As a consultant, I get to work with a cross-section of organizations and with people throughout the US. An average month might find me working with a nonprofit one week, a food manufacturer the next and a utility the next. You might ask, how can you go from industrial settings to nonprofits? Don’t you need to know more about the businesses with which you work? And yes. I do a lot of homework about the organizations before I begin the consultative relationship. That said, clients don’t hire me to work on their systems. They hire me because I know about culture and people and I have tools to help structure the important conversations.
When I think about the organizations with which I have worked, I am reminded of Tolstoy’s quote: All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Whereas Tolstoy wrote about families, I think his sentiment applies to organizations as well.
All organizations have cultural problems, which range from garden variety issues to crippling negativity. To work through these issues, they look to external consultants like me to help them take a “deep dive” into what’s going on.
Doing What We’ve Always Done
It’s often the first response of organizations to tackle their cultural deficiencies with new policies, procedures and organizational systems. While important, it has been my experience that an overemphasis on the programmatic ways of working without equal focus on the invisible components won’t achieve the desired results. Why? People in organizations develop assumptions and beliefs about what it takes to get the work done and these assumptions and beliefs are passed down to new employees as “the way we think, feel and act.” When an organization’s focus is on the visible components of its culture, it misses the cultural root cause that can either support or undermine organizational goals and objectives.
It’s not unlike a body of water: You can’t judge it by its surface. It’s the things you can’t see – what’s below the surface – that get you into trouble.
Doing Something Different – Taking the Dive
To take a deep dive into culture, an organization needs to get people talking about how they truly work. Whereas some welcome this opportunity, others run for cover. That’s why an exercise such as the Cultural Deep Dive© is helpful. Conducted in group settings, it helps people at all levels of the organization see the role they play in “doing what we have always done.” Further, it begins the process of the group identifying gaps so they can make different choices.
Every organization is unique but also the same. Organizations have cultural issues, which if not addressed, will undermine their performance. Defaulting to what is manageable and measurable (e.g., policies and procedures) starts the process but it doesn’t go deep enough. It’s through tools such as the Cultural Deep Dive© that organizations get the data so they can truly effect the desired change.