What is it with the “C” Word?

The C Word.  It’s a word that we’re hearing over and over again.  A word used in explanation of both extraordinary successes and spectacular failures.

Culture : the way we do things around here.

Culture isn’t just the warm and fuzzy stuff anymore (if ever it were).  I’ve included a few examples to illustrate the impact that it can have – on performance,  both good and bad. And how, increasingly, organisations are not tolerating it any more.. Heads are starting to roll..

The recent demise of Mickey Arthur, the Australian Cricket Coach has been in part attributed to the current culture within the Team, and the impact that that culture was having on team performance.

On June 16th this year it was reported: “Coach Mickey Arthur concedes there’s a long way to go before Australia can be sure they have the dressing room dynamic to be a great team.”…By June 24th he had been fired.

Then there are the Swim Team’s shenanigans at the 2012 London Olympics.   The Sydney Morning Herald had this to say:

“..A report reviewing the leadership in Australia’s swimming team has slammed a “toxic” culture which saw swimmers abuse prescription drugs, alcohol and curfews during last year’s London Olympics.

The report also said Australia’s swimming team was devoid of leadership, resulting in bad behaviour going unchecked and individualism thriving. London was remembered by many as the unpleasant “Lonely Olympics”.

In a warts-and-all review of culture and leadership in Australian Olympic Swimming, Doctor Pippa Grange paints a grim picture of the hierarchy of Swimming Australia and the unit that competed at the Games seven months ago.

“There were enough culturally toxic incidents across enough team members that breached agreements (such as getting drunk, misuse of prescription drugs, breeching curfews, deceit, bullying) to warrant a strong, collective leadership response that included coaches, staff and the swimmers. No such collective action was taken,” the report said.

“At its least attractive, the team dynamic became like a schoolyard clamour for attention and influence…”

And the outcome of that culture:

 “..A year that produced a poor Olympic performance, the outing of a “toxic culture” of harassment and bullying of female swimmers, of drug abuse; a year that claimed a coach, a chief executive, a president and a major sponsor…”

But the flip side is true too.. Get it right and success is there for the taking.  Another example from cricket, this time the WA Cricket Team:

“…WA have now won four times in the four-day competition and remain undefeated in 2013 after a disastrous start to their campaign.

Their turnaround in form has been afforded to Langer’s cultural adjustment, after the former Test batsman was appointed senior coach following the resignation of Lachlan Stevens in November.

Langer said there was no ‘magic formula’ behind the success of the change and was delighted to see his side respond with some crucial, thrilling victories.

“Culture to me is about working really hard and getting the right people … there’s no magic dust, it is just an age-old remedy,” Langer said.

“Culture is the sum of individual behaviours, so you have got to work on people’s behaviour.

“If you work hard and you have the right people, you get a good culture and you win games of cricket…”

There are examples aplenty and not just in sport. Finally, organisations are waking up to the power of culture – both good and bad.

The question is – will they do it before it is too late?

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