Change What’s Normal and You Change Your Culture

Every organization has a culture, but successful organizations understand how important it is to create the right culture.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game.” – Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., IBM Chairman & CEO, 1993-2002, in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

“I used to believe that culture was “soft,” and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.” – Vern Dosch, Wired Differently

“Great leaders create great cultures regardless of the dominant culture in the organization.” – Bob Anderson, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results

“Over a period of time, you realize that building a very strong company and a very strong foundation of talent and culture in a company is essential to making great products.” – Steve Jobs, Apple CEO & Co-founder

Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” We choose to define culture as what is normal. And we would argue that creating an effective culture – or changing a poor one – requires a deliberate effort to change what is normal.  An organization’s culture is a shared understanding of what is normal, and until the organization changes what is normal, it cannot change the culture. In our experience, actions speak louder than words.

Culture Is a Shared Understanding of What Is Normal

A very large extrusion facility in central Indiana experienced a tremendous positive change in its culture. It started with a Total Productive Maintenance event on the exiting table of one of the largest extrusion presses in the country.

Before the event, one of the facilitators was observing the area in preparation. One of the press operators took out a piece of chewing gum from his pocket, unwrapped it, and while listening to the facilitator’s questions about the exiting table for the press, threw the wrapper onto the floor under the table. The facilitator later discovered piles of wrappers, papers, and even cigarette butts under the table. The supervisor and manager of the area were also observed kicking tie wire and splinters of wood under the table as they walked through the area. For one of the largest extrusion presses in the country, this practice was seen as absolutely normal.

During the kickoff of the Total Productive Maintenance event, the leader of the business gave a speech about the history of the press. There were pictures blown up of the initial installation and talks about its importance during the war.

During the event, everyone cleaned the entire run out table. The rails were cleaned. The table legs and supports were all painted. The entire floor under the table was cleaned out by a large group of employees that included supervisors, team members, and the plant leadership.

Together they had changed what was normal and with it they changed the entire culture of the press.

Words Are the Least Effective Way to Change What Is Normal 

St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” In the same way that St. Francis understood leading people in a certain belief required actions to demonstrate that belief, leading people to believe in a new normal requires actions to demonstrate that new normal.

Marketing firms use this principle when they use celebrities and famous athletes as influencers to wear fashions they want others to adopt.  It would be ineffective to simply advertise “wear this new style of clothes, they are fashionable.” Words pale in comparison to the actions of an influencer actually wearing the new style of clothes.

Help your organization actively change its culture by changing what is normal. Be the biggest advocate for the new normal by doing, and if you have to…use words too.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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