It happened a couple of years back when I was on vacation. I received an invitation for speaker engagement over a weekend. Who take formals on vacation? It was an eleventh hour request from a very respected business association on organization culture and innovation. I could not reject that invitation. I borrowed a trouser from my friend for attending this event.
While washing the borrowed trouser, it was spoiled by color of my father’s trouser. I was on vacations and markets were closed as weekly closure. I had no choice but to wear this borrowed trouser for this presentation. On a lighter note – I am not such a bad friend who will borrow your cloths and spoil them ;). I do not do such things often.
Since the presentation was on a short notice, I had been thinking for examples on my toes. This peculiar situation helped me understand a trait of organization culture. In fact I used this to make a point about organizational culture as well as my weird dressing; yes I wore that trouser for presentation.
For explanation let me call these trousers – borrowed trouser as T1 and my father’s trouser as T2.
The original color of T2 was washed away easily. However; when the same color stuck on T1 the color did not wash that easily. I had no choice but to wear the spoiled pant – T1. My father’s trouser – T2 was not my size. Well what I learnt about organizational culture from this incident was this –
- Building a good organization culture takes time and this cultural habit needs to stick with the organization. As the color should have stuck to the trouser T2.
- If the activity of culture building is not taken seriously, the wrong habits may stick more often than the right habits. Wrong habit here relates to the color on T2 that spoiled the borrowed trouser T1. The bad habits leave a bad impression, make amendment difficult, time consuming and in worst case impossible.
Right organization culture is very important for any organization, but it does not get built overnight. Once the culture is built, it is difficult to change it.
If the color on the trouser T2 were strong, it would not have spoiled the borrowed trouser T1. It is easy to mold new employees to the organization culture. It is possible for new employees to get molded to the existing organization culture like my borrowed trouser T1 got spoiled.
If an organization wants to maintain certain culture it has to depict this culture everywhere in its dealings. Be it treating its employees, clients, vendors and the whole society. The way an organization executes its business –operations, policies, analytical thinking, innovation and following laws of the land et al sets the tone.
Coming back to the trousers, it was later impossible to wash away the spot of colors on T1. I did two things –
- Bought a new trouser for my friends
- I got trouser T1 colored in dark color. Trouser became like new, I gave it back to my friend.
Alas! this is not possible for an organization.
Just imagine had the trouser T1 been an organization, what would have been the situation, impact and performance of the company. I was in an easy situation, solution was quick and effective. Imagine the management of the organization if they get into a bad organizational culture, it won’t be that easy to change the culture.
It is said that old habits die hard. It is better to form good habits in the start itself. However, it is never too late, sometimes organization needs to make tough choices, change is always fought by the established norms, and therefore it becomes difficult to bring change. If senior management wants the change to become a norm they need to lead by example. Say for example if management wants to inculcate data driven culture in organization, management has to make it clear to everyone – “every decision should be backed by data, no decision will be made by gut feel or random idea”.
Bottom line for startups and entrepreneurs – if you color trouser T2 well, trouser T1 wont be get spoiled. If you take care of the organization culture from the start it is easy to maintain it.
Image source – http://www.actiongroup.com.ar/cambio-cultural/
Thanks to Nilesh Yeram, my colleague who suggested using the above image.
Originally I have published this article on LinkedIn here, this article is modified here.