There are two cultures that exist in your organization today. The formal and the informal and Its the informal one that you should be thinking about. Because its in this space where most people operate. It’s how work gets done, it’s where people talk and most importantly it’s what people feel. Your informal culture is more nuanced and more susceptible to change. If you’re putting all of your effort into your formal culture and neglecting the informal, you’re missing the boat. Even worse, if your formal culture is completely out of touch or misaligned with the way things really work, then your selling BS to your people. And trust me, they know it.
We’ve all seen it and experienced it. Your senior leader is focused so heavily on the vision and mission that they’re not paying attention to what’s around them and how things really operate. Sometimes they’re too hung up on titles, formality and bureaucracy. This is when work breaks down, trust erodes and the negativity can become pervasive. It becomes a vicious cycle and it breeds further negativity into the informal culture. Once this happens, things can get away from you pretty quickly. Everything gets analyzed … every interaction, every subtlety and every decision.
So be wary of your informal culture and be cognizant of what’s around you and how you interact with everyone, because you’re under a microscope. Don’t forget the little people and don’t play favorites with your folks. I saw this play out with a friend last week. A senior leader of the organization runs into two people she knows and decides to focus all of her attention on one, while only briefly acknowledging the other. Gives a hug and a huge hello to one, gives a glare and a hollow ‘hi’ to the other. How does that play in the informal culture? What’s the story that morning on your floor now? It’s that you don’t care about all your people, you play obvious favorites and worse you may be perceived as fake.
Don’t let this undermine your team, your good work or your formal culture. Be aware, be alert and most importantly, be real. Because your informal culture is, and if your not, its going to be known.