Culture and climate

We often hear our clients talking about culture. And people say individuals can't change a culture.

In my mind, changing culture is a bit like eating the proverbial elephant - a little at a time.

Instead of thinking only about culture, it's important to consider the climate too. That we can influence.

Culture is probably something stemming from the organisation. But climate, that's what's happening here in this room, right now.

You can influence climate at the start of the day, for example, by whether or not you smile and make eye contact. 

Climate is affected by whether or not you take an interest in others not just yourself. Effective leaders are like actors. They think before they enter a room and focus on what matters not on themselves alone. A smile is the simplest act.

Icebreakers affect climate. They might not affect culture, at least in the short-term, but they can and do change the climate. That's why basic politeness and making sure everyone knows everyone's names is so crucial. It should also set an appropriate hierarchy gradient.

I recently spent some time working with critical teams in an NHS hospital north of London.

They had been working with an interim unit manager, and I was told this individual had some perfectly valid ideas. But the way they presented their ideas was very aggressive, very authoritarian, and managed to destroy morale in the team.

Everyone was left feeling hacked off. The effect was palpable.

A new manager, above this theatre manager in the hierarchy of the hospital, was appointed and got straight to work doing what I thought was an excellent thing.

First of all, they asked the clinicians and staff what they thought. They had also heard from the chief executive that members of the team were unimpressed, but they took the time to speak to individuals to understand their views.

I heard from someone else that this approach gave the new manager tremendous credibility. Engaging like this with the front-line staff, while not entirely unheard of within the NHS, is it seems , all too rare, particularly of course in dysfunctional areas.

And the front line staff all told the new manager, "We're finding it impossible to work with this manager. They've made life here very unpleasant." The services of the team manager were swiftly dispensed with.

Fortunately, they were agency staff, so this process was straightforward, and the individual responsible for the negative climate was dismissed within a couple of days. It's at this point they asked Atrainability to come in, to work on a rebuild.

It was a very pleasurable experience because there was nothing wrong with the people themselves. They weren't in any trouble for making frequent mistakes, so our role was very much to emphasise the positives.

On that note, a small but very positive thing happened while I was there.

I asked, "What makes your day go so well here?". A couple of people in this room of 30 pointed to their new theatre manager, and said, "You know, Bill has made such a difference. He's so good to work with."

I had just been talking about the difficulty people experience in accepting praise, and of course, Bill turned to them and said, "No, no, no. It's not me; it's you!", the typical response we expect to see from those who struggle to accept praise.

I didn't say a word at that point, because it could have caused Bill some embarrassment but then when we broke for tea this happened: Bill asked if he could say something to the room.

Bill turned to his colleagues and said, "I've just done exactly what Trevor said. I shrugged off your praise. What an example! I just want to say to everyone; thank you so much for saying nice things about me."

It was a fantastic learning point; unscripted, but he had just gained another level of self-awareness.

Everyone in the room appreciated it because they saw a real-world demonstration taking place right in front of them. And we all had a really good laugh, with an immediate positive change taking place to the climate in that room.

It just shows what happens when you emphasise the obvious.

This is the reinforcing that leaders of critical teams need to carry out. They need to accept praise too, and then react accordingly, being a role model for their teams.

Remember, you can have a personal impact on the climate, every day.

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Hierarchy and behaviour issues

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