I’m about to kill my own little consulting practice with two words. I’m going to spare you the time, effort, and cash commitment connected with contracting a consultant to help your company clarify and cultivate its culture.
In the interest of full disclosure, and in an effort to avoid plagiarism, it should be noted that the two words didn’t originate with me. My source? Socrates. (Or So-crates, for you Bill and Ted fans.)
Now word on the street is that Socrates was a smart fellow. If they had used charts and stickers back in his day, he would have been that kid whose whole row was filled with bright, gold stars. Judging by many artists’ renderings of him, perhaps one critique of ol’ Socrates would be that he occasionally donned togas that didn’t fit him very well and consequently exposed more of himself than maybe some of us would like. But heck, with abs like that, who could blame him? But I digress.
What are the two words? Well, as Socrates purportedly said, “Know thyself.”
Yep. That’s it. Know thyself.
You see, this idea lies at the very core of an organization’s culture. It’s your identity. It’s who you are. And out of that identity flows everything else you do. Knowing thyself is like organizational self-awareness in a way. And without that–if you don’t do the work to build a healthy, distinct organizational culture–you’re in big trouble.
So many issues we wrestle with on a regular basis stem from our culture and identity. They emanate from how we’ve chosen to answer (or not answer) basic questions about our organization: Who are we? What’s our purpose? Why is that our purpose? What are our core values? How is our community or the world better off because we’re in it? How are we different from others in our market?
Or maybe you want to get a little more creative with the questions you use to get to some of those know-thyself answers. For example: If a former employee were to write a tell-all expose about your organization, what would it reveal? Say that five years from now your organization is on the cover of Forbes. What would the story say about you? If one of your main competitors had unlimited funds and resources, what could they do to put you out of business? If you had one tweet (140 characters) to describe how your company is different from others, what would you say? If you stripped the interior of your building of any verbiage or logos, and if people from your community were blindfolded and led inside, after walking around for a few hours what would they say was important to you?
Most of the time the very first step for organizations looking to shift or cultivate their culture is becoming more self-aware. You have to know yourself—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
To do that, we have to be willing to ask ourselves tough questions and give honest answers. Have we in some ways lost our mojo? Our self-awareness? Our identity? Our purpose? Our—dare I say—soul?
It’s only by taking the advice of the sage Socrates that we’ll be able to give an honest answer.