Friday, 25 March 2016

Knowing me, knowing you

I've recently moved organisations and have observed some cultural issues that make an individual settle easier in a new role, in a previous blog post. In this blog post I'm going to go into a bit more depth on some of the more, and some of the less, obvious cultural differences between organisations that can lead to employees feeling settled or out of place in a new organisation and which can hinder efforts at cultural integration. 

I should point out that these aren't all things I've noticed in recently moving organisations, and most relate to observations about efforts by organisations to change their culture, or situations where two organisations come together to create a new organisation and have to deal with similar integration issues for employees and culture. 

What's prompted this is going to a function celebrating staff long service milestones at a lunchtime event, and noticing some cultural flashpoints that made me sit and think.

It's issues like this that affect an employees sense of belonging. And beyond that, if two organisations try to join together, issues like this where the approach could be different can make or break the marriage between them. 

Organisations often provide technology for staff to work with, but sometimes these organisations are doing it for show, and employees aren't really expected to use the technology. I've seen this happen too, at both extremes. I've seen employees join from a high tech low expectation of use organisation and be genuinely out of their depth at a high tech high expectation of use organisation. And I've also seen employees leave a high tech high expectation of use organisation and join a high tech low expectation of use organisation and be frowned at for using their tech. Be clear on what type of organisation you are, and how you'll support those who are used to something else. 

Many organisations will talk about homeworking and other types of flexible working, but if you work for an organisation that lives and breathes that approach and takes it to its furthest extreme, and then work for an organisation that SAYS it does these but in actuality frowns upon such things and doesn't support them in practice, then it can be difficult to adjust.  I've seen that happen too. Show understanding to those who have used different practices but use their experience to help you learn and grow. 

I've mentioned before about seemingly trivial things like car parking and the dress code, but they can both help and hinder any efforts at integration into an organisation or, tellingly, between organisations.  If the car park is tightly controlled in one organisation, which then comes together with another organisation who have a much more laissez faire approach and whose staff just ignore car parking controls when visiting the first organisation, the effects on morale in the first organisation can be devastating and can more or less ruin any senior leaders' attempts at convincing the staff in the first organisation that they value and respect them all. Ensure leaders understand the effect their behaviour has on culture and how their actions can undermine any communications efforts they later make.

On dress code, if one place is casual and the other more formal in its dress code, this can also cause integration issues.  I've had this at several places as a new employee when its hard to know what to wear, but also when bringing two organisations together - having worn my signature uniform of jeans-jumper-converse for years in one place and then turned up at a new partner organisation wearing the same (having been at my own casual place of work earlier the same day) I've seen people actually GLARING at me and MUTTERING as I walked through the corridors.  And when I've gone the other way and gone formal to visit that organisation but later the same day gone back to my casual workplace, I've been accused of having disappeared for a job interview. Adopt an approach where individuals feel comfortable and not out of place, and keep that flexible enough to deal with departures from the norm as long as individual effectiveness isn't threatened. 

An odd thing that I could never quite get my head around when flitting from one organisation to another on a regular basis fairly recently was people whispering at one particular site.  These people would stand in front of you and have whispered conversations, and I couldn't think of anything more rude.  And it seemed to be site-specific, as I'd see the same people in a different place and they wouldn't do it.  So I could never figure out where it came from, but at that particular site, whispered conversations right in front of people was commonplace - but at the neighbouring site, just a few miles away, it was frowned upon.  And this was the same organisation - cultural differences can sometimes be subtle and site specific but ultimately damaging to morale. Look at subtle employee behaviours as well as more overt displays and the effect they have. 

And what about the use of the Cc field on emails? In one organisation I have worked in it was positively frowned upon, a real no-no, and for a manager it was viewed as a sign of weakness if they used Cc to copy in anyone more junior than them, and a sign of a weak culture if employees Cc their own manager into whatever they were doing, or Cc someone else's manager when they are asking that person to do something for them. And yet I've worked in other organisations where these things are the norm and, if you don't Cc, then you're the odd one out. Take time to explain how these things work and the reasons for them and encourage individuals to help you develop your own approach. 

Even the organisational approach to transparency of decision making can make a difference. In one place I worked there was total transparency, with minutes of Executive team meetings and all other team meetings published for all to see, and employees were encouraged to discuss and contribute to decision making. But many other organisations don't do this, and expecting individuals to adjust easily to a culture where there's no transparency and no openness is a big ask. Communicate the rationale for the approach but be prepared to act on feedback received. 

Another comparison is about the use of formal employee recognition schemes and awards. In one organisation I worked for these were viewed by almost all staff as divisive, elitist and cynical. But I've then been in another organisation where the same processes are viewed with great pleasure as a celebration of achievement and are looked forward to. It's weird. Ask employees for their opinions and listen to them. 

The point I'm making is that making a transition from one culture to another can be a lot harder than you think. This doesn't necessarily relate to an individual moving to a new organisation, as some of my examples do, but relate to organisational culture change initiatives and in particular the difficulties faced by organisations coming together in a merger and acquisition type structure, trying to blend two cultures together and embed new values. 

Unless thorough due diligence is done in all types of cultural integration, be that individual-led or organisation-led, then integration efforts could ultimately fail, or lead to some disaffected individuals. 

I may return to this theme in the future. 

Till next time...


Ps in other news, my son, aged 14, is now taller than me. Admittedly only if you include his hair, but it will only be a couple of months till he's much taller than me. I'm really proud of him. He's better than me in so many ways and is capable of great things. 

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