First, let me say Happy New Year! I hope 2009 is prosperous, aligned, conscious and very busy for all!

Last year, we were answering some of the questions posed in our Cultural Beliefs post. Before being interrupted by tagging and holidays, we had delved a little deeper into the first two questions in If You Think You Can and I Strongly Believe.

As we discussed the next two questions amongst our group, it became clear that they were interdependent. We decided that we would look closer at: Have they been checked on a regular basis for course correction? and, Are the organizations concerned about the beliefs, not just as stated but also as realized in the day-to-day, mid and long term behaviours of the organizations? together, to avoid the chicken/egg quandary…If the company is not checking they are not concerned, if they are not concerned they are not checking.

Organizations move forward based on beliefs; beliefs about what they can do, what they want to do, what will help them do it, and what will stop them from doing it. Companies will go through the process, formally or informally, at least once of determining their beliefs, their goals, their processes and their constraints. But, do they check the pulse frequently, if at all, to ensure that the beliefs and behaviours continue to be aligned? It would seem that the Big 3 fall into the infrequent, if at all, category.

There are various tools, methods, and thinking available to help people probe underlying assumptions and beliefs. We apply our Cultural Impact process to help organizations gain visibility on their strengths, opportunities, and alignments; and to allow them to review these areas to consciously choose those which they want to continue, modify, or leave. As business leaders you can begin checking what your cultural pulse is through dialogue…ask questions whenever you get the chance. Probe for understanding, for knowledge, for behaviour, for capability, and for alignment – walking the talk.

There are also various ways available to probe the alignment of behaviours to beliefs. From Continuous Improvement to Theory of Constraints, the thinking all points to ongoing review of practises and behaviours for optimal performance. Review processes with the idea that constraints don’t actually disappear; day-to-day business is not static so constraints can regularly change, or show up in other areas once addressed. The same probes listed above for beliefs apply to processes, but in particular you want to ask “why” questions. Finding out why someone does something in a particular way provides the key to looking into what they believe, and ultimately the key to visibility of opportunities, barriers and constraints.

Often, behaviours in the form of processes, how we do what we do, are treated as low-lying fruit solutions. However, modifying behaviours without addressing the underlying assumption is like decorating a cardboard box with cake icing – it may look good for a while, but as soon as you dig deeper disappointment is sure to set in. The cake is found in checking the pulse often on both the behaviours and the beliefs, and moving to alignment where required.

Not checking your pulse has a tendency to create false urgency – or no urgency. Is complacency at work, are you singing the songs of your last success? What are you doing to generate and sustain an authentic or real sense of urgency? Have the Big 3 moved from complacency only to spin in false urgency?

Desired behaviours for authentic urgency:

  • Clear vision of where you are going and a commitment to moving towards it every day, versus putting out fires and frantic meetings
  • Purposeful, inspired, ongoing action – as a function of understanding the intention and holding to the desired outcome, versus sacrificing the journey – you can’t get to the end by giving up the means, this will affect the quality of the end
  • Thoughtful communication and collaboration versus the frenzied exchange of endless PowerPoint presentations

We check our assumptions regularly from a discipline standpoint as one of our execution capabilities – because we know they are not static.

Culture is collective reaction to the outside – when you get to the place where you are an institution and are not moved because you are so big, there is no impetus to respond in an agile way. The consensus on at least two of the Big 3 is that their refusal to re-evaluate and course correct their beliefs in alignment with their goals, they have no real urgency and find themselves hat in hand again.

As Mark J. Perry noted in his blog: Lessons from 1979 Chrysler Bailout, “Instead, the bailout and import quotas fooled the automakers into thinking they could keep doing business as usual.”

Don’t be fooled into doing anything, check your organizations pulse on a regular basis for course correction. You know what they say happens when we assume…