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Eliminate Culture Decay 

“For there was never yet a philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently.” 

William Shakespeare, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

I’m no philosopher, but I couldn’t agree more with ole’ William. A toothache has got to be one of the most inconvenient pains we as humans endure.

One day I started thinking about the work of a dentist and was curious. So, I decided to watch a YouTube video which explains how a dentist fills a cavity (Watch this video, if you dare…)  

I was fascinated as I watched the meticulous effort a dentist uses to mine out rotting tooth decay and fill the cavity within a tooth.

In some ways, the work of a dentist reminds me of the inner workings of an organization.  

Anytime you bring people together around a common goal, a culture is conceived. This culture is a product of the complex combination of numerous factors—including personalities, processes, procedures, and policies. This culture is not static. It is dynamic, as it ebbs and flows against the constant internal and external pressures which constantly press upon that organization.  

Our work with organizations of all types has taught us the critical role that clearly defined, described, and deliberately practiced organizational values play. Fundamentally, these values serve to stabilize the ever-shifting cultural dynamics within an organization. (Here comes the dental metaphor…) 

Organizational culture begins to decay when organizational values are only defined and described—but not deliberately practiced.

If there is a lack of stabilizing anchors (organizational values) to ground a culture, leaders are forced to operate on their own and make decisions which may or may not be consistent with the values of the organization. Consequently, organizational decay begins. Think Enron. Enrons notorious accounting corruption deeply affected its more than 20,000 employees through job loss and the evaporation of retirement benefits. Ironically, Enron leaders widely touted corporate values of Respect, Integrity, Communication, and Excellence. This injected a note of irony and even cynicism into the entire unfortunate situation. As it turned out, the gap between the values espoused and the values practiced by those at the top of Enrons leadership team was exceedingly wide.  

I had the privilege of conducting a case-study for my doctoral dissertation on this very topic.

I looked at the potential gap that might or might not have existed within an organization that espouses organizational values. Findings from this study provided four insights:

  1. Values integration requires ceaseless effort.
  2. Organizational values can exist in tension with one another.
  3. Proximity to an organization’s headquarters impacts integration.
  4. Cross-cultural values integration may be problematic.

These insights inform and contribute to our commitment to promoting values-based leadership at Milestone Leadership. I am always very pleased to share the research results from this case-study. If you could benefit personally from my findings, I invite you reach out to me directly at EDees@milestoneleadership.com

The beginning of the year is a good time to step back and consider the culture within your organization.

The four following questions will help you get started:

  1. Does your organization have a set of organizational values? 
  2. In what facets of your organizational culture might you be seeing some decay?  
  3. Can the leaders and employees within your organization clearly describe and define your organizational values?  
  4. If we conducted an assessment of your organization, would we find evidence of the active practice of your organizational values?

If this topic piques your interest, we encourage you to reach out and inquire about Milestone Leadership’s values-based leadership work. Feel free to submit a question or send us a message about what is on your mind.

Erik Dees, PhD is a partner with Milestone Leadership. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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