“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals, which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organisation.” – Richard Perrin
I spent a wonderful day in Belfast this week with a group of Housing Organisations. It was refreshing as I got to talk not about tech and social media – but of leadership and culture.
We often bemoan the lack of adoption of innovative practices across the public sector and local government. But less often do we examine the reason why.
One of them is they just aren’t ready for the latest innovation.
The culture of some organisations is superbly designed to repel anything new. Even if you let it in the organisational antibodies would surround it – killing it in no time. Like the common cold – you may get away with being a bloody great irritant for a while – but against a strong body you’ve no chance long term.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit lots of organisations doing presentations on the Bromford culture – usually with my co-presenter Helena Moore (who recruited me long ago and did many of the slides above).
We date our cultural journey from about 2000 – although truth be told a lot of the way we do things were laid out well before then.
Here are four things I’ve picked up about culture and innovation along the way:
Leadership is critical
You simply cannot create a culture of innovation if your leadership is not on side. As I’ve said before , if you’ve tried to change executive attitudes and the CEO still doesn’t get it – you have only one option.
Leave the company.
It’s a noble task to continue the fight – but futile. Find somewhere where your energy and passions will be put to better use.
The private sector is not more innovative than the public sector.
There’s good and bad in both. However the private sector has got greater self belief and tends to source ideas better from customers and colleagues. The public sector , which can be prone to increased bureaucracy and risk aversion, is more likely to smother people’s natural creativity. When you’ve had an idea crushed for the 100th time it’s only human to stop telling people about them. Value all colleague and customer ideas – and have a disciplined approach to testing them out.
Being publicly funded is no excuse to be as boring as hell.
Mission and values set a tone for creativity.
If you’re doing it right they become more than words on paper. They become a call to action and set a behaviour for the organisation. We ditched our mission and values when we realised they were exactly the same as hundreds of others. We asked colleagues to come up with something that they could believe in and remember.
They came up with the DNA – Be Different, Be Brave , Be Commercial , Be Good. They’ve been made hashtag friendly so people use them in social conversations. Others have attached their own personal meaning to the words.
It defines us. At Bromford we don’t use the word department (it’s team) we don’t call people staff (they are colleagues) , we don’t say tenants (they’re customers). I’m frequently challenged on the latter when I use it on Twitter. But I have been for over 10 years! Let your organisational language evolve for you and ignore those who sneer or pick fault. Be different.
Never believe your hype.
No matter what awards you win. No matter how many customers say you are brilliant – never ever believe it. The right cultures blend respect for their tradition with a healthy paranoia about the future. Your history counts for nothing tomorrow.
On 24th October is was our Bromford Bash – a gathering that we feel is culturally important enough to bring 1200 colleagues together.
CEOs come and go these days but Mick has headed up Bromford for 30 years. That’s longer than many of our customers and colleagues have been alive. He’s been an immense keeper of the culture.
He’s one of the few CEOs I could confidently pitch an Innovation Lab to with the words “Look , 75% of what we do will fail”. But I knew I wouldn’t be shown the door.
Innovation is most likely to take hold where strong leadership coexists with healthy financial viability and a well managed approach to risk.
As Mick said on Twitter recently “I never wanted us to be like everyone else …always proud to be different”.
What a journey.
I guess the next one has just begun.