Culture Shift Series #3: And Now for the Heavy Lifting…The Unsexy Work of Shifting Systems

“Genius is not enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.”

— Green Book

In this final blog post in my culture shift series, I will take a look at some of the symbols and systems that shape workplace culture and explore one of the fundamental shifts needed for a new paradigm.
One of Axialent’s founders wrote the book “Conscious Business.” When I first read the book, I was particularly encouraged by this quote:

“Many believe that it is necessary to sell out in order to achieve economic success, or drop out in order to pursue a meaningful life. This is a false polarity. When business is conducted as an expression of your core values there is harmony between material and spiritual wealth.”

This expanded what I thought about business and settled a dilemma I had wrestled with internally. How do we transform the way we conduct business, consistently aligning vision and values, profit and purpose, and experience this harmony between material and spiritual wealth? What if more people could experience prosperity, ease and joy in their work and lives? What if you don’t have to sell out or drop out to find peace?
Research states that the average person will spend up to 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. During those 90,000 hours, the environment you work in really does matter and ultimately impacts your success, health and well-being. How do we work together to shift systems and create more conscious cultures?
First, we become more aware of the way we think and talk about things. Language is a powerful symbol of what we value and is expressed through rituals and stories. We pass these stories on, and they express what is most important in a particular culture and signal how business gets done. For example, I recently watched the documentary about Theranos called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.” It was evident that in order to succeed at Theranos, you did not challenge the vision and were expected to spread the claim that the company could perform over 200 blood tests with a single drop of blood. Those who spoke up with concerns and evidence to the contrary were contacted by lawyers or the CEO and COO personally. This culture of dishonesty, fueled by centralized command, enabled fraud and mistreatment of employees.
Since many of the messages about what is valued in an organization are nonverbal, it takes effort to take a sincere look at their unintended impacts. Symbols to consider include:

  • How leaders’ behaviors set the tone: What is acceptable and what is not?
  • How budgets are allocated: What do we choose to prioritize and why?
  • How time is spent: Meetings, email, etc.
  • Who gets promoted: What is it based on? Performance, potential, relationships, etc.
  • Who leaves: Why are they leaving? Do we conduct exit interviews?
  • Recognition and compensation: Are we equitable and fair?
  • Title: Who has power and authority to make decisions?

Once these symbols and their impact have been considered, then strategies and plans can be made for organizational change. Structures that might need evolution include:

  • How you do strategic planning and budgeting: Who has a seat at the table? What is our process for decision-making?
  • Performance review and reward: Do we reward what we say we value? When competing commitments are exposed, how will we decide what to prioritize?
  • Measurement, reporting and learning: What do we measure? How do we share data? How do we learn from our missteps and utilize these learnings to inform our future choices?
  • Organizational structures: Do we need to reorganize or redesign roles to be more effective?

So what are the barriers to real change? Power and intent.
Many business practices happening today are rooted in the mental model of power over and zero-sum game, a win/lose mindset, which is contributing to a deficit of spiritual wealth including meaning, well-being and joy. Tolerating bad behaviors at the highest levels in an organization can have a negative impact on the culture, as people take their cues from those at the top of what is acceptable behavior. What is needed for greater harmony and sustainability is a fundamental shift to a mental model of power with and power through, a win/win mindset, where we really practice “partnering” to help improve all aspects of business and life. This shift in intent will require a rebalancing of valuing intellect and knowledge as much as the wisdom of the heart.

“The culture of your business is its heartbeat. Without a healthy one, the business will ultimately fail.”

— Conscious Capitalism

Just like getting an annual physical to check on the health of your body, building in practices to check on the health of your organization’s heartbeat, your culture, is essential. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. The Culture Journey Experience. This interactive experience helps leaders and change agents understand the complexities of culture, leadership and their connection to performance in an accelerated environment. You will explore foundational forces, current operating culture and levers for change.
  2. Assess and measure the current state of your organization’s climate and culture using both qualitative and quantitative tools.
  3. Prioritize conversations on workplace culture as part of the executive team’s agenda just as you would other business metrics.

It takes courage to examine your own heart as well, which is an ongoing practice, and to aspire for something greater — not just yourself and your organization but for humanity.

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