Organizational culture is crucial for the future

We face so many ecological, social and governance issues. It feels overwhelming yet it’s crucial that we take time to upgrade ourselves and our organizations. Structures, processes, and strategy slow you down. Culture can help change the narrative and develop the core values, key behaviors and skills to create the future we want. If you work on a positive, learning, actionable and agile culture it speeds you up and helps achieve your positive purpose.

Watching the doom of the news headlines one thing becomes clear: humanity is facing huge challenges. We face an ecological crisis with global warming as our machines emit greenhouse gases, destabilize the weather, stir emigration from inhabitable areas, threat assets, cause pollution and diminish biodiversity – there’s a mass extinction going on right now.
At the same time, we face social challenges as inequality is increasing as the benefits and burdens of global capitalism are unevenly distributed around the world, but also within nations. Social inequality threatens fairness and cohesion and stability.
Social media makes it easier to stay within your bubble – creating polarization and an us-versus-them world. Democracies across the world are having a hard time reaching decisions that the majority agrees with, governments get stifled in bureaucracy.

What a time to be alive

The short abbreviation ESG for ecological, social and governance issues contains a world of challenges that cannot wait any longer. Yes, there’s time pressure involved as well. Every degree of global warming counts – it threatens life as we know it.

Even though that’s true, let’s not get discouraged and feel powerless. If you want to retrieve your personal power, also see my post on the Active Hope process.

We can act and mend some of the damage done and adapt to what is changed for good. As Lynne Twist says (in: Living a committed life): What a time to be alive! What we do collectively in the coming years will determine the future of the planet for perhaps thousands of years to come. That may sound daunting, overwhelming, or even burdensome. But my experience is that this view ennobles our lives and gives us the opportunity to live the most meaningful lives any generation has ever had.

Under pressure – upgrade!

Our organizations operate in this world and we are alive in this situation. The world is VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The more uncertainty, the more conflicts arise as everyone tries to make sense of new, shifting situations. It’s as if you’re trying to get your work done on a merry-go-round that’s speeding out of control – you feel dizzy and hang on to the edges to stay in the game. You can’t get much work done and you may feel stressed.

Eventually, we cannot thrive if the world is not thriving. And even though the number of crises can be overwhelming and the speed of developments is accelerating – it’s crucial that we take time to upgrade ourselves and our organizations.

We need to build resilience and skills, we need to learn and prepare ourselves to be well in this challenging, dynamic era. This goes for people and organizations.

A positive culture for learning and taking action

That’s why organizational culture matters even more now the world is speeding up, throwing unanticipated events at your organization that turn your market, your goals and targets upside down. Your structures based on the past, your processes, your strategy, your organizational pyramid may slow you down. Just look at the actual threats and opportunities out there, open your eyes, make sense of your collective observations and take action. Culture can help you do just that – and in time.

  • Culture conserves the core values that can guide quick decisions and priorities, even if there is no plan available or no senior to consult.
  • Culture conserves the “successful ways we do things around here” built on those values. So, you want to make sure that the culture appreciates “agile” key behaviors that foster openness, learning, taking swift action and owning your actions.
  • Culture strengthens trust and mutual support, respect, social safety and camaraderie. It’s the glue that makes people operate at speed, once you know, like, and trust each other. It’s why you want to go the extra mile – for great colleagues. Not for the stock market – just to make that clear. A positive culture might release some of the climate or social anxiety that people feel when we can talk about our concerns.
  • Culture fosters much needed skills such as respect, listening, appreciating differences, being kind, doing dialogue and creating meaning and purpose together. These skills are indispensable in our communities, societies, and democracies. We take our skills and mindsets from work back home. If the organizational culture is positive every employee carries these sparkling skills and can enlighten the world.

Moreover, a big threat that hinders solving the current ESG issues is polarization and extreme individualism. Dialogue can build bridges and helps to find common ground and build collective solutions and develop an us-and-them world. Let’s help people learn dialogue at work.

For such a positive culture you need positive leadership and you need to make time for organizational development. Not just once, as a project, but consistently. In the midst of the turmoil, organizations and people need an ongoing process of upgrading learning, observing, thinking, judging and acting. That’s why you need micro-changes or tiny habits – small things that you can think, repeat, do – even when you’re tired and busy. To identify what works now, you need mini-meetings with energizing interactions, you need quick alignment. (More on that in another blog post).

A positive purpose

But organizational culture can do more than this. It’s great to benefit the organization and its employees. But it’s even greater to benefit the world, to contribute positively to the great challenges of our time. As Lynne Twist says, we have the opportunity to live the most meaningful lives. We can make a difference, and we can also do that at work.

Culture conserves identity and story. Here are some questions to start seeing the power of culture:

  • What’s the dominant narrative about the world, about corporations and capitalism, on money, about ourselves and others? About the evolution of the world, where are we headed?
  • What’s the identity of your organization, how do all of you (all colleagues) see it? Why are we on earth as an organization?
    What is our organization’s role in an:

  • environmentally sustainable
  • socially just
  • spiritually fulfilling human presence on this planet?

If you think that’s a question outside of business: research shows that a positive culture aims for positive goals. A purpose that is meaningful unleashes the productivity and creativity of people at work. A positive culture that is contributing to the world reflects positively on the bottom line.
What’s more, if you are short on staff, turning your organization into a positive organization will attract talented professionals. People yearn for meaning and they love to make a difference.

By the way, anywhere you read the verb “conserve” you can replace it by “change”. A culture can evolve, improve, and change. A culture can change the narrative, core values, key behaviors. Organizational culture is not fixed in stone. If it is, then it’s a tomb. Get out or stir it back to life. Everything alive is constantly evolving.

  • In what direction do you want your organization’s culture to go?
  • Which narrative, core values, key behaviors need an upgrade?

I invite you to start the work. The dominant culture in the Western world plays a crucial role in the current ESG challenges. It’s time we upgrade our collective culture with its narrative, core values, and key behaviors to create the future we want.

We can start within our organizations, by upgrading and aligning our corporate cultures with the narrative and positive purpose of environmental sustainability, social justice, good governance, and spiritual fulfillment for co-workers, clients, and the world.

Let’s develop the associated values, key behaviors and skills that we need to achieve such a positive purpose. Let’s work on a positive, learning, actionable and agile culture that helps our organizations succeed and contribute.

© Marcella Bremer, 2023

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