Often people speak of how hard it is to change a culture. I listened to a man suggest the opposite perspective. He directs HR and has invested heavily in building a positive culture. He shared an illustration of how fast a positive culture can be lost.
Of the many things that were done to build a positive culture, he mentioned two very small but symbolically important elements. A conscious decision was made to have people be fully present in senior leadership team meetings (no checking cell phones) and to also listen fully to each other and not interrupt. They succeeded.
Recently a new CEO arrived. In terms of personality differences, the new CEO moves at a faster pace and also constantly checks for messages on the cell phone. By the second meeting, members of the senior leadership team were checking their phones, and also regularly interrupting each other.
A person, who holds the same position in another organization, gave a similar but more devastating account. A few years ago she began learning about positive organizing and committed to create “an environment where people could thrive.”
She began a long, intense effort, focusing on both building a cohesive and competent senior leadership team and developing new skills in the workforce. This eventually led to increased employee satisfaction, increased financial performance, organizational growth, and improved relationships with partner organizations. It was truly impressive.
She then left to take another job. A few years later she met with a former colleague and asked for an assessment. He indicated that the entire positive effort had disintegrated. When she asked why, he said, “Maintaining a positive culture requires intentional leadership, a leader has to be consciously focused on institutionalizing the positive.”
These two stories illustrate some key notions. First, a positive culture is the outcome of conscious choice and intentional effort. It takes work to change a conventional culture to a positive culture. Second, authority figures have great unconscious influence. People look to them for signals of appropriate behavior. If the signals suggest movement away from the work of positive organizing to more natural, conventional patterns, people will tend to move towards the conventional. Third, because positive organizing requires constant attention and effort, it is vulnerable. New leaders, with or without the intention to do so, can easily destroy a positive culture.
Why is it so hard to create a positive culture?
Why is it so easy to destroy a positive culture?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?