A Not So Casual Friday Story: I was recently invited to speak to a legal forum, and I had everything prepared… Except I forgot to ask about the dress code.
So, I showed up in a sports coat and dress pants, but no tie. There’s no doubt that wearing a full suit and tie in North American business settings has diminished dramatically over the last decade. (Some might ask, who still wears ties to work in 2019)?
Well whoops… They do. They wear ties. Every male judge and lawyer was wearing a tie. Not only that, the organization has been around since 1930, and wearing a tie was a ritual and sign of respect. I come to find out, they even have a rule “no tie and you buy everyone a round of drinks.” Great.
To make things a little more awkward, my presentation was on the elements required to build a great culture, and I stood there as a cultural faux pas. Fortunately, they were gracious and also waived my obligation to buy a round. To make a bit of lemonade out of a lemon, I used this tie example to illustrate how dress code and ritual contribute to defining the real culture of a group.
Key Point: Aga Bajer is a cultural strategist, admired colleague of mine, and works out of Milan, Italy. (Read her complete blog on cultural anthropology here). The following are tasty excerpts:
“What do you notice about how people dress, socialise, go about achieving goals, how they communicate? How about the reward systems, conflict, problem-solving and decision making, leadership, stories and heroes, and rituals? Here are some questions you can ask yourself in each of these areas:
How do people dress for work? What message does the dress code communicate? Are there any differences between how people dress in different parts of the organisation? If yes, what does it seem to signify?
How do people socialise – is it done in a structured and organised way or spontaneously and ad hoc? What is the frequency of people’s get-togethers? Who initiates them? Who seems to connect with whom? What seems to be the emotional energy when people meet?
What are the accepted performance expectations? How are goals set, measured and tracked? What does planning look like? Who is involved in goal setting and planning? What is the level of enthusiasm and engagement in pursuing goals? Where does it stem from?
How are information, guidelines, and directives shared between people? Is communication formal, informal or both? Is communication happening organically or is it strategic and well planned? How effective is it?
What gets people promoted here? How are people rewarded, acknowledged and incentivised? How were these reward systems created? How effective are they?
How does conflict express itself? How is it handled? How does it get resolved? What are people’s beliefs about conflict?
Problem-solving and decision making.
How are problems identified? When? Who is usually involved in problem-solving? Who takes the lead? Are issues solved and decisions made through collective brainstorming and discussions or individual efforts? Does the approach to problem-solving work?
How does leadership work? What is the prevalent leadership style? Is leadership perceived to be a position or an action? Is leadership power concentrated at the top or evenly spread across the organisation? What are the accepted leadership role models?
Stories and heroes.
What stories do people share when asked: ‘Tell me a story that illustrates what it’s like to work here?’ What are the stories shared spontaneously in casual conversations at the water cooler? Who are the heroes in your organisation – people considered to be ‘legends’ or outstanding in some way?
What rituals do people engage in? Why do they exist, what purpose do they serve? Do people participate willingly?”
Actions you can take:
- As you try and better understand what your culture really is versus what’s published or publicized, be a bit of a cultural anthropologist. Observe and answer Aga’s and other questions.
- As you map out what your culture could do more/less of, understanding gaps and blind spots will help you develop your action plan for going forward.
- Follow Aga, she has much to offer.
Tie your culture together in Leadership,
One Millennial View: According to USA Today, consumer DNA testing kits like 23andMe were among the most popular holiday gifts given and received in 2018. People really want to know about their personal ancestry, so why not apply similar curiosity towards your company culture? While it may not be as scientifically sound, applying Aga’s questions to your own organization doesn’t cost $125 dollars or require sending your saliva to strangers.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis