Defining culture is difficult. Â Creating a Healthy Corporate Culture is more difficult.Â Most change management consultants would say that a culture is defined by our language, behaviors, and interactions. Anthropologists go a step further by saying that culture is defined more by what is absent than what is present.
In a recent meeting I attended, a question was asked regarding culture and what exactly that meant. Â In response, a very senior person in the company addressed the inquirer by name and then answered the question. Â Then, people moved on. Â But not me.
I noticed something significant.
The most senior person in the company that knows the name of a person much less senior in the company is a subtle but very important aspect of the company culture. Â But, because instances like that are so common-place at this company, the subtlety of it all passed by all of us.
a place where everybody knows your name
But that’s the point.
The subtle things matter. Â And, when those things don’t happen, we notice it.
What if the most senior person int he company had said “blah, blah, blah – oh, and what was your name?” Â Most of us would have noticed that because that response wouldn’t have been indicative of the culture all of us had come to expect in the company.
- Your mom calls you by name; she has for 30 years. Â You wouldn’t think it was a big deal. Â But, what if she forgot your name?
- What if your culture was one where problems were surfaced and exposed and cooperatively worked-on together. Â But, what if you discovered that some problems were hidden and protected – you would notice that; it wouldn’t feel right to you.
- Imagine if your company regularly held daily stand-up meetings as a management ritual. Â Then, all of a sudden, you didn’t have them anymore. You notice it – it doesn’t feel quite right.
A Culture is defined by what is present, but by also what is absent. Â Those subtle but important rituals – when no longer practiced – leave a vacuum in a company. Â You notice it; it doesn’t quite feel right.
Thirty spokes join together in the hub.
It is because of what is not there that the cart is useful.
Clay is formed into a vessel.
It is because of its emptiness that the vessel is useful.
Cut doors and windows to make a room.
It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.
Therefore, what is present is used for profit.
But it is in absence that there is usefulness.
– Lao Tzu