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Listening is Culture Change

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In many ways, culture helps a company be as great as it is. Culture gives identity, direction, and stability. However, if you want to improve innovation, culture can be your enemy. If you want to empower people, culture will often suppress your efforts. Culture itself does not care about you or your company’s future. Culture is simply there to protect and preserve the company, or whatever the company thinks it is. Culture is a mechanism which operates independently of you and your efforts to improve.

For example, if your organization thinks of itself as entrepreneurial, the culture will suppress people who try to get it to be ”professionally managed” or anything that smacks of not being entrepreneurial. If people in an organization identify themselves totally with their client relationships or the contribution to short-term shareholder wealth, they will prevent the development of business opportunities that do not rely on client relationships or that promise long-term growth with short-term risk. If people in a company identify themselves totally with their public image, they may act in self-destructive ways in response to a threat to this image.

Seen from the outside, culture is everything that impacts, determines and shapes what most people do, think, and how they work with each other. Culture is like the weather that transparently dictates whether you live in an igloo or grass hut; whether you eat a diet of mangoes and papaya or smoked salmon and goat cheese. From the outside looking in, culture is all-powerful, all-determining, all-pervasive and unremitting. Culture is what makes an American an American and a Chinese person a Chinese person, and defines what a boss is and what a worker is.

From the viewpoint of the individual, culture is nothing more than the choices one makes. A less obvious truth is that culture determines the options from which one makes choices. At Canyon Ranch Health Spa in Tucson, Arizona, all the choices made are in service of physical, nutritional, or spiritual fitness. The only choices people can make are good for them, or they can choose not to participate. At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, there is a culture where the only choices offered are for wholesome family entertainment. Culture as seen by watching the behavior of members inside the culture is nothing but the choices people make, second-by-second from the options given by the culture.

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