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Managing to Make a Difference by Larry Sternberg

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Chapter 44Focus on the Right Things

Managing to make a difference involves creating a culture that encourages people to become their best selves. Culture can be a slippery concept. Read any description of “great organizations” and you will find a laundry list of customs, beliefs, rituals, and perks touted as elements of their unique cultures—unlimited vacation, Ping Pong tables and pinball machines in brainstorming rooms, food trucks on Fridays, nap rooms to recharge. The list goes on. It can suck you in to focusing on the wrong things if you let it.

Beware!

Customs, beliefs, rituals, and perks become signs and expressions of cultural values. Understanding them helps to describe the culture. But they do not create and shape culture. Picking up practices from one team or organization and plunking them down into yours is not a great strategy for shaping your culture. Too often, looking from the outside in, even the best managers and leaders can miss that point.

For example, the “quality circle” became a formalized part of the culture of many Japanese companies in the 1960s, and played a key role in enabling those companies to produce very high quality products, including automobiles and consumer electronics. Because of this success, many U.S.-based companies tried to plunk quality circles into their culture, but the strategy did not work. Quality circles did not harmonize with the typical U.S.-based company culture. The cultural context to embrace that approach did not exist. ...

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