Measuring the pressure on organisational culture: the CAIR diagnosis

I’ve taken this week to look at failures in organisational culture and, specifically, the pressures that work across four dimensions to toxify it. Why do good people do bad things? How do cultures come to fail?

What pulls at the ideal culture?

Any ideal culture is under pressure through four dimensions. It’s the progressive erosion of these that cause it to toxify

The CAIR model charts pressures across four dimensions that can oppose each other: as culture is co-created and co-owned, different viewpoints across these dimensions are where the rifts occur. These may be between teams and leaders, between shareholders and customers, between the wider community and employees, although most often they are nuanced and spread widely: the behaviours that got the banks into trouble were not exhibited in isolation. They were permitted within communities and rewarded on the journey. It’s not just bad people that do bad things: it’s weak communities and cultures that are overly elastic that permit it.

Today i’ve been working on a question framework to stimulate discussions internally: the point of the questions is to polarise positions and create a frame for conversation. Where culture is co-owned, it’s these internal conversations that can cause change, more so than edicts from above.

CAIR Diagnostic

This question set is intended to be used with groups to help stimulate discussion on the pressures that toxify culture and to act as a foundation for behaviours

The questions are framed around the four Dimensions: the COST of being part of a community, the ASPIRATIONS of individuals (and how the culture supports us achieving them), the INVESTMENTS we make to maintain our position and the REWARDS we expect and demand.

This is a work in progress: i’m currently trying to set up some trial workshops to refine the question set. It’s a means to an end: i’m trying to explore the dimensions of pressure that cause cultures to fracture. I’ve been dissatisfied with models that treat culture as something existing that we come to inhabit: a Social Age model of culture shows it being created in the moment, by both internal teams but also external stakeholders (in our wider networks and social channels). Under this model, failings are a joint responsibility and, i believe, only joint solutions will work. Providing space for reflections and change.

The Banks collapsed not because of one single bad decision, but rather through the creation of cultures that permitted failure. Cultures that drifted too far from the sustainable, but at the time (and possibly still to some people now) everything seemed fine. The collapse was not an aberration: it was an almost inevitable consequence of imbalance in the system. That’s why my model is trying to look at the system itself and to quantify the imbalances (or at least bring them to the fore of our discussion).

Let’s look at the questions:

COST questions explore pressures generated from belonging to an organisation. The main questions force you into a yes/no answer, the ‘pressure’ questions explore the dynamic further. The intention is that there is a facilitated conversation, either through a workshop or in a social learning space.

The questions are not intended to be easy to answer: part of the challenge is to reflect personally on to what extent we are leaning on our aspirations to be good, rather than being good. “Do you have the time to do the right thing every time?“. Do you? I’m not sure if i do: sometimes it’s not even clear what the right thing is, but the pause for reflection is important. It’s at this level of behaviour that culture is formed.

ASPIRATION explores the gap between current reality and our dreams. It’s partly about fears and drivers, about pride and compromise. INVESTMENT draws it down to a practical level, about reality (as in the question above). REWARD charts what we get out of it: look at this in conjunction with yesterday’s post on ‘rifts in trust‘, looking at how we can have coherent groups within fractured cultures.

As i say, it’s a work in progress: we started by looking at the four pillars of the CAIR model, exploring the idea that culture is torn by opposing forces, often exhibited within teams (or even individuals). Sometimes there is no easy right thing to do. Next, we looked at rifts in trust, a coping mechanism of communities whereby islands of trust form, but rifts emerge between meta groupings (between environmentalists and shareholders, between leaders and teams, between ‘good‘ and ‘bad‘ bankers). Today, i’m trying to get to diagnostics: meaningful conversations that we can have in a team to explore the correlation between personal attitudes to each dimension and formation of culture.

As ever, all feedback welcome!

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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27 Responses to Measuring the pressure on organisational culture: the CAIR diagnosis

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