Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2009
From television sitcoms to big screen suspense thrillers, we are captivated by watching work cultures as we temporarily escape our own. America’s interest in working environments has not diminished since Mary Tyler Moore and WKRP, to today’s so-called reality shows and the most recent hit: The Office.
If you fall shy of the national average of 2.5 hours of TV watching per day and have little idea about any of those shows, then good for you! Maybe you’ve been too busy with your own work reality, in which case, you’re probably still consumed with office culture; albeit your own. Whether it causes you to laugh, cry, or curse the copy machine, your own work culture is a field…one that is cultivating you, yet also one where you are called to sow.
It happens millions of times daily: people go to work, crossing a border into a unique culture with its own preferences, language, values, distinct systems of government, personal liberties and vending machines. This is not the story of migrant Mexican workers seeking a better life. This is the story of you and me, and our everyday employment that exists in what can sometimes seem like a whole new world.
Each day, we go through “Customs” of sorts. Upon arrival you pass through the border checkpoint. Maybe it’s an ID badge instead of a passport that gets you through, or the receptionist that gives you the nod. You say your “good morning’s”, read your to do’s and e-memos, fill out your TPS reports, hunt down your favorite mug, and…the day gathers speed. In the break room you bump into Ted from accounting and laugh over the fact that you’re wearing the same shirt. You never even liked Ted, what’s up with that? Whatever your situation and actual day flow; you and your colleagues are part of a culture that is a determining factor in the chain reaction of employee satisfaction, work performance, and client retention.
In Romans 12, the apostle Paul gives us this instruction:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-3, from The Message).
The first order of business is between you and the Lord. Place it before Him. Listen to Him. Respond to Him and be changed by Him. Culture begins at the cellular level-you. One cell affecting another. The critical mass necessary for change is a process. It didn’t get that way overnight. Transformation takes time.
There are two categories of people that will have the greatest impact on culture within an organization. The first is leaders. They affect the atmosphere for obvious reasons. They “set the tone” and model their true values. Their manner will be emulated or resented; culture breeds from there.
Another category is future leaders. Suppose you’re not yet recognized as a leader in your workplace. The hopeful aspect about the “future leader” category is that it could be almost anyone, at least in some area-if they dare. A true future leader must first positively affect the culture before his or her status can be confirmed.
Do you believe you can learn pivotal business principals from business people who are “non-believers?” I think we should and can-without throwing away any of our spiritual discernment or biblical morality. We can look at successful marketplace models that are outside of the traditional religious culture and receive wisdom from those who might look and act differently on the surface, but have learned and proven wise principles over time.
To do this, you have to suspend enough of your prejudice that you can reach in and capture a real truth. That’s tough. It’s easier sometimes to reject the whole enchilada and just stay at home with the voices in our heads. But what if the man on the other side of the border held a key to your quest for cultural transformation? Whether or not a “non-believing” business person realizes it, if they are espousing a sustainable principal that truly works, you won’t find it disputed in Scripture.
Now that you’ve been set up, let me give you an example: Sir Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Brand and now Chairman of the Virgin Group. His ventures span across multiple business sectors including the airline industry, space tourism, and cellular phone industry within which he built Virgin Mobile USA-the fastest company in history to generate over one billion dollars in revenue. His earlier huge successes in the music sales and recording business propelled what is now the Virgin “way-of-life” brand with the promise of high quality products and customer service. He is known personally for having extreme fun and establishing business frameworks that create fun and creative cultures.
Branson says: “I find it extraordinary that so many managers pay no attention to the fabric of their work· places. How are people supposed to believe in it when all they see of it, day after day, is a couple of dying plants and a fire extinguisher.” If you’re familiar with Branson’s past publicity stunts and irreverence at times, please don’t write to let me know. I’m too overwhelmed with fan mail to get to such letters!
DISCIPLINE AND TRUST
Branson-in his recent book Business Stripped Bare-discloses ideas that may help you actually advance your culture. First, discipline is a key quality Sir Richard looks for in people. In his recent book, Mr. Branson references another book entitled: Good to Great by Jim Collins. Branson writes:
“Jim Collins says all companies have a culture but few have a culture of discipline. This doesn’t mean that people are tied to a tree and whipped if they don’t work well, or have their wages docked if their five minutes late. It’s not that kind of discipline I’m talking about. It is to do with having disciplined people. And we have disciplined people right across our Virgin Businesses. After all, if you’re going to let people get on with and even develop their own jobs, you need people you can trust.”
Do you see what Branson just did in his last sentence? He tied discipline to trust.
Here is something radical-Branson advocates that we “Always practice the Golden Rule, internally and externally.” Wow-isn’t that avant garde? Could this be too forward-thinking for today’s progressive business cultures? Seems to work for Branson. The Golden Rule, as you probably know, comes from Matthew 7:12.Jesus says: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the prophets.” Luke 6:36-38 adds this: “For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Other culture changers Richard Branson champions include:
No matter how much we can reform our culture at work; there will always be room for refinement. Just because we will never achieve the ultimate work culture, we should not be guilty of neglecting it. You can make a difference in your work culture. First, ask God and start with you. Remember also, it’s OK to get outside your Petri dish for help. The key might very well be just across the border.
Scripture Reference: Romans 12:1-3; Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:36-38;
JONATHAN SIMPSON is a frequent contributing writer to CSM’s Marketplace Exchange.