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Party Hats

“All generalisations are false.”

A couple of years ago we had the most amusing start to the traditional Christmas Day turkey dinner.  At the appointed time we all sat down, as usual, proceeded to pour a glass of something cold and sparkling, undo our napkins, and then each of us took hold of a shiny tube and pulled one end or the other in pairs. 

All but one of us were in complete synchronism, each retrieving a paper hat from the tube and putting it on our head while groaning and reading some apparently rather un-funny jokes to each other and unwrapping some totally useless small gifts. 

 

“The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

One of the party was simply looking on as if a family of aliens had just landed and they looked just like people she knew.  For the British among us, we would nod our heads and say “we are a funny lot aren’t we”, while our daughter-in-law from the US looked on incredulously, having never seen such a spectacle unfold before in her life. 

The difference here is of course just one of many cultural differences between the two countries.  Why would anyone want to drive on the pavement for goodness sake, or turn “Right on Red”! 

I experienced a similar difference in culture when living in France some years ago.  In France, there is none of the “eat your lunch at your desk” going on.  Rather the cultural norm is to have at least an hour for lunch, and for some families, they have their main meal of the day at lunchtime and don’t bother with a meal in the evening. 

 

“Fish Can’t See Water”
~ Kai Hammerich & Richard D. Lewis

Culture is something that we don’t notice when we are in it.  When I started work after graduation the only corporate culture I knew was that of the company that had sponsored me through my university course.  Here the culture was in the main a “no frills” culture, especially when it came to office equipment.  When moving from one office to another it was accepted that you would probably take any decent furniture with you that you could – chairs, filing cabinets, a desk tidy, and so on.  If someone left the company there would be an inevitable clutch of vultures looking for a furniture upgrade.

After I moved on to my next company, I was in for quite a culture shock.  Every desk pod was identical.  The same make and type of 5 wheeled chairs, ergonomically shaped desk, roller front filing cabinet, under-desk drawer unit and telephone.  Identical.  I remember sitting at my first desk, adjusting the height and back mechanism – both of which worked – and trying to contain a broad smile.  A college who had come from the same previous company spotted me and knew exactly what I was thinking. 

 

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”
~ Mark Twain

Just as there is a cultural difference in the office furniture, there is also a difference in other aspects of company culture.  For a while, I was responsible for selling a high-security online client database solution that was used both by National Government organisations and by Third Sector organisations.  Although it would be untrue to make stereotypes, and as we know “All generalisations are false” in my experience I observed two largely different cultures. 

In one, there was an appetite to find a solution that would bring enhanced clinical safety with a reduction in overall costs incurred, a search for improvements and efficiencies by focusing on what’s left to be done.  For the other there seemed to be an appetite to ensure that a “fair and equitable procurement process” was followed, accountability was maintained and monitoring of work output was a key priority.

Of course, there were differences from one organisation to another, but it was really interesting to see how each organisational culture brought with it different procurement rules, different priorities expected from the product, and different ways of using the product. 

“Leaders who can identify, hire, and cultivate employees who are humble, hungry, and smart will have a serious advantage over those who cannot.”
~Patrick Lencioni
(The Ideal Team Player)

Company culture can have an enormous effect on the attitudes and ethics of all staff in an organisation, and it is important not only to be intentional in formulating and promulgating the desired culture but also to know and understand what the prevailing culture has become, to take the pulse of the organisation regularly to ensure that it maintains and retains a healthy culture. 

Patrick Lencioni tells a great story about company culture, and how to recognise and cultivate the three essential virtues in his book “The Ideal Team Player”.  The book makes a lovely easy read and is well worth the time to do so.

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.