Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


Business Development: Culture Matters

That's not the way we do things around here ...

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At Asentiv, we've been thinking a lot about our culture as we prepare for the introduction of our exciting new services ...

Our culture gives us our sense of belonging and grounds us in what is acceptable and normal!

Our culture gives us our sense of belonging and grounds us in what is acceptable and normal!

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Recently, a consultant in organisational change shared with me why his heart sank at the thought of what was on his slideshow. The phrase, "Why are you talking about culture? That's not the way we do things around here" were received from business owners often, and he found it a wholely disheartening situation.

Lyn Howard, our COO, calls it "the Asentiv DNA". It's our way of thinking, our values and beliefs and the resultant behaviours that are common across the company. They influence not only how we think and behave, but the meaning we give to them.

Our culture also gives us our sense of belonging and grounds us in what is acceptable and normal. This is quite important for a diverse international company. Of course, how we express that culture here in middle England differs from how our colleagues from, say, Italy would apply it. However, we recognise and resonate to the underlying principles that we all share.

Much of our culture is so deeply embedded in our unconscious that we are not aware of its impact. We use this process to our clients' advantage by constantly immersing them in the methods we use until it is, "just the way we do business". We know when clients reach that unconscious competence together with their close business relationships that a common culture emerges and they've captured the Asentiv DNA. The result of all this is that it all gets easier for them.

However, we are also sensitive to the need for flexibility and to be aware that cultures develop over time, Whilst we are shaped by our own culture we also have the power to shape it. And culture can take shape in ways that are different from those intended.

So, this week I thought I'd share with you three stories from my past work where different aspects of culture had a bearing on the problem. I don't have clever solutions, I just wanted to remind us all to pay attention to, "the way we do things around here", and whilst it bonds us, it can also divide us.

  • Firstly John. A new and enthusiastic managing director, the owner of a fast growing It company. He set up an open plan office and added hot desking and flexible hours, including working from home (10 years ago before it became common) to create a team atmosphere. He complained to me that he was running out of office space as the staff didn't take advantage of the fact they didn't need to be there.

    Then he said, "I'm amazed most of them are already here in the morning before I arrive at 7am and still here when I leave late into the evening". I noticed that he was in the open-plan office, but his desk was in a circular glass-walled space in the centre of the room so he could see all around and feel part of the team. He also never spoke to anyone on arriving or leaving so as not to disturb them and would email them to come to his office if he needed to talk to them.

    The result was that staff felt they were being watched all the time and made sure he could see them beavering away and, of course, the first to arrive got a desk to work from! So, the working day got earlier and earlier. A very different interpretation of signs and symbols about the culture than he intended.

  • Next up, there's Alan. The managing director of a small company who complained he couldn't keep a manager for long. Every time he recruited someone, the new person would leave after a week or so. It transpired that on the first Friday after they started, some of the staff would get the manager in the coffee room and persuade them not to come back on Monday! No threats ... just that, "we don't need you here".

    Now, Alan was very proud that his company was 'one big happy family' and so it was ... as long as you were a member of the family. His staff loved him as the father figure and resented an outsider coming between him and them. The role of culture deciding what is and isn't acceptable has been referred to as the immune system for a social group. Identifying and removing the outsiders who might be a threat.

  • The last tale I'll tell I always think is very sad as something was lost, which was irrecoverable. Re-organising the health service meant three small rural hospitals being closed and a brand spanking new District General Hospital replacing them. I had joined the staff of one just before the move. This small hospital had a little staff canteen which had three long trestle tables, and everyone sat and had coffee or lunch wherever a space on the bench seating allowed.

    This meant that the consultant staff to switchboard operator and all hierarchical layers in between sat and talked together. A lot of problems got resolved at those tables, and equally importantly, a respect for each other was evident, which reflected in the way everyone contributed. It was a happy place to work.

    On the first day of opening the new hospital, a walk into the restaurant told you things had changed. Everyone sat on tables of four within their own professional group and place in the pecking order. All chose a seat as far away from where others were already seated as they could get. Communications and informal problem solving took a nosedive.

For those of you who like more in-depth reading, here's a good article on the subject of culture by Boris Groysberg et al. 2018 in the Harvard Business Review

If you'd like to find out more about the exciting new plans from Asentiv and how we can help insprire the culture in your business, do give me a call on 07970 638857 or click here to ping me an email and let's see how I can help you.

Until next time ...


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