One of our core drivers as humans is to feel a sense of self worth. This drives all sorts of behaviours from the highly functional to highly dysfunctional. Part of self worth for most of us is to have a sense of belonging and what gives us that sense of belonging will vary from person to person.
For example, there are those who have a real geographical centre to their lives for whom location is a big part of their identity, there are others who have little or no geographical centre to their lives for whom moving is relatively easy emotionally.
Without a sense of belonging we can feel, literally adrift. Not knowing where or how to fit in, alone in a world where everyone else appears to belong. I am sure most people have experienced this at some point, school for example.
A sense of belonging might be provided by a gang, a family, a team, a partner, a place of worship or a workplace. These environments can either exploit our need for belonging or empower us to our best.
Some businesses do a brilliant job of creating a sense of belonging for their employees, that empowers everyone to do their best. Others create an emotional and political minefield where employees feel exposed, exploited and stressed for much of the time.
How and why are these choices made and what can be done about it?
The very best examples are businesses who take a very proactive approach to their culture. They are very clear about their vision for the business and what they want to achieve and are also clear about the values and behaviours that they will need to help them achieve the vision. They have gone on to articulate very clearly for all employees and new recruits what is desired and what is not and applied it consistently to leadership and policies. The process of articulation may have been open, collaborative and transparent, or it may not have been – but – the position, the expectations and the culture are clear. A potential employee can see what the company is like and can see if they are likely to belong or not.
An example of this approach with a groundbreaking approach to culture is software and games company Valve. Their approach to management is, literally, anarchy and it appears to be extremely effective. They have articulated it very clearly and made it public, their culture is transparent, you will know if you belong. It is a conscious approach to culture.
These cultures are likely to be stable over the long term and resilient to negative influences because they have been articulated, shared and bought into by a critical mass of people.
At the other end of the scale the approach to culture is unconscious. In these cases the culture is defined by the vision and values of those who actually lead the company (whether this is formal or informal leadership). Only those who share their values will find a sense of belonging here, but since the real vision and values are unlikely to be articulated, it may be less obvious if you fit from the outside. The company may have a statement of vision and values, but these are largely for promotional purposes, not to give a clear view of how the company actually behaves.
What it is like to work in an unconscious culture depends very much on the leadership. If the leader has positive values it might be an attractive place to be, but unarticulated values and unwritten rules are painfully vulnerable to change and a new leader would quickly change them.
These cultures are volatile, unstable and are vulnerable to negative influences.
How conscious is the culture of your organisation? Does everyone know and share the same vision and values or is it more reactionary and unstable?
What would a place where you felt a real sense of belonging look like? What would the vision and values be?
I am researching approaches to creating conscious culture for businesses, if you have a view or some experience of either side of organisational culture I would love to hear from you.
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