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When people first get exposed to our approach to creating and driving culture intentionally, they're often struck by how simple it is. "It just makes sense," they frequently say, as if that should be a surprise. And yet, when things are simple, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking there must be something missing because it isn't overly complex.

I recently came across this blog post, written by Bruce Terkel, and I thought it was really insightful. In it, Terkel points out that when things are simple, they help us to see issues more clearly because we don't get lost in the superfluous. He also astutely notes that it actually takes tremendous sophistication to make things simple.

Why is it so important to keep things simple? I think there are 3 reasons:
  • Simple concepts are easier for people to understand and to embrace.
  • Simple concepts are easier to implement.
  • Simple concepts are easier to sustain.

Why Does Culture Appear So Complex?

While sometimes people make things complicated in order to intimidate others by proving how smart they are or to justify their existence, I think the complexity that often surrounds culture is much less intentional. Rather, I think the confusion is more related to the abstract nature of the word. For most people, it's just a hard word to get our arms around.

In my experience, the key to making culture less abstract and more actionable is defining it in terms of behaviors. I've written and spoken many times about the notion that the clearest definition of your organization's culture comes from looking at how your people behave on a day-to-day basis. Where values and beliefs tend to be pretty vague, behaviors are concrete, observable, and even measurable.

Culture As Behavior

As soon as we see culture in terms of behavior, the path to culture change becomes infinitely simpler. If we want to change behavior, we have to be tremendously clear about what behavior we want to see, and we have to create a systematic way to teach it over and over again so that the desired behavior becomes internalized.

Contributed by David Friedman, author of Fundamentally Different


Larry Hart

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