We're doing really well. Why do we need to look at our culture?


I got asked this question the other day and, well, let's just say that the company concerned decided they're going to do some work with me. Why you might well ask?

Ahh, good old Charles Handy, he of the book The Empty Raincoat, all round change guru and the guy who brought us the Sigmoid Curve, the little model that reminds us that to leave a legacy, to be built to last, to thrive, you need to keep what's working working, while you start to future pace and figure out what's likely to need to change to ride the crest of the next wave of success. 

Why? Because history repeatedly tells us, and I'm being a realist here, not a pessimist, that companies, products, the stock market, relationships, they all work in cycles. The danger, referred to by Handy as well as Jim Collins in How The Mighty Fall is that anything from blind optimism to a bit of hubris, even arrogance, can stop us from taking advantage of the energy of the top of the curve, to plan the future. And once you start to head down that slippery slope on the other side of the upward curve, you're going to need way more resources - money, energy, innovative ideas, top talent, board and shareholder support - all of which will now be in short supply as profits start to tank.

So, using the Four Keys to Culture outlined in Culture 101, there's basically two core groups of people or companies I work with:

1.     Those like the one above who want to harness what's working, 'bottle' that fantastic culture, and start to really get ahead of the Sigmoid Curve

2.     People who've discovered, maybe by a run of well below parr engagement surveys, high turnover figures, and lower profitability, that there's something really on the nose and they want to look at how to turn things around - with buy in from the very top

I get a lot of calls from people who are in highly toxic environments, who for a variety of reasons can't leave, and want to know how to go about changing things. In most of those cases, all that can be done, generally working with HR, is to build a bucket load of the scientific evidence, of the kind dotted throughout Culture 101 and hope that when they present it, someone higher up 'sees the light'. Good luck!


- Penny Nesbitt