The One Question Cultural Survey

Some would say that flying is "fun."

There is growing attention to the idea that innovation is supported, or not, by that amorphous beast organizational culture. It’s not a new idea, Mel Rhodes defined “Press” as one of his “4 P’s” of group creativity in 1953 (the others being People, Products, and Process). Who knows where Rhodes came up with “Press” — Press is really culture. Stop yawning!

The wrong kind of organizational culture can kill innovation.

If you’re an individual, consider that you have a personal culture you’ve built up around you (some might call it your life) so in a way the following applies to You to.

Get the best engineers and managers and marketeers, have great product ideas, and great process…and you can still fail. Culture is either rocket fuel for innovation, or corn syrup gumming up the works. Expertise matters, but people with expertise, ideas, and good plans often fail. Think  Blockbuster.

Organizational culture is a difficult thing to pin down. I’ve heard that large sums of money have been spent to do organizational cultural assessment — with extensive surveys and interviewing. Probably not a bad idea if there are challenges with productivity and effectiveness, it might help find out just what needs addressed. On the other hand it’s a bit like the squirrel pop-up game at Chuck-E-Cheese, you bang down on  one crappy cultural issue, and another one pops up. Culture change is daunting, certainly more attempts fail than succeed. Think of diets.

If you’re a CEO I have a simple suggestion — a one question cultural survey. Ask this one question to a cross-section of employees and you’ll get a very quick sense of how the culture is working. People reading for yourself, the same question applies. Ready?

“Are you having fun?”

If the answer evokes positive responses, smiles, a sense of excitement — you’re on the right track.

If the answers are careful, qualified, hesitant, “don’t know” or “no” — you’re not.

Fun is nearly a bad word in some cultures and those are exactly the kind of cultures people avoid, as employees or as customers. Those are “go home at 5” cultures where people don’t really want to be there. Fun isn’t about jokes and playing games (although when that’s happening people just might be learning something) it’s about people who have a positive emotional involvement with what they are doing. Fun is like a thermometer, it’s a signal. Fun usually means they care. People who care meet challenges head on and solve them. People who don’t care, fail.

I’m here to deliver value with this blog — this one question survey for your organization will save you countless thousands in consultancy or personal coaching fees. However, if you really want to spend that money, call me!

If you’re not having fun you have a problem. If you’re in a non-fun group, you need to find a purpose with some juice. If you’re a person, well, it’s the same (join an improv class, now).

“Time flies when you’re having fun” is the old saw, I might add the less lyrical, but also true phrase, “Innovation happens when you’re having fun.”

    • Simple explanations are scary to a lot of people, they think it needs to be complicated to be worth something. Your post is spot on, thanks for sharing it.

    • Gregg – love this. I find it fascinating that when teams examine the conditions under which their best work occurs they cite relationships, collaboration, agility (fluidly responding to change), and getting thing to actually work. But when you ask them what gets focussed on when things are not going right they cite process and tools, documentation, contract, planning. The first list is a fun and joyous set of conditions. The second is a list that comes out of a business consultants handbook – bloody useless!

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