Culture Is Not A Curry, So Why Look For A Recipe?

Culture Is Not A Curry, So Why Look For A Recipe?

Transforming culture is not about getting together a few ingredients and mixing them in a pot till a great aroma emerges.


Anamika had recently taken up a new role as a Culture Transformation Lead and was bombarded with questions about her role in the organisation. Some oldtimers perceived her as a witch on a broom, while the management wanted her to be a fairy with a magic wand. Relatively new employees looked up to her as an ally to get their agendas addressed. Overwhelmed, Anamika decided to escape for a short vacation at an unknown destination. Friday morning saw Anamika at the porch wearing her trekking attire and carrying her huge backpack.


She boarded a town bus and looked around to find herself surrounded by passengers from the countryside. “Oh, these country folks! I am sure they will be a noisy lot,” she said as she settled onto a seat. The elderly woman seated next to her smiled and said, “So, my dear, this is what you think of us? It means you do not know us!” This made Anamika think, “Has my perception about them become a bias?”


“Bang on, Anamika!” she exclaimed to herself. “What is the genesis of culture? It starts with perceptions built on random incidents. Eventually, they become biases that get crystallised as beliefs. Sometimes these indelible beliefs leave a mark on the culture.” These thoughts rang a bell in Anamika’s mind, and she almost jumped out of the bus like Archimedes shouting, “Eureka, Eureka!”


Anamika had found her answer! Culture in an organisation is what the employees experience. Culture is a manifestation of behaviours that result from beliefs that have grown from biases that have evolved from perceptions! So, if one has to drive cultural transformation in an organisation, it is meaningless to focus all efforts on changing behaviours that are only visible symptoms at the surface level. It is crucial to go deeper and find out more about how the perceptions were formed in the first place. What does it take to implement cultural transformation in organisations? Anamika was so excited about her spark of thought that she abandoned her vacation and immediately returned to work.


Step 1: Assess Current state


Rummaging through her first 90 days of notes and the various snippets in her laptop, Anamika summarised the current cultural state in her organisation. She jotted down bullet points that included evident symbols of power, bureaucratic processes, arduous policies, managers who were approachable but fancied micromanagement, etc. The assessment of the current state not only told her what she needed to get deeper into but also how she needed to go about doing it.


Step 2: Define Desired State


Anamika desired a culture of reduced power distance, in which each one treated the other as an adult. A survey of all employees also indicated that people were tired of being treated as adolescents at the workplace. They wanted to be able to make decisions and drive the business. They did not fancy micromanagement at all. Anamika got her stakeholders together and chalked out the desired state for cultural transformation.


Step 3: Cultural Transformation Journey


As Anamika embarked on this journey, she pulled out insightful findings from Step 1 and worked with her stakeholders to review and revamp how work happened in the company. It was imperative to carry out a thorough process audit and review each procedure to see if the perceptions could be addressed by making changes in them. Considering the complexity of the organisation, Anamika first conducted a pilot. After noticing obvious shifts in the culture driven by changes in governance mechanisms and how work worked, she took the bigger step of extrapolating it across the organisation.


Step 4: Implementation of Change


It is crucial to have clarity of direction and leadership buy-in before full-fledged implementation. Once a fertile ground is prepared, the organisation is ready for execution. Culture transformation is all about going deeper into the ways of governance and working in the organisation. It requires a systematic walk-through of all the policies, procedures and guidelines and their revision along the lines of the desired culture state.


Step 5: Communication and Roll-Out


In Anamika’s case, it was important for her to deal with her colleagues’ perceptions about her. It ranged from being management’s devil to employees’ ally. Communicating the need for culture transformation as an employee value proposition seemed like a good thing to do. Anamika decided to get the leadership to address this in the town hall so that all employees understand the criticality of the change and are also serious about it since the business demands it.


That was quite an exhaustive roadmap that Anamika had charted for herself. She pondered over it once again. What looked like an obvious need to nudge appropriate behaviours ultimately turned out to be a deeper effort on the drivers of the behaviours. So if culture transformation is not as simple as a curry, why are we looking for quick recipes?


Transforming culture is not about getting together a few ingredients and mixing them in a pot till the aroma of a great culture emerges. It is all about getting down to the roots, unearthing the real reason behind the existing culture, and taking corrective steps to make it more relevant to the desired culture state. This entails a lot of weeding, pruning and trimming an organisation’s ways of working.


Bringing about culture change is as laborious as nurturing a seed in a pot till it grows into a fine plant that bears fruits and flowers. Though arduous, isn’t nurturing to sustain the culture more fruitful than just brushing the surface? Think about it.

Harini Sreenivasan is a Business Transformation Evangelist, a Neuroscience Enthusiast, Design Thinker, Storyteller, and Behavioural Scientist. Unlocking human potential is her forte, and she practices resilience as a life skill. With her ability to drive engagement with people and power of positivity, she is an influencer both to industry and academia


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