CultureUniversity.com was launched in 2014 to cut through misinformation related to culture and culture change, and it has grown into an essential educational resource for leaders and change agents.
Ten new posts garnered the highest traffic in 2018, and my personal top insight from each post is captured in the list below.
By Larry Senn
Larry Senn is clearly a pioneer in the culture space, and we’re fortunate to have him share his wisdom on CultureU. This post doesn’t disappoint as Larry guides us in dealing with uncertainty.
My favorite point came at the close of this excellent post: “You choose how you respond.” Larry continues, “Recognize that in life and business, a fair amount of surprises will cross your path, and some may come with immense challenges. When that happens, remember: Stop. Think. Decide. Only you can make a conscious decision to take a more effective course of action.” Change agents will inevitably run into major roadblocks and frustration when dealing with culture challenges, and it’s tempting to take the easy out and “go negative.” Larry reminds us to “stay positive,” because “people tend to gravitate toward positive people” and you’ll be better equipped to “come up with solutions to problems and solve key issues.”
By Graham Williams and Eva Marie Cooper
This comprehensive post covers a framework for a new leadership culture that’s necessary to support an important shift in the operating model of organizations. Two points stood out to me toward the end of the post. First, Graham and Eva referenced using “projects as incubators of the required leadership characteristics” like freedom of action, adventure, discovery, trust, collaboration, empowerment and “sharing of everything.” Most underestimate how difficult it is for individuals to shift their behavior when confronted with the power of the current culture. Intentional, shared approaches using “projects as incubators” are far better than general leadership development or change management approaches. The authors further refined their guidance in the second standout point by emphasizing the importance of “engaging with rather than managing both internal and external stakeholders.”
By Donna Brighton
Donna, an expert in the important connection of culture and change management, shared “15 key culture actions” as part of an excellent visual:
She stressed how they should be “layered into an existing change approach” and can also be “used as a checklist to ensure that these critical actions are part of the Change Management Strategy and Plans.”
By Tom Kayser
I loved Tom’s deeper dive on Edgar Schein’s three-level model for culture. Everybody wants to learn how to change culture or improve without understanding some of the classic models that help us grasp important aspects of culture. Tom expands on Schein’s model with further explanation about how basic underlying assumptions can conflict with espoused values or may “not align properly to reinforce and facilitate success of a visible artifact.” The reality is that leaders in most organizations haven’t taken the time to understand the basic underlying assumptions driving the behavior they see on the surface.
By Barbara Brooks Kimmel
Barbara is CEO and Cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World and a tireless trust expert and advocate. She doesn’t disappoint with her sharing of “universal trust-building principles.” These Trust Alliance Principles (TAP) follow the TAP INTO TRUST acronym. My favorite principle is the final “T” for Tracking: “We define and scorecard our performance against our value and values — we measure both.” It’s unbelievably rare for leaders to measure how well they are “living” their values and whether they are consistent with the norms or “unwritten rules” driving the majority of behavior in the workplace.
#5 – Fake Culture
By Scott Beilke
Scott warns us, “Culture is caught not taught, reinforced not announced.” He shares some interesting examples, and one that stood out to me was the story of how an executive reacted in an ineffective meeting. The person leading the meeting wasn’t prepared and the leader was frustrated with the lack of productivity, so she took over the meeting. Her team member didn’t learn how to improve and, next time, he’s more likely to step back than to step up and improve. Many well-intentioned leaders are appropriately focused on the outcome while forgetting that culture is not “taught” but “learned through observation and experience.”
By Jerome Parisse-Brassens
What are the three levels? The answer is organization, team and individual. Where do you start? Jerome correctly emphasizes that change is required at all three levels, “often at the same time,” or you may risk “sending contradicting messages about what’s important.” Many top leaders are comfortable working at the organization level but struggle with how to cascade changes to individual work teams. Jerome shared the Kurt Lewin quote, “The immediate social group is the greatest determinant of behavior.” Change may start at the top with the executive team, but many top teams go too far, making decisions without a clear approach to drive engagement, empowerment, learning and results with supporting teams and individuals.
By Marlene Chism
Marlene shares a crucial point from an interview of Edgar Schein: “Culture is what a group learns as its way of surviving and both getting along internally and solving its problems externally. What’s usually missing is understanding how the external environment influences culture.” She cited the example of the decision by the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods to stop selling assault rifles at a time when the country was “divided over second amendment rights, gun control and public safety.” Many leaders and change agents view culture as an internal dynamic without understanding external influences and problems that need to be solved.
By Kristin Robertson
The “culture lessons” cover critical areas like leadership, empowerment, appreciation and the need to “evolve your culture.” My favorite part of the post is the impressive summary of business results. Southwest Airlines may be the ultimate culture poster child with their sustainable, culture-driven results in a difficult industry, which include:
44 consecutive years of profitability
#1 lowest number of customer complaints
2.4% voluntary turnover
85% of employees reporting that they’re proud to work for Southwest
No layoffs, no furloughs ever
What outcomes or results are you focused on influencing due to your culture-related improvements?
By Tim Kuppler
This was the 200th post on CultureUniversity.com. I still believe “we’re living in the absolute best time in history to be involved in meaningful culture change.” Make the most of it and be intentional about how you engage people in your change effort. My favorite “insight” is the focus on “uniting the organization to support the purpose and top priorities.” This concept of “uniting the organization” behind growth, quality, customer experience or other targeted business outcomes or results has always resonated with top leaders. This insight may be the key to a strong culture and performance connection, but the final “essential insight” is turning out to be the difference between success and failure, even if the other six insights are covered.
Insight #7 was to “plan on the resistance and learning from it together.” I can’t recall a single culture-related change effort I have been involved in over the last 20 years where this wasn’t the case. “The resistance” can include:
Senior leadership’s attention being pulled to a new priority or opportunity
Lack of clarity regarding individual or shared responsibility to champion or facilitate improvement plans
Team members feeling uncomfortable moving forward with improvement plans without top leadership approval and, often, difficulties in coordinating that approval or support
My advice to “get used to the culture grind and don’t stop or dramatically reduce change efforts” continues to ring true, and it is inevitably part of culture change efforts in some form.
Edgar Schein gave me the following feedback about one of my blog posts and why culture change is so hard: “People forget that what they now have is what they learned, what made them successful, what they have settled for. They are then surprised that culture change is so hard, but at least they now understand why it is so hard.”
Thank you and the future
2019 will be a big year for CultureUniversity.com, as well as for ConstructiveCulture.com (our sister culture blog — see the 2018 Top Ten post here), our monthly Ultimate Culture Webinars, scaling The Culture Journey Learning Experience globally, and much more. We’ll be zeroing in on specific “how to” content and sharing thorough case studies and examples designed to accelerate the culture learning curve.
Thank you to all our contributing authors—more than 70 and counting in our history of nearly five years. CultureU wouldn’t exist without your interest in sharing what you have learned. CultureU continues to be part of a movement to change the way the world thinks about culture and culture change.
One final “thank you” goes to all our readers. Your interest in culture and sharing of content on social media are a major part of the journey.