By Steve Moran

When organizations first start out, they are always high trust affairs. Everyone has a common goal, everyone is working hard to get to those initial goals. This is not to say there are no mistakes made. But as long as they are honest mistakes, there is general agreement that “we are all in this together”.

If, during that early formation process, it becomes clear someone is not on board, not trustworthy, the solution is very simple. They are banished from the island.

Diminishing Trust

The problem starts when the organization begins to grow. It is less intimate. There are going to naturally be some people who are good workers but who do not have that same intimate relationship and passion. Then, one day, there is a big miss on a project and so the leader decides there needs to be more accountability for everyone.

This solves the problem of the person who needs extra accountability, which is good. But it also imposes the same burden on those who are 100% trustworthy, who have never had a problem. Next, someone else goes out to entertain a client and spends too much money on wine, food, and entertainment. The company can’t let that happen, and so they create elaborate expense reporting and approval requirements that everyone, even the trustworthy ones, need to follow.

One look for all . . . one system for all. People become less happy and spend (waste) more time on accountability tasks and less time on the mission of the organization.

A Better Way

The real question is whether or not, even when an organization gets large, you can create a high-trust, high-performance culture that minimizes waste and maximizes mission-driven efforts.

Big Cultures, Medium Cultures & Micro Cultures

As cultures grow there is almost always an irresistible force kind of movement toward brand standardization and culture standardization, where doing anything new must be done in very narrow confines. This stifles everything.

And if we are honest, much of the standardization is all about image and safety but does not really do anything to make the organization better. It’s pretty cool to go to a trade show and see a dozen or two dozen people in the same exact shirt, leaving you feeling like they are everywhere. It is great brand awareness, but it does not actually address the question of whether or not it grows the business, or even makes the team members wearing the shirts love the organization.

Big Culture Values

Big culture values are those that are foundational to the organization. “We exist to give residents amazing last chapters of their lives.” “We exist to keep residents healthy.” “We exist to give family members peace of mind.” And, of course, we exist to make a profit or a margin.

Medium Cultures

Medium cultures are distinct businesses within a business. In the case of senior living, they’re individual senior living communities. To make it simple, think of it this way: if you have just two senior living communities — one in Texas and the other in New Hampshire — and they each have 100% alignment with the big cultural values, why does it matter if the leaders lead very differently, or if they program differently, or look differently? I  would argue that it shouldn’t. It would be the same if you have 50 or 500 communities.

Regional support staff don’t count as cultures; it is their job to be the bridge.

Micro Cultures

Micro cultures are subcultures at a single business unit. In a life plan community, it could be assisted living or skilled nursing as separate units that have separate micro cultures. It could also be nursing, culinary, housekeeping.  There will need to be more consistency here with the broader senior living community, but when it comes to leadership style, why should it matter as long as they are delighting “customers” and people love coming to work?

What baffles me is how hard we make this stuff to the point of shooting ourselves in the foot.

What say you?

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