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Opinion: Character Over Culture

Feb. 25, 2020
Values need to be understood throughout all levels of an organization.

Over my career, I’ve had the learning experiences of being told I will not succeed and that I am not good enough to lead. While yes, I see those comments as motivation, my real motivation is to have an impact/legacy on my profession for my family and leave a vision for the next generation.

The perspective I am going to overview is not intended to be another organizational catchphrase, but rather a new perspective on value(s) based on what I’ve learned throughout my career. These views are not intended to overshadow any work being done by organizations to integrate risk and safety into their organizational culture(s).

In society today, there is a lot of work and thought development around the term “culture”, but I would like to take it further with organizational character. Culture is used in organizations because it is a common nomenclature. All organizations have a culture, good or bad; it does exist. 

I believe there are three basic phases of moving from culture to character. I also believe one important element of this transition is to have true north values that are actionably integrated throughout your organization. It simply becomes your brand experience. I call this Character over Culture.

Each day, millions of us wake up and go into our office of employment. Your office may be defined as a construction site, corporate building or oil field. So what happens when the day comes where the values of your employer start to impact your personal values? What do you do?

According to Google, the character can be defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Culture is defined as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively

I think the important commonality between these two definitions is the human element. This creates what I will describe later known as the human currency.

There are a lot of nomenclatures or terminology differences, but I’m going to try to keep it simplified. I believe there are three distinct steps in the development of organizational character.

Step One:

A clear organizational alignment around the mission and values must be paramount.

In this step, you must have actionable values. Values that can be performed throughout the organization on a continual basis. Values that you can continually challenge the organization to improve.

Organizations in this area seem to fail in two aspects. They have too many values that cannot be clearly understood throughout all levels of the organization.

You may post a fancy value-based system that has a poster, but they rarely have a clear understanding of the expectations at all levels. What’s in it for the new hire employee that just started today wanting to do the best job they can in delivering on their commitments? What’s in it for the CEO who signed off on the values?

Leadership chooses values very often that cannot be actionable. You will get the level you demonstrate, but you must be able to demonstrate what you want, and this includes values.

Step Two:

The next step is going to be focused around the continuation of development.

What simple and clear steps does your organization do to continuously improve? Organizations many times start new programs or role out new culture programs but fail to truly develop these as norms. Norms within the organization are what you and your employees do because that is what is expected or is the standard.

These norms are second nature to working in your organizational footprint. These norms can be supported within your operating systems. And operating systems are very important in supporting the continuous improvement aspect. It allows you to have further visibility around the measurable elements of your organizational character.

Step Three:

This step enables employees to speak up. Hold a voice in the organization without fear of retribution. Can you in your organization go to senior leadership without fear?

Some organizations say they have what can be termed as an open-door policy, but do you get the level you demonstrate? Not only do you demonstrate clarity on this topic, but do you have an understanding of how other leaders in your organization view your leadership style. Is an open-door policy truly an open-door policy?

It is difficult, I’m not going to say it’s not, but can you take constructive criticism in your organization and improve personally as well professionally? This is a gut-check moment. It’s easy to say yes in this step, but until you’re confronted with true criticism/conflict, you may have a false sense of organizational character.

Safety and human elements are built within how your organization functions. There is no decision that is not made without it being made for the people of your organization.

You will start to make a transformation built on your values that expand your human currency value. There are organizations that have culture and there are organizations that have organizational character. These brand names that have achieved organizational character continue to set the mark for what we define as excellence. These organizations are iconic brands.

Take the character test today. Do you have what it takes to find and develop your organizational character?

Adam Bates is the managing director of A&C Enterprise Solutions LLC. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Adam Bates | Managing Director, A&C Enterprise Solutions LLC

Adam L. Bates is an innovative, results-oriented environmental, health, safety and security leader with more than 15 years experience with a successful record of developing and executing robust global business strategies at leading companies including Honeywell, Owens Corning, Daido Metal, Inteva Products, and Cooper Tire & Rubber Company. 

Adam also has significant experience leading change and implementing new processes globally. Broadly focused on continuous improvement to drive dramatic reductions in key environmental, health and safety metrics. A data-driven hands-on business leader with deep expertise in global compliance/conformance issues and operations who applies a 'big picture' outlook. 

Recognized as a global leader in Environmental, Health and Safety: Recognized as a Top 40 under 40 Rising Star by The National Safety Council; Listed in “The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2014-2015” (EHS Today); Listed as “Superheroes of Safety Who Inspire Us” (June 2017 EHS Today); Appointed 2017 Board of Directors Delegate (National Safety Council).

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