The Weekly Reflektion 39/2021

We often talk about the importance of culture in influencing the behaviours of people in an organisation. But do we really understand how the culture has an affect and what aspects of the culture are actually influencing people?

Do you understand how culture influences people in your organization?

One of our Reflektions in April 2019 was about ‘human error’and we referenced a book by Dan Ariely, ‘Predictably Irrational’. ‘Predictably Irrational’ takes a close look at the common pitfalls of human logic and explores the forces that are really driving your everyday actions. In the Reflektion we considered whether the understanding of these forces could help us reduce ‘human error’.  Our Reflektion this week is also inspired by some experimental work described in thisbook.

In most companies there is an awareness that the culture of the company does influence the way that people behave and carry out their work. Many leaders recognise this and try to create a culture where these behaviours lead to tasks and activities being carried out safely and efficiently. Enlightened leaders understand that influencing a culture in a positive direction is not done overnight, and that they need to be engaged for the long haul.

Dan Ariely carried out an experiment that shows how people can be influenced. 

A long hall with the entrance at one end and a set of tables at the other was used. Students were asked to enter the hall and walk to the tables where they were given questions to answer and statements where they provided their level of agreement. One set of questions and statements were related to pensions, elderly care, cost of hip replacement, funeral services, etc. Another set of questions were related to pre-school education, playgroups, children’s clothes, etc. The researchers timed the students walking from the entrance to the tables then timed the students when they walked back after the task was complete. The students that answered the questions on the older generation walked significantly slower on their return. The students that answered the questions related to children were not affected significantly. When questioned the students were not aware of any influence on their walking speed from the task.

People are consciously influenced by the ‘culture’ around them at work. They may talk to their colleagues about aspects of the ‘culture’. They may mention aspects of the ‘culture’ to their family and friends. They may have positive or negative views; however, they make these explicit and therefore have an opportunity to reflect over them.

People are also influenced by the ‘culture’ in a sub-conscious way. Similar to the way the subject of the research influenced the students walking speed in the example above. There may be many signals that are not picked up consciously. The subconscious has a tremendous ability not just to register these signals but to process them and provide information in the form of feelings. The gut feeling. The good or bad feeling that cannot quite be rationalised, but it is nevertheless real.

As a leader, what you say, what you do, how you react in certain situations, all provide signals that are registered consciously and subconsciously by the people around you. Do you give them a good feeling, or a bad feeling?

Link to Dan Ariely’s book.

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