My mum used to make the best chicken and veg soup, she'd boil up a chicken to create the stock, then remove it and add the chicken meat back, then she would add Split Peas, Pearl Barley, Lentils, Carrots, Peas, Onion and lastly some salt for seasoning. It was the same process every time, they were added in the same order, the same weights were used, and it was boiled for the same time. The recipe was precise and repeatable, there was a standard approach (just like any good lean process!). It was delicious and there was never any left, we loved it. Even after moving out I used to do the 100-mile round trip to get some of mum's soup, it was that good.
I remember asking why she didn't add say bacon or tomatoes or something else to add to the flavour for a change. After a bit of a puzzled look she replied that then it wouldn't be her chicken soup. It would still be soup and it may taste ok, to some people, but it wouldn't be what would be right for her and before long it would be bacon soup or tomato soup and not chicken, even though chicken is what you want. Which makes sense really.
Pick Your Ingredients Carefully
I tell that story a lot when I'm talking to organisations about their culture, and as I do, I can see people looking puzzled every time. Clearly this guy is a mad man, what the heck has soup got to do with culture? It's got everything to culture!
Your organisational culture is made up or a whole bunch of things, it's your values, how you live those values, the people you hire (or fire), it's the habits that are allowed, the behaviours you allow and those you don't, the methods of doing things, the building you are in, the city you have chosen. Your culture is made up of all these things, it's a recipe that once perfected you need protect and follow.
Just like the soup, every time you add to or remove from the mix the end result changes, the soup is different and so too is your culture. If you add the wrong thing the balance can go off, too much of the wrong thing and the whole pot of soup if only fit for the bin, it's the same for your culture. Adding a person that just doesn't fit with your culture, no matter how good they are will inevitably result in a negative impact on your culture.
Be Clear About What You Want
Just as my mum was really clear about how her chicken soup would turn out, you need to be the same with your culture.That means you need to be completely clear about what your culture actually is, and what it isn't. What behaviours and values you will encourage and what you will discourage and remove, or better yet not add in!
You need to design it carefully and understand what things need to be added to the recipe to create the end result you want. How much is too much and how little is too little of each thing. When you look to hire someone what are the things that you are looking for in them that will add to the flavour of your organisation? What things are you looking for that will spoil it!? Sure, you can always remove these people later if you need to but their effects will already have been absorbed in and you will need to do something else to counteract that.
Maintenance is Key
Throughout the cooking of the soup maintenance was critical, the amount of time stirring it was important, not enough and things could stick to the pot or they could split. Also important was ensuring the temperature wasn't too hot to ensure things didn't burn or that the liquid boiled off and left a thick gloopy slow moving mess, too cold and things don't cook, don't infuse their flavour into the mix and add to the soup, it can stay too runny as well. Cook too long and you get similar issued.
Maintaining your culture is the same. Ignoring it and hoping that it'll take care of itself is typical and will have terrible results, things will either boil over or it'll just simmer till there is really nothing left but a slow-moving mess. Checking the temperature of your culture with conversations, surveys or open feedback session can help here. Regular discussions about what your culture is with everyone is really important, talk about your values, your vision for the organisation, make it clear you know what you want and you will shape it to that vision, you have a recipe you are going to follow because you know it will work for your organisation.
Be Proud of What You Create
Mum was, quite rightly, proud of her soup, when she made it the family got a call to say hey, I'm making soup come get some and she knew we would, because it was great soup.
When you have a great culture then it's something that you and your organisation should be proud of, more over when people here about how great it is, guess what, it's just like that phone call from mum, they are going to head over there because they want some of it, they know it's going to be great and want to be part of it. Those already inside just don't want to leave and they tell others about that as well. They also defend it with everything they have, because they know how good it is.
Adding bacon or tomato would have killed my mum's soup, she knew it and we knew it so we never let it happen. Be careful what you add to your culture soup, look after it, protect it and it'll keep feeding your organisation for years to come.
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