That’s Just the Way We Roll

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

“That’s just the way we roll.”

When people describe “the way” they roll in an organizational context, what do they mean?  Is it the unwritten rules?  The norms of behavior that are subtly and not so subtly enforced? This is culture, and as immutable as it may seem, it is a choice.  Every so often, people in the organization need to ask themselves if it is working to get the results they really want.

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 they got beat 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.

Most artifacts of organizational culture are like the ladder.  There was a good reason to do it that way at some point,  but it keeps going, even when conditions change.  The question is,  in what ways does your culture work to support your success and in what ways doesn’t it?  Here are three examples of organizational culture that can get out of alignment:

  1. Decision-making culture.  In some places, leadership makes all major decisions with little input and staff complain but are mostly passive.  In other places, leaders engage staff in providing input but then sit on making the decision if they think they will get push back.
  2. Feedback culture.  In some places, managers talk to staff in judgmental and harsh ways.  They raise individual performance issues in group settings and distance themselves from the failures of others.  The other extreme would be where people get positive feedback but never hear if they aren’t meeting expectations until they are moved out.
  3. 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 the 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 and autonomy, willingness to share feedback early with an assumption of good intent, and an openness and 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.  Now, as we grow, we have found it to be challenging to hold that line.  Recently, we failed to communicate well with a subcontractor and she certainly did not feel cared for.  Since every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting, we knew we had to look at how this happened.  And we made some changes.

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?





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