the auto industry and later on, to the Toyota Production System. Tantamount to Toyota’s system is the philosophy of Jidoka — where production could be stopped at any moment, if an employee detected an issue that affects quality (More here.) Jidoka is built on a deep respect for human wisdom within manufacturing environments. It supports “listening” intently to that environment. (See my collaboration with Toyota here.)
We sometimes ignore or underestimate, an undercurrent working against excellence. In some cases, the issue has been detected — but not fully addressed. Here is a quick reference guide to help your team “stop the line” so to speak, when they detect a problem. (A slide from a current talk):
I’ll share more about this technique as time goes on. Meanwhile, share your experiences in this forum.
Have you ever found yourself in an environment where the operating culture overpowered the declared culture? How did you proceed?
Learn more about Core Stability through Dr. Gottschalk’s training series — The Core here.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life and core stability have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.