I t’s in our genes! I’m not kidding you. A group of scientists experts in evolutionary biology has published a study (1) where they ran sophisticated computer models showing how humans are instinctively programmed to internalize social norms under certain conditions. We are wired to follow unspoken social norms. The very definition of #culture: the unspoken rules. Crit·i·cal!!!

Human cooperation is part of who we are and how we have evolved as species. This study goes beyond and shows how, by creating certain social norms and conditions, decisions and behaviors can change based on personal choice, not by mandate. In other words, under the right set of social norms and values, individuals will instinctively choose to behave in a certain way.

Strategic plans, apart from poor execution, fail for two fundamental -and very human- reasons:

  1. No matter how bottom-up the process is designed to appear, everybody knows this is a top-down explicit plan (versus culture, the implicit unspoken rules that everybody follows). A new CEO comes in? Unless s/he is very committed to culture as a key element in the organization, the culture will take care of the CEO’s plans too, eventually. This is not about creating ad-hoc employee engagement for this particular strategic plan, but having a long-term view and commitment to culture itself.
  2. Strategic Plans mistakenly tend to overtake the power of organizational culture by imposing new organizational structures and processes, which will be chewed as “the flavor of the month” and spat out before dawn.

I remember talking to one of my assistants when I was working for a former employer, and he told me “we are all waiting for a new restructuring announcement; there is always one every two years, and it coincides with the middle point of every strategic plan”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I just came from a meeting where the leadership team – including me-, had decided to bundle a bunch of organizational announcements in a single email, so we could make these changes more palatable to our employees, instead of the drip-drip of constant change. How wrong! We were precisely feeding the beast of “restructuring every two years” instead of adjusting as we go.

If you are in the C-suite, or in a talent/HR function, I have two suggestions for you where you can begin to make a difference now and in the future:

  • Focus on measuring organizational culture (OCM, organizational culture measurement). There are ways to do it, and you shouldn’t shy away from trying it. If you don’t measure culture (too intangible), it will never be part of your management priorities. In a digital world, marry “evidence-based” practices with user-friendly systems like Emplify, so culture never goes unmeasured and unmanaged.
  • Put in place easy-to-use Organizational Alignment Systems (OAS) like Khorus. I can’t tell you how many times in my previous jobs we tried (and developed in-house) management dashboards that were so difficult to implement. Now you can acquire affordable SaaS solutions that will let you see, transparently, how aligned the organization is and quickly solve any misalignments.

#BeWise and understand that human cooperation is innate, and your attention to setting and measuring the right organizational culture and alignment, including conditions, values, and norms is the best way to changing human behavior and getting results. And rest assured that if you don’t actively, intentionally and rigorously pay attention to culture and alignment, someone else will do it for you. Don’t let it in the hands of others to create culture and alignment, it’s the job of the leader to do so.

Please do not hesitate to ask questions about OCM or OAS. I’ll be happy to help.

(1) National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). (2017, May 23). The right thing to do: Why do we follow unspoken group rules? Researchers study the power of social norms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170523083301.htm