Your latest fad isn’t your culture

I’ve written many times about the love of a fad in leadership and management, we like nothing more than a new thing. Over the years I’ve been asked numerous times what it is about the particular organisation that I’m working in that I think makes it so great. And whilst I know the expectation is that I succinctly outline two or three things that are widely replicable and can be quoted under the heading, “How xxx created their xxx”, my answers tend to be a bit more shambolic – “it’s complicated, it’s a million small things, there’s no silver bullet”.

I was listening to the radio last week when Monzo announced that they were introducing a new sabbatical policy. Tara Ryan (their People Experience Director) was being interviewed on the topic and made the point perfectly, and I paraphrase here, that the challenge wasn’t that other organisations should copy what they’re doing but instead should think about what they can do to support colleague wellbeing. And yet, I’m sure we will now see countless organisations launch their own new sabbatical policies over the next few months in the traditional corporate dick-swinging response to a headline.

We’ve seen it so many times over the years, unlimited annual leave, duvet days, learning accounts, total flexible benefits and of course (whisper it) hybrid working. And I’ll put it bluntly, if you think these things are going to fix your culture you are both wrong and a little bit stupid. That isn’t to say that each in their own doesn’t have some merit, in some organisations and some point in time. But if you are serious about improving your organisational culture then you are better off spending your time focussing on the million small pieces of feedback, looking at the trends and focusing on how you can make every working hour of every working day just a tiny bit better for the majority of your colleagues.

Organisations are different with different needs and different experiences. And so our focus needs to be on doing what we can to make them better, not mindlessly copying others. The reality is that most of the drivers of culture our outside the hands of HR or people teams, they can’t be fixed with a thing. But they can be moved on by constantly having the conversation, keeping it at the front of peoples minds, doing the hard and often unglamorous work. But therein lies the heart of true change.