Can Culture Be The Hero?

Can Culture Be The Hero?

We just finished a week packed with meetings with various businesses in the region.  The question we were asking them is: how do you know that your culture is fit for purpose?   Is your culture helping you do great things and keeping you out of trouble?  In most meetings, the conversation often started with this response (said with a sigh of resignation):

“The culture inside our organization is a reflection, or microcosm, of the culture in the country.  These are our people, this is the way they are and this is their mentality.  How can we change that?  If we want any changes inside we need to change the attitude and mentality of the country and that is impossible!”

This question has occupied the minds of many sociologists and behavioural scientists.  Does the place drive the behaviour of the people? Or do the people, and how they behave, create the place? 

The research concludes that on a country level – ethnography level – the place determines how people behave.  But on a lower level – the level of an organization – they actually drive each other.

So let us first agree that we are talking here about behaviour – i.e. what I do, not my personality type, or character, not my IQ or EQ.  And can we agree that although it would be very difficult to change a person’s character or personality type, we can change behaviour.  I know that when I am in Amman, I have to admit, that I drive in a certain way and may break a few traffic laws and regulations, but when I drive in Dubai, for example, my behaviour changes and I will think 10 times before committing a traffic misdemeanor. Why?  I am still the same person with the same character, beliefs and values.  The answer is in how the place affects my behaviour: in Dubai everyone else obeys the traffic laws completely and the place makes them do that with heavy monitoring and regulations.  So if we think about it we can all see examples of how our behaviour might change depending on the environment we are in.

So let me go back to my first point.  If an organization can create a certain internal culture that promotes and encourages certain favourable behaviours by creating an environment of systems, procedures and a physical place that enables those favourable behaviours.  And of course with a leadership team that actually lives those behaviours and supports them, then science shows – and diagnostic tools such as CultureScope can measure and prove – that the behaviour of individuals quickly starts to match the favourable environment or they simply leave.

So then we have actually created a microcosm of culture and a set of behaviours that could potentially have a spill-over affect into the larger community.  If, for example, I am a parent working in that organization, chances are that I might bring some of those favourable behaviours back into my home and influence the way my children are behaving.  Wouldn’t that create a wider spill-over and multiplier affect on the wider community if more organizations focused on their internal culture?  Wouldn’t that influence what is desirable behaviour in the wider community?  Wouldn’t that be Corporate Social Responsibility at a different level?

We have cursed the dark for too long.  I think it’s high time we lit a candle instead!