Unwritten Ground Rules – What every leader needs to understand in managing Corporate Culture

What are Unwritten Ground Rules? What do they have to do with Corporate Culture? That was my reaction; now I understand I will look at every work place in a totally enlightened way.

Steve Simpson, an international speaker from Australia, once attended the October meeting for business leader’s group MD2MD and gave a fascinating insight into what could really be going on in our organisations.

Most working environments have processes and many also have agreed, laid down standards of working which are passed on to new staff, or indeed implemented amongst existing staff.  What EVERY workplace also has are Unwritten Ground Rules.

We are all aware of them but we never talk about them.  They are the ‘other rules’ we learn through observation, conversations and our colleagues.  For example, at the coffee machine a colleague moans “we only get to see the boss when we’ve done something wrong” or you observe everyone is in and ready to start work just before 9.00a.m, rather than filtering in a  few minutes late and having a quick chat before starting – subconsciously you store that observation and unwittingly you follow the pattern.  You see, it is important to realise that UGRs can be positive, neutral or negative; either way they exist and they are what creates the true culture in an organisation.

Steve gave some great examples of how to identify UGRs through video footage and stories, some of which can be found on his website at www.ugrs.net.  He also, much to our relief, gave us his 4 point strategy as laid out in his book UGRs – Cracking the Corporate Culture Code, to help identify UGRs in our own setting, and how we could use that information to create the positive culture we all desire.

1. Awareness – All staff need to understand what a UGR is.

2. Stock Take – Together, you can identify what the current UGRs are in the organisation by asking everyone to finish the sentence ‘around here…’ for different areas.  For example, ‘around here being open and honest gets you…’

3. Positive UGRs – Encourage staff to come up with current positive UGRs.  Maybe they feel their work/life balance is considered, and that having a social life is encouraged.

4. Embed the positive – Incorporate positive UGRs into what you do. This could be through reactions, incentives and rewards or even behaviour.

Written by Bob Bradley, founder of MD2MD

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