Since the late 90’s and over the last decades we have been bombarded with buzz words, “hipster” ways of working and living etc. Our workplaces have undergone numerous changes in both managerial and social spheres, all under the banner of increased efficiency and improving the work environment. Yet regardless of what the goal is we often hear the term “Culture”.
So what is culture?
Culture is a pivotal concept in anthropology, which includes a range of phenomena that are transmitted through human societies by social learning.
Evident in the social behaviour and norms of human societies, culture is “the way of life” for groups of people which has been passed down through generations, often tightly linked and specific to the groups environment, history and even genetics (sickle cell anaemia). Their shared ideas, customs, procedures and their shared world view or perceptions.
In our modern lives, the most invasive and under-defined term used would have to be culture.
So why is this a problem?
The issue is that when most people use the term culture, they seem to regard it as a lever to effect change. The idea you can simply, enact new procedures and change the “Culture” of a company is flawed at best and potentially dangerous.
So why and how do people truly change?
Like evolution, Culture is the product of a change based in advantage. The better suited a species is to its environment, the more likely it will have an evolutionary advantage. Similarly Culture is gradually developed and evolved over time with the underlying driving force being an advantage, better social cohesion, support, robustness etc.
So if you wish to enable true and lasting changes such as “Culture” there must be a definite advantage. In the workplace this could be more pay, job security, better and clearly defined processes and therefore roles, better management and a greater sense of self worth in the companies landscape both socially and economically.
The idea that “culture” can be changed from the top down is doomed to failure because if the advantages of the changes are not obvious, why would anyone adopt them.
“What’s in it for me,” is the driving force behind all change, even Altruism. Without an advantage why would anyone change the way they do anything.
Culture is not a lever or process but the goal to attain an improvement and lasting change for the better which is reflected in the mechanisms we perform.