Culture is cocreated in the moment through the actions of every individual: the organisation may believe that it can own and shape it, but in reality it simply frames it. If I join a new organisation, I can go through induction and orientation, I can be given a vision of the aspirational culture that the organisation wishes it has, and projects the image of, but the true culture is the one that I inhabit from the moment I walk in the door, and my experience of the culture, through every minute and hour, is the true manifestation of culture.
In complex global organisations, there is no truly unified culture: there is a stated intent, a global aspiration, but typically the lived experience lies in a whole series of highly cohesive and highly fragmented subcultures. In themselves, these have the very integrity and coherence that the organisation strives for. Why does this happen? In the current research project around the Landscape of Trust, my initial reading is that trust is held primarily in strong social ties, bonds of shared experience, and that these form the foundation, often geographically close, within the same office, function, or region, indicating that there is a strong relationship between trust and overall organisational culture. Indeed, my current thinking is that the actions we take every day, and the trust that we hold, are the two dominant effects on organisational culture. The aspiration of the organisation, and the intent that it has, are little more than noise in the wind.
So culture is slowly eroded through the fragmentation and breakdown of trust: the fracturing of the social contract, the exertion of formal power, the loss of fairness, inequality, failed opportunity, and imposed change. To build a strong organisational culture, we cannot impose something new from the top, because that is simply to add to the aspirations and intent. To build a strong organisational culture we must address the threads of trust, the bonds of shared value and hard work, and the actions that people take every day, in the moment.
This is why Social Leadership is central to building the Socially Dynamic organisation, because social leaders start not by looking at how others can change, but rather how they themselves can change, to engage in the harder conversations, to strive for fairness, to lead in change.
Most organisations are well-intentioned, but many fail to be fair, and few achieve a position of being Socially Dynamic, adapted and able to thrive in the Social Age. Just as it took time for the social contract to be eroded, for mistrust to grow, and the culture to fragment, so to, it will take time to rebuild the mountain. But it starts with the action of the individual, action taken with humility, to build a better culture.