Common Culture Myths

Myth #1: A strong culture (defined as high level of uniformity) will lead to superior outcomes such as increased profitability and market share

    • Partially true: Strong cultures that are CONTEXTUALLY APPROPRIATE and aligned with strategy can contribute to superior outcomes. To be sustainable in the long-term, they must also be ADAPTIVE so they can shift and change as required.

Myth #2: Culture is Human Resources’ or the Executive Team’s job.

    • False: Culture develops from the collective experience of groups and communities. It is everyone’s ‘job’.

Myth #3: Culture can’t be changed, it is an organization’s ‘personality’.

    • False: Culture can be changed. Anyone who has been part of a merger or acquisition has likely experienced or observed this first hand. In fact, sustainable culture change can happen in months not years IF there is sufficient energy, resources and discipline directed at it.

Myth #4: Most people can accurately describe the culture of their organization.

    • False: Understanding culture requires awareness of underlying beliefs, assumptions and values – the ‘why’ we do things the way we do. People can often describe at least some core values (usually to do with people and how they are treated/treat each other) however, because they are a part of it, they are often unaware of the full richness of the culture.

Myth #5: Culture is about people and how we treat each other.

    • Partially True: Culture includes norms of behaviors that influence how people treat one another and interact. It is however, much more than this. Culture also includes the way we go about our work, the way we interact with the external environment, the way we learn and adapt, the way we respond to challenges and opportunities, the way we treat newcomers and outsiders, the way we work together within and across groups, and so on. To understand culture we need to look at all of these attributes and understand how they are shaping our collective experience.

Myth #6: To change culture, all we need to do is reward the behaviors we want.

    • False: This is anachronistic management philosophy – carrot and stick. Reward systems are part of the organization’s structure and should be fair and reinforce the outcomes and behaviors that are required. On their own, they won’t lead to culture change (think values beliefs and assumptions) but when used in an intentional manner with other elements of the organization system they can help.

Myth #7: Training programs and other formal events/initiatives can change culture.

    • False: Training programs and HR/Leader sponsored programs can help build awareness but they cannot replace the conversations required to understand culture in all its complexity.

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