19 Lost in Translation

‘Culture' can easily remain an ethereal and nebulous thing, and this is not helped by the way many corporate leaders talk about it. The usual cultural pillars are commonly plastered in corporate taglines and on the back of business cards — excellence, integrity, collaboration, innovation, safety, value, sustainability and so on — and then everyone calls it a day. But the real question is, what do these things actually mean, really?

This lack of clarity happens with disturbing frequency. A leader says to their team, ‘Folks, we need to communicate with each other better.' Everyone nods — for who can argue with a statement like that?[1] But then, what proceeds may be very different from the intention the leader had in mind.

The leader may think that the team isn't sharing important updates — or that they are, but they're buried away in long email chains. She'd like her team to make more decisions together, in person, or at least through a medium other than email. But some of her team may believe ‘communicating better' means, ‘I need to send more emails' or ‘I need to include more information about what I'm working on' or ‘I need to talk with more people in the team before I make a decision.' And then, later, the leader finds herself frustrated as to why her team ‘isn't listening' to her. She starts forwarding articles to the team about email etiquette. ...

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