What a Culture Consultant Really Does…

Case 10

“…if we expended all our energies solely on taking care of our own needs we would stop growing. In that respect what we call “soul” can be viewed as the surplus energy that can be invested into change and transformation. As such, it is the cutting edge of evolution.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business.

I will share a secret with you, at  the beginning of my executive coaching and culture consulting career, I was  pretty sure I was not cut out for my work. Don’t get me wrong, once actually doing the work, I thrived and felt humbled and grateful to be working with such large and influential organizations and the amazing people within them. The reward of people connecting themselves to their values in service of the business strategy is a magical process to witness.

In the beginning, it was in the sales process of talking with prospective stakeholders, senior leaders, talent managers, HR directors, that I felt least myself, an imposter really, because the conversation was almost entirely about the business and not the people that made up the business.   And I found myself choosing a defense strategy of pretending to be more interested and invested in bottom-line results, productivity and efficiency than the human beings that would be entrusted in my care should we win the work. The way it played out was that I would do what it took to win the work knowing that once the door closed on day one of the engagement, I could really bring all of who I am to my work in service of everyone involved. Then, and only then, could I be myself. Only in the program itself could I bring the human being back into the business conversation. I couldn’t wait to passionately remind people that they matter and that in the wise words of Dr. Brené Brown, the things that we mostly hide from one another, in work and life, are the very things that connect us most. It wasn’t until my son, three years old at the time, asked me what I did for a living, that heard myself answering was, “I love people”. And this was and is still true for me.

“Many believe that it is necessary to sell out in order to achieve economic success, or drop out in order to pursue a meaningful life. This is a false polarity. When business is conducted as an expression of your core values there is harmony between material and spiritual wealth”. ~  Fred Kofman.

I realized that the problem in my thinking at the time was that I thought the focus on the human being was my “covert ops” and the business the first priority and the only thing that would be cared about. We both know that both are important, even essential, but I realized that there is no choosing to be done, no polarity. Focusing on the human beings that make up organizations IS the pathway to greater and more sustainable business success. I can honestly say this is how I quickly relaxed into my work, found my footing and my flow and realized that this “covert ops” focus was truly my focus. I now know that this is the “magic sauce” for the work that I do. And ask anyone who works with our team, the things you hear in speaking of exceptional sustainable results are all about culture, consciousness, compassion and authenticity in what we affectionately call the “checking for good fit” conversation rather than the sales conversation.

 “Many business people consider love a personal matter, certainly nothing that belongs in the corporation, yet love forms the foundation of all human interactions. Without love; there is no teamwork, without love, there is no leadership, without love, there is no real commitment to customer service.” ~ Fred Kofman, Conscious Business.

There are so many messages, systems and symbols (culture) in organizations that rightfully hold people accountable for what they produce, for getting the right answer, for “winning”. That is powerful because it creates a high level of achievement and attracts driven and competent leaders. The issue is when there are not equally strong messages within an organizational culture that send the message that “we care”, “you matter” and it is HUMAN to not always have THE answer—in fact, NOT having the answer could be really, really good for bringing our business to the next level, its called Innovation. “You are what you produce” is left over from the industrial age and now that we are working primarily with knowledge workers, we as leaders and as professionals who support leaders, need to find a way to include “you are uniquely you and YOU MATTER” into the mix. We have a huge opportunity to acknowledge and leverage our shared humanity and connection as a vehicle for executing on our strategy.

 “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown.

Supporting leaders to crack the code on capturing, authentically and ethically, the hearts and minds of the human beings who choose to serve their cause IS what a great culture consultant really does.  I believe that this is the pathway to a culture of commitment, achievement, innovation and dare I say a culture focused on shared humanity and love.   This is the formula for exceptional sustainable results. I often kick off a culture conversation with the statement, “your life clock does not go on pause when you go to work….this is your life!”  Now let’s have a conversation about how that is working for you.

 “A leader will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity…one must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul.”  ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Quotes from Good Business

What I really do is help leaders understand that the conversation about culture is really a conversation about themselves, their lives.  Culture gets reinforced in each and every interaction. Each and every interaction is driven by a mindset. Supporting stakeholders to understand that a mindset based on shared humanity will allow more of who they are to shine through and provide the connection necessary for us to choose to spend significant parts of our lives working toward a joint cause, together. Now, what you see is what you get, no more covert ops!

 “The best organizations and the ones that survive economic tsunamis are those with emphatic cultures and managers who are able to step outside themselves and walk in someone else’s shoes.” ~ Dev Patnaik  Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy.

3 thoughts on “What a Culture Consultant Really Does…

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  1. Hi Pamela. I know you posted this a while ago, but I read it today & it totally resonated with me. Thank you for so aptly capturing the feeling of covert ‘people ops!”. I have spent the last few years being covert about my focus on people but have decided to be courageous and re-brand myself as the culture consultant that I am. Your article is a great affirmation of my work. Thank you.

  2. Beautifully put Pamela, I couldn’t agree with you more. When we try to justify building a great culture for the bottom-line impact it has, we are missing the point. What else can be more important than living life fully and showing up with your whole self at work? An improved bottom-line is an obvious and joyful byproduct.

  3. Pamela, In his poem about an Old Cumberlan Beggar William Wordsworth wrote:

    Many, I believe, there are
    Who live a life of virtuous decency,
    Men who can hear the Decalogue and feel
    No self-reproach; who of the moral law
    Established in the land where they abide
    Are strict observers; and not negligent
    In acts of love to those with whom they dwell,
    Their kindred, and the children of their blood.
    Praise be to such, and to their slumbers peace!
    –But of the poor man ask, the abject poor;
    Go, and demand of him, if there be here
    In this cold abstinence from evil deeds,
    And these inevitable charities,
    Wherewith to satisfy the human soul?
    No–man is dear to man; the poorest poor
    Long for some moments in a weary life
    When they can know and feel that they have been,
    Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
    Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
    As needed kindness, for this single cause,
    That we have all of us one human heart.

    Respond the the CBI Great Business Debate this week, I describe the business which makes other people it’s primary purpose:


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