It’s an apocryphal story of course, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I am sure it never happened, but something like it could happen. If it ever did happen it definitely wasn’t a police officer’s helmet.
It’s the idea that there was once a company where the senior leaders started to wear a police officer’s helmet to work each day. The first day everyone saw, but couldn’t believe they saw…didn’t say anything to anyone else, but smiled a bemused smile to themselves.
By the end of the first week, people had started talking to each other about this new head attire…how bizarre their leaders looked; how it didn’t make any sense; how it surely brought the company into disrepute; how they couldn’t believe it. People laughed with each other about the hats…a confused laugh. No-one said anything to the leaders.
It was sometime in the second or third week that the first new person came to work proudly wearing a police officer’s hat. They knew they looked smart. They felt they looked the part…more like a leader. After all, if this dress code worked for their leaders then it had to work for them as well.
Day by day, week by week, the numbers of hat wearers increased. No-one laughed any more. Anyone who resisted could be seen smiling a jealous – and slightly anxious – smile to themselves.
Culture is reflective. Organisational culture is reflective of leaders of that culture. Colleagues in an organisation look up. We look up. We look up to see and hear what our leaders are doing and saying…and how they are doing and saying those things. The unguarded actions are seen and remembered. The ‘off the cuff’ response, or unprepared words, are heard and repeated.
A classic line of many a parent is ‘don’t do as I do…do as I say’. This could possibly work for parents (although I can’t remember it ever doing so for me) but it never works for leaders in an organisation. Our first action if we want to understand the culture – let alone change a culture – would be to hold up a mirror in front of our faces. What do we see?
I thought more about culture this past week as I contemplated 2013 organisational goals and 2013 personal resolutions. On the latter I decide to stop sending late night emails (although I didn’t define late night). This one was as much about what example I set as it was anything to do with issues associated with emails I send.
On the former I am every bit as passionate about people and culture as I am about scientific and organizational delivery. Every bit as committed to internal colleagues as I am external partners. It is, after all, our people who do the work that advances our science and delivers our performance. It’s our internal colleagues who partner with our external colleagues.
Our culture is how things are done. How things were done last year or the year before was as good as it possibly could have been then…but how we do things in 2013 has to be different. It can’t be the same. Our industry has moved on – we face more and different challenges. Our external partners have moved on – we have opportunity to add more value and deliver more benefit.
The good news is that or culture is not defined by a dress code (we don’t all have to wear strange hats or even neck-ties). Our culture is all about trust – it’s about asking for help and offering support. Our culture is all about team work – it’s about doing as much for others as we do for ourselves.