I took a trip across a few different countries recently and it dawned on me that I was acting differently at each region we stopped along the journey. Every few days I would change the way I spoke, how fast I was walking, how open or closed to dialogue with the locals I felt, etc. "What's wrong with me?", I thought, but I eventually realized that, in general, I was quickly adapting to the local culture. Sometimes I would do the opposite of the local culture to compensate for it, sometimes I would emulate it directly, without any apparent logic behind my behavior changes.
The questions flooded my mind once I realized what was going on. If the culture of a country has such a quick and immediate impact on my behavior, what behaviors is my workplace culture impressing upon me? In fact, how much of what I believe to be my own successes or failures can be attributed to the culture in which I operate? How does one manage culture?
This experience vividly reminded me of how important culture is for innovation to happen and how woefully unprepared most leaders are on this topic. In certain places, I felt hesitant to chit chat with anybody, much as a team member may hesitate to share her ideas in the office. In other places, I felt a certain connection with people and immediately trusted them, just like the feeling I get when I'm around people with whom I produce my best work.
What would a "culture management" curriculum look like? I suspect it would be heavily focused on areas traditionally ignored by conventional business management education, such as:
- Positive psychology
- Failing Fast
- Understanding people's motivations (surprise: it's not all about money)
- Building empathy
- Tribal leadership
- Radical candor
- Work-life integration
- Team chemistry
Whatever the latest business management fad is (lean, blue ocean, results-only, etc), the point remains that the long-term success of any organization comes down to one major factor: people. If my little vacation story is any guide, people are highly influenced by the culture surrounding them. Therefore, the demand for “culture managers” will continue to be sky high for as long as people have to work together in order to achieve results.