Character over culture: A different perspective in 3 phases
These views are solely my own views and not intended to overshadow any work being done by organizations to integrate risk and safety into their organizational culture. Over my career I’ve had the learning experiences of being told I will not succeed and that I am not good enough to lead. While I see those comments as motivation, my real motivation is to have an impact/legacy on my profession for my family and leave a vision for the next generation.
Each day millions of us wake up and go into our office of employment and that is a phrase I use loosely as each of you have a different term for what you call your office. Your office may be defined as a construction site, corporate building or oil field; all equally important within context of what I will highlight in this discussion. What happens when the day comes where the values of your employer start to impact your personal values? What do you do?
The perspective I am going to overview is not intended to be another organizational catch phrase, but rather a new perspective on values with what I’ve learned in my career. In society today there is a lot of work and thought development around the term “culture.” but I would like to take it further to organizational character. Culture is used in organizations because it is a common nomenclature.
All organizations have a culture, good or bad; it does exist. I know I will get many professionals, organizations and longtime culture advocates to disagree with me, but it’s truly character over culture and outlined below is how to take this step.
According to a basic Google search:
- Character can be defined as: The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual
- Culture can be defined as: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively
I think the important commonality between these two definitions is the human element. This creates what I will describe later known as the human currency.
There are a lot of nomenclatures or terminology differences, but I’m going to try to keep it simplified. I believe there are three distinct steps in development of organizational character.
A clear organizational alignment around the mission and values must be paramount. In this step, you must have actionable values. Values that can be performed throughout the organization on a continual basis. Values that you can continually challenge the organization to improve.
Organizations in this area seem to fail in two aspects. They have too many values that cannot be clearly understood throughout all levels of the organization. You may put up a poster of a fancy value-based system, but they rarely have a clear understanding of the expectations at all levels. What’s in it for the new hire employee wanting to do the best job they can in delivering on their commitments? What’s in it for the CEO who signed off on the values? Leadership chooses values very often that cannot be actionable. You will get the level you demonstrate, but you must be able to demonstrate what you want.
The next step is going to be focused around continuation of development. What simple and clear steps does your organization do to continuously improve? Organizations many times start new programs or roll out new culture programs but fail to truly develop these as norms.
Norms within the organization are what you and your employees do because that is what is expected or is the standard. These norms are second nature to working in your organizational footprint. These norms can be supported within your operating systems. Operating systems are very important in supporting the continuous improvement aspect. It allows you to have a further visibility around the measurable elements of your organizational character.
One final vantage point is on organizational character over a traditional focus on culture. This step enables employees to hold a voice in the organization without fear of retribution. Can you go to senior leadership without fear?
Not only do you demonstrate clarity on this topic, but do you have an understanding of how other leaders in your organization view your leadership style? Is an open-door policy truly an open-door policy? It’s easy to say yes in this step, but until you’re confronted with true criticism/conflict you may have a false sense of organizational character.
Safety and the human elements are built within how your organization functions. There is no decision that is not made without it being made for the people of your organization. You will start to make a transformation built on your values that expands your human currency value. There are organizations that have culture and there are organizations that have organizational character. These brands that have achieved organizational character continue to set the mark for what we define as excellence.
Take the character test today. Do you have what it takes to find and develop your organizational character?