That’s Just the Way We Roll

February 7, 2020 · by Alvarez Porter Group · Filed Under Choices · Leave a Comment

When people use the “that’s-just-the-way-we-roll” defense, there is an air of inevitability to it. It’s as if they are saying, ‘it’s out of my hands, it can’t be helped, I’m powerless to change it; And, what’s more, if I need to tell you about it, well, then, you probably just don’t get it.’

But what if the way you roll is just not working for you anymore? What if it is causing employee turnover? blow-ups? low productivity? Sometimes, it has to change.

There is the story I hope is made up because it involves animal cruelty, but I’ll tell it anyway: A group of scientists put five monkeys in a cage with a ladder in the middle that had bananas on top. Every time a monkey tried to climb the ladder, all the other monkeys got a cold shower. Soon when a monkey tried to climb the ladder the others would pull them down and beat them up. The scientists started replacing the monkeys and when the new monkey tried to climb the ladder the others beat them up, even though there was no cold shower.  After all five of the monkeys had been replaced the monkeys still taught new monkeys to avoid the ladder.

Traditions, practices, behaviors that no longer serve the organization are like the monkeys and their ladder. There was a good reason to do it that way at some point, but conditions change and we don’t.

At Alvarez Porter Group we often come across elements of organizational culture that are out of sync when we are working on strategic change and leadership development. Sometimes this is why people have brought us in, other times it pops up while we are doing something else. Here are four examples of organizational culture that we often see falling behind the rapidly changing world we live in:

  1. Racial Equity culture.  Most progressive, social justice organizations see themselves aligned against racism and for racial equity. In 2020, however, the bar has risen considerably on what it means to be an anti-racist organization that has an equity lens on its vision, strategy, culture and practices. The dialogue that exists today is a direct challenge to the approaches of the past.
  2. Decision-making culture. Many of our organizations come out of a tradition of respect for hierarchy and positional power. Decisions are made at the top and staff do what they are told. As campaigns and issues get more complex and organizations work more in collaborative spaces, this old-fashioned model of decision-making can make you less nimble and less attractive as a place to work.
  3. Feedback culture.  Most organizations we see have a culture of not giving much feedback unless they are in a formal performance review, or getting ready to promote or fire someone. These three times are actually the least effective spaces for real feedback to happen. Getting organizations to adopt a culture of continuous, behavior-based feedback takes an intentional effort.
  4. Innovation culture.   In some places, they are strongly attached to the way they have always done things and work hard to get all new staff doing it that way. In other places, there is a “flavor of the month” where leadership rolls out big changes that don’t stick. Rarer are those places with an innovation mindset, who intentionally question assumptions and test new approaches.

At Alvarez Porter Group, we are very proud of our culture, which has served us well throughout the past ten years. The “APG Way” consists of real caring for and commitment to each other, inclusive decision-making, willingness to share feedback, and a curiosity about new approaches. It’s a pleasure to work in this environment, and it has been relatively easy to maintain as we are a small group.

Taking a page from our own book, even when it comes to a culture we like, we know we need to look hard at ourselves. We strive to improve our practices around racial equity and intersectionality, so we each do our own work on seeing our race and gender identities, privileges and biases more clearly in ourselves and in our work.  And we support each other to be uncomfortable and unskilled in service of deep learning, increased connection, and greater impact. At the same time, as Alvarez Porter Group has grown, our systems for communication and engagement have needed to be reworked.  At ten years old, we are already surfacing how “the way we roll” may need to change to adapt to our current reality and align with our values and goals.

What is “the way” in your organization? When you take a close look, can you see practices that support high performance and strong values and others that contradict them? Are there assumptions about how you are that hold true and others that are out of touch with the way things actually work?  That’s totally normal. What matters is – what’s the way you want to be, and how are you working to get there?

For support in of bringing into being the organizational culture you aspire to, contact us at






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