Focus accelerates results in the culture arena just as it does in all business endeavours. In a development program I attended once we had to find the essence of the word 'responsibility' and express it without using words in a way that others understood. We found it surprisingly difficult and it took a long time. Because although I had used the word many times, I had never really thought deeply about what it meant.
Superficiality damages culture initiatives. I frequently find organizations developing long lists of the values and behaviors they want to underpin their culture. It's tempting, after all, when answering the question “what is our ideal culture?” to pen a description that covers the widest range of aspirations. When communicated, the potential for transformation is lost because people are left wondering what specifically they are being asked to do differently.
More powerful, I have found, is to take one concept, and work it hard. 'Keep your word', for example. The more I consider this concept, the more I realize what an all emcompassing idea it is. Enough, on its own, to transform an organization. What does it take to walk that talk? Here's just a few of the skills and behaviors that are needed. I am sure you can come up with many more. Imagine an organization that had mastered these.
- Not giving or accepting excuses
- Taking responsibility for not having anticipated outside events which disrupted plans
- Saying 'no' when being asked to do something you believe is impossible
- Setting goals with (not for) others which are stretching, but not ridiculous
- Negotiating with others to deliver what you need from them in order to keep your own word
- Raising unpopular concerns when everyone else is being swept along by optimism
- Being willing to voice the difference between an intention (“I'll do my best”) and a promise (“You have my word”)
It would be pretty amazing if a group of people were able to live up to 'keep your word' as a shared value and standard. Would probably put them ahead of all of their competititors. And not a list of aspirations in sight.