I now live in North Carolina. Feels kind of weird to say that. I honestly never imagined myself living here until a few years ago when my wife and I started talking about the possibility of moving away from Florida. Now I that I am here, I really like it.
What I also like is the “culture” of the community that we moved into. We are in a small mountain community about 20 minutes from downtown Hendersonville, and I quickly noticed that there was a shared behavior of everyone once you got inside the community walls (i.e. subdivision).
And it doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. If you pass them in a car, if you see them out getting the mail or taking out the trash, the neighborly thing to do is wave in an effort to greet and acknowledge. And I have to say, it’s kind of nice.
But where did this “wave culture” come from and more importantly for this post, how is it sustained?
Since I only moved here about a month ago, I can’t speak specifically about where it came from or who started it. For this discussion, we’ll agree that it simply came from a group of nice people who wanted a friendly environment to live in.
Great… but what happens when new people (like us) move in? Is there a meeting, an in-service, a memo or handbook that says we should wave? No. It just happened.
And as I was bringing in the garbage can today (after waving at a neighbor I have yet to meet officially), I realized the steps that were taken to indoctrinate us into this culture.
- The culture was established. Long before we got here, someone at some point had started waving. Again, I don’t know the specific origins, but I do know it happened. Many companies talk about “creating a culture of this or that”, as if they don’t HAVE a culture already. The step they often miss is working to overcome the culture they DON’T want in order to achieve the culture that they do want.
- The culture was communicated. Again, not through a formal process, but through the actions of those already here. The interesting thing about being the “newbie” is getting to observe my surroundings to see what sticks versus what is talked about. Waving wasn’t talked about, it was done.
- The acceptable and desired behaviors are reinforced. Everyone waves. Everyone buys into the notion that if we don’t have time to converse, we should at least acknowledge our neighbors with a friendly wave. Sometimes they wave first, setting the example, other times I beat them to it but they return the favor with a wave of their own. It’s quite remarkable.
How does this apply to you? Looking at the three things above, how can you improve the culture of your team, department or company?
- Establish your culture. Don’t forget to figure out how to “un-establish” the old culture if it’s not what you want. Then define in specific terms the behaviors of the culture you desire. It’s got to start somewhere, at some point and with some one. It’s not going to develop by osmosis.
- Communicate your culture. Yes, you can talk about it in training, but don’t let that be the only vehicle for letting people know what you value and what’s important. Live your values and culture, and find people to surround yourself with that will live the values, too. Communicate with actions, not just words.
- Reinforce the acceptable and desired behaviors. Set the example, first and foremost. If someone on your team is living up to your standards, let them know you appreciate it. Recognize it, and it will keep happening. If they can’t or won’t display the behaviors that support your culture and values, let them know how they can improve. If they choose to behave in a way that does not uphold your standards, they are not a good fit for your culture. Might be time to thin the herd.
In business, there have to be consequences for those who are not fitting in with the culture you are trying to establish. When less than the standard is tolerated, that level of performance will become your new culture.
In my neighborhood, I have yet to hear what the consequences might be for NOT waving at others. Quite frankly, I am not too worried about it. Waving at my neighbors has now become MY culture, something I WANT to do because it’s accepted, reinforced, and it’s the right thing to do.
Thanks for reading!
About the author: Matt has lived in Ohio, Michigan, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Connecticut, Florida, and now North Carolina. He has worked at an amusement park or attraction in four of the states, and has held a drivers license in five (soon to be 6 with NC). There is only one state where Matt didn’t have a drivers license AND didn’t work at an amusement park. Can you guess it?