Adaptive Culture

In my experience, most Leaders don’t understand how to change the culture. They think it can be manipulated either through a methodology of control and positional authority, or by using finesse and charm. As a result, their efforts to bring about change take the culture in the opposite direction than was intended. Rosabeth Moss Kanter ( put forth that ‘the organizations that survive will be fast, focused, flexible and friendly.’ So, how can you build a culture that could be characterized as this adaptive and responsive on a continuum? It’s difficult to understand why so many Leaders still don’t have clarity around what a ‘culture’ really is. We all need to know that culture is the shared value system of people as it’s manifested in their behavior. If you’ve read any of my previous work, interacted with anyone that’s worked with me in the past or present, or visited my site, you’ll see that my focus has always been on culture, specifically character and behavior as it relates to individuals and organizations. All individuals, groups and organizations have a ‘culture’ in that they share certain values and behaviors that are consistent between and among them. Trusting relationships are at the core of adaptive capability. In order to have a responsive culture, it must be based upon principles that are changeless. Principles that guide character, behavior and decision-making must be shared by the majority in order to adapt on a continuum to dynamics in both the internal and external environment, which are also accelerating on a continuum. Unless you have a changeless core, you can’t be adaptive to these dynamics. The most significant obstacle to an adaptive culture is what I call the ‘RC Factor’, or Resistance to Change. This is a culture in and of itself that becomes embedded in individuals and organizations as a result of three things that I see on a regular basis in working with both: (1) an unwillingness to confront the reality of current state, (2) a culture of enablement rather than accountability, and (3) a failure to recognize that doing nothing endangers everyone under the influence of that culture. Adaptability and flexibility require a higher level of trust, but also empowerment, which most Leaders are unwilling to give away out of fear or insecurity. The way to test the adaptability of any culture is to force people at the lowest level out of their standard operating comfort level by asking them to accommodate change. You’ll find out very quickly that when a new structure or discipline is put in place, all the dysfunctions immediately rise to the surface. Truth be told, you can do a lot in the short run with control and positional authority, or with finesse and charm. However, in the long-run, building and maintaining trusting relationships will always submit to shared cultural values and principles.

Published by The Leadership Consortium

Maxie Carpenter was formerly Vice President of HR & Talent Development for Wal-Mart Stores. After a 27-year career, he began to pursue a number of other interests, which included alternative education, nonprofits, consulting, writing and public speaking.

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