Beware Culture Undercurrents

Beware Culture Undercurrents

Have you ever heard the term undercurrents? You may remember going to the beach and Coast Guard warnings signs to swimmers that the undercurrent being strong in the ocean? We know that the undercurrents or undertow refers to a rip current that can sweep a swimmer further out into the ocean and prevent them from being able to swim effectively to reach the shore. Much like an uncontrollable, invisible force that places some of the most talented swimmers in danger of drowning.

Undercurrents in Culture

Undercurrent is also a term that can be used in organizational cultures. Undercurrents come from a subcultures. It is a reality that is felt at the gut level or intuitive level. Many times this feeling is not acknowledged openly in daily conversations. It it’s more often verbalized in private talks or possibly water cooler talk. Undercurrents can become the elephant in the room, everyone knows it is there, but do not acknowledge it openly.

Culture relates to the ideas, customs, and social behavior regularly observed of a society or organization. A subculture or undercurrent is an underlying feeling or influence that is contrary to the prevailing atmosphere or cultural environment.

An undercurrent is often the thing that a few people sense, but not everyone in the organization knows. Undercurrents can be used in a non-transparent way to undermine or sabotage individuals, projects, programs, etc. This is of course a troubling thing.

It is unfortunate if an employee enters a new organization, and what is shared in the new employee orientation, does not line up with what is actually experienced in the daily activities of the organization. When this occurs this can be confusing for the new employee and many times they will resort back to behaviors from the past job or what they know.

Subcultures Create Confusion

It is very important for employees to experience on every level and in all areas of the organization, the desired culture of the organization based on the Mission, Vision, and Core Values of the organization. That the organization is transparent and has open communication at all levels to avoid the development of inaccurate conclusions and understandings. This is why it is so important for organizations to offer a in depth and ongoing orientation with new employees. They must be socialized into the intentional culture of the organization so that there is not a clash between the culture that is expected, and a subculture that is being experienced.

Do You Have an Undercurrent Threatening Your Culture?

So how can leaders determine if there is an undercurrent culture happening within an organization? One way to assess this is by offering an annual employee engagement survey. An assessment like this allows leaders to look deeper into the thoughts, beliefs, values, and customary behaviors experienced within the organization. It allows for people to express their self in a confidential safe manner and on a deeper level to share their feelings and thoughts and to self reflect on their environment that they working on.

Undercurrents must be managed when realized by leadership, so they do not disrupt the intentional cultural design of the organization.Cultural undercurrents just like in the ocean can run parallel to the intentional cultural currents, and when realized efforts must be made to bring the culture back to its core values, and mission and vision for optimal organizational success.

Prevent Undercurrents With Foundational Culture

Be aware of potential developments of undercurrents in your organization. Offset the likelihood of culture undercurrents developing by establishing a strong foundational culture.

Learn more about creating a healthy culture foundation in my book, The Culture Cure: Transforming the Modern Healthcare System, now available anywhere books are sold.

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