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Your Cultural Fingerprint

I was speaking with Anne McCrossan of Visceral Business last week about socializing business processes and the cultural change management required to bring a more innovative, humane, and personal way of doing business to life.  We were talking about the difficulties in articulating culture that can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in changing culture. If you cannot describe or articulate what does exist, how can you hope to change it?

Anne mentioned that this challenge of articulating culture was similar to that of art in that you might know a Van Gogh when you see one but it can be hard to describe what it is about a painting that tells you it is a Van Gogh. This idea resonated deeply with me as I’ve found one of the best ways to help people understand their culture is through art and imagery. Art historians spend years understanding the nuances of artistic expression. However, even amateurs that have seen a number of Van Gogh’s pieces can quickly get beyond the ‘colorful’ adjective and understand that it is the quantity and passion in the brushstroke, the thin black outline of objects inspired by Japanese print making, and the pixelated use of color that identifies Van Gogh’s work.  Understanding and articulating that allows us to copy it and as we copy it we see more differentiating details.

When we are learning to identify these differences in artistic expression, it is helpful to start with the more pronounced artists – like Van Gogh, Seurat, De Koonig, Pollock and those whose work is very distinct. Once you master those, you can move on to subtler differences found in Eakins, Copley, Degas, Homer, Cassatt and a host of others. The more you can describe and differentiate, the better you can define how one might approach a new painting to achieve a particular outcome.

This is almost exactly the same process one needs to go through to understand and change organizational culture. The question for organizations is this: Can you describe your culture in some detail and do you understand how various dimensions of your culture are affecting business outcomes? Have you purposefully created your culture to support specific outcomes or have you let it evolve as an unstructured group art project where the collection of contributions make no sense as a whole? Do you have a consistent cultural fingerprint that gives everyone who interacts with your organization a consistent expectation?

In a highly connected and inter-networked world, having a consistent fingerprint (many might call this ‘brand’ but I have always felt like brands have been largely disembodied heads, created by external agencies to be pushed out to the public when they often do not relate to the employees that make up the organization at all… but that is a different post) is critical because it means that there is less confusion, fewer clarifications, and more speed with which things can happen. While kindergarten art projects are charming I’m betting it is not the impression you want to leave with your marketplace – why leave culture to chance either?

If you’re interested in learning how your peers in social media and community are facing the challenge of articulating (and changing) their corporate culture, you might be interested in joining TheCR Network. Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll get back to you with more information about membership.

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