The importance of culture in driving change


Friday, June 14, 2019

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Last week, I listened to Patrick Hylton of National Commercial Bank (NCB) quote Peter Drucker, who said “Culture will eat strategy everyday for lunch”.

It was an excellent presentation by Patrick and, as far as I am concerned, he could have just gone to the podium and said that one quote and sat down and it would still have been an excellent presentation.

I say this because that quote speaks volumes about the importance of culture in driving change in organisations, and in countries.

The fact is that too many leaders, in organisations and governments, fail to realise the importance of creating a culture, or environment, that encourages positive change. Instead, they think that just having authority, laws, and a talked-about strategy is enough to influence change.

They also don't realise that you can't speak a culture or environment of trust into being –— it takes action. As was said recently at a political campaign, “A action do dat”.

In other words, culture is very much determined by the behaviour of the leadership and not just the words or threats of the leadership.

So, just like in an organisation, if the political representative in a constituency, or in government, says one thing and does another, then the resulting action from the constituency or population will not, in the long term, be determined by what is said but by what is done.

There is a reason why the saying is “monkey see, monkey do” and not “monkey hear, monkey do”. This is the same way children learn. A drug addict telling a child not to do what daddy does, when the child sees them taking drugs, will very likely not be listened to.

Is there any surprise then that Jamaica has developed a culture of violence, when the children grow up seeing their fathers physically abuse their mothers, and when the police are called they turn a blind eye and say it is a domestic affair? Or they see when the police come into their communities, pull their father from his bed and kill him? Or they see where guns are distributed by political activists? Or where politicians are associated with dons?

After seeing the people in authority treat the citizens in that manner, what do we expect them to learn — what they hear in Sunday school or what they see with their own eyes?

Is there any surprise then that Jamaicans have a culture of indiscipline when it comes to saving and spending when, over the years, they have seen where governments and the public sector have ran consistent fiscal deficits, and when they run out of money they just raise taxes? In other words, if government can do that then why can't the citizens of the country?

If we are to be honest, the truth is that our governments, over the years have invested heavily in helping to create a culture of violence and indiscipline by either their actions or non-actions. Action, for example, by running fiscal deficits, and inaction by failing to enforce the laws against those who disobey them. For example, the inaction of not clamping down on the indiscipline of the taxis and buses in the past has created the situation we have today.

We can safely say that governments have invested heavily in creating the culture that exists now.

A recent example of culture in action is the pepper spraying of a senior retired policeman, while sitting in his car. There is no denying that the senior policeman was wrong, as he should not have sought to oppose the “young” constable, but instead obeyed his request. But then again, knowing fully well the culture of the organisation, he may very well have been right to be in fear of his life, as we know that the police resort to physical violence too often for no reason.

What is clear though, is that the primary role of the police should be to de-escalate situations (on paper), but in this case the policeman chose to escalate the situation. This is the result of the culture of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

That is the unofficial expected behaviour from a policeman because they feel they have the power to do anything they want because they wear the uniform and carry the gun.

This culture is also perpetuated by those in authority coming out in support of the practice of escalation, even before the investigation is complete. While those on social media, and the public in general, can say anything they want, those responsible for the JCF should keep quiet until the process of investigation is concluded.

One of the problems, or advantages, of culture is that once it takes hold, it is demonstrated in the way we communicate with each other, in relationships and unspoken norms and, very importantly, in our internal training. So, maybe the culture of aggression and escalation, when it comes to dealing with the citizens, is deep-seated in the training programmes of the JCF.

What is a glaring example of the culture created in the JCF is that no one in authority (that I am aware of) has publicly come out and apologised to the senior cop, or the citizens (based on INDECOM's admission that five pepper spray incidents per week take place) for the perception, or promised an investigation.

Contrast that with the recent system failure at NCB, where they used numerous methods to extend apologies to those inconvenienced by the failure. Based on these two approaches, which do you expect is least likely to occur again?

Another example, which I am very much aware of, is the way persons dispose of their garbage.

The most difficult challenge we have had at National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) is not the resource challenge, or the organisational difficulties (in which we have managed to make some inroads resulting in a cultural shift), but changing the culture in the country regarding how we dispose of our garbage. This includes throwing garbage in gullies, on the roads, and even where a skip is provided, around the skip. The result is that it costs us much more in resources and convenience than it should.

In order for us to make positive changes in our development as a country, we must create the actions that will drive that change in culture. As Patrick Hylton implied, no matter how much you want to make plans, if you do not change the culture of the environment then those plans will come to nothing.

As I have always said, no matter how many IMF tests we pass or how much growth we achieve, unless we are able to change our behaviours, then we will never be successful in achieving the vision of a society of choice to live, raise families, work and do business.

For this to happen it is going to require leadership to enforce laws and set examples, such as regarding the behaviour in Parliament, in order to change the behaviour of the citizenry to achieve that goal.

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