Is your culture reactive or proactive?

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on May 29th 2018
by Lucy Kiruthu

We often hear people say, “that is how we do things around here”. Others may say that you have to do this or that because that is how it must be done. Most organizations seem to have a natural way of doing things. However, that does not just happen. How things are done in our organisations emanates from our organizational culture. Organizational culture results from the values, norms, beliefs and behaviours of the founders and the leaders. It is the leader’s responsibility to take charge of the culture. Smart leaders guide their teams in building the sort of culture that best suits their organizations.

A company’s culture speaks volumes about what the leaders consider important. Numerous types of cultures are evident in organizations. Though every culture is unique, there are elements that characterize culture. I often like to look at culture holistically as either healthy or unhealthy. On the other hand, Richard Lewis in his book “When Cultures Collide” focuses on the manner in which people communicate and behave. He names three types of culture as linear-active, multi-active and reactive. However, there is no widely accepted classification of culture. In my past 20 years of practice, I have closely observed how companies act and react. Some are evidently reactive while others are proactive.

Are you quite often caught unawares by changes in environment? Is yours the type of organization where problems are fixed as they arise? Do you wait for competitors to introduce a product before following suit? Does every crisis throw you in disarray? Are you always firefighting? If this is your organization, there is a high likelihood that yours is a reactive culture. Recently, the Water cabinet secretary said that all dams in Kenya would undergo inspection after the Patel dam burst demonstrating just how reactive we can be. Organizations with reactive cultures sit back and wait, they react to whatever is happening in both their internal and external environment. In a few instances, this may be beneficial but in most cases, it can be expensive and risky.

Do you have a clear roadmap of where your organization is headed? Do you think beforehand on possible changes in both the internal and external environment and pre-plan? Do you have a crisis management plan? Is it evident how you deal with changes in customer behaviour or customer complaints? If this describes your organisation then most likely you have a proactive culture. Proactive organisation prepare well in advance. This strengthens their actions and helps them to stay ahead.

The environment in which many organizations operate is volatile. There are pros and cons of building wholly proactive or reactive cultures. For an organization to survive, its culture needs to be a combination of reactive and proactive practices. However, proactivity needs to take precedence. Smart companies know that they need a plan as well as be flexible enough to cope with a changing environment. Such companies prepare well in advance but are ready to change course if the environment so requires. Choose to be more proactive starting today!

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy