How Corporate Culture Is Created – It’s The UGRs

People familiar with our web site will know that the UGRs (unwritten ground rules) concept is a potent tool that helps people understand and improve corporate culture. We have evidence to show that UGRs drive people’s behaviour, yet they are rarely talked about openly.

So how are UGRs created?

Our work with Gold Coast based Clive Lloyd has helped expand our understanding in relation to this question. Here are our thoughts on some of the major ways in which UGRs are created within a team or company:

  • The extent to which staff and management believe they have influence and control over their workplace culture. Clive’s terrific work on ELoCs (external locus of control) and ILoCs (internal locus of control) teaches us that people have varying views about the extent to which they believe outcomes are related to their own behaviours. ILoCs for example, believe that the results they get in life (including work) are the outcomes of their own attitudes and behaviours. On the other hand, ELoCs believe that the results they get in their life are the consequence of luck, chance or other forces. So if a group of people are characterised by negative UGRs, there’s a good chance they are also characterised as being ELoCs – that’s because these people externalise problems that they experience and take little personal ownership for them
  • The tolerance of innappropriate behaviours. We believe that leaders either cause or allow UGRs to exist. So if there is innapropriate behaviour that goes unchallenged, then the UGR is ‘that’s OK’. If inappropriate behaviour is challenged, then how it is challenged becomes important.
  • How people are treated. Issues like how conflict is dealt with, if and how people are recognised, and what happens when mistakes are made all lead people to conclusions about the extent to which there is respect for people
  • What is most important. Organisations have strategic and business plans, vision and mission statements and values statements, all of which indictate what is most important in that enterprise. People watch leaders to see what gets recognised and rewarded, who gets promoted, who gets special priveldges and so on, to see what is really important within the organisation
  • The difference between what people say and what people do. If people are ‘loose’ with their promises (like ‘I’ll get that report to you tomorrow’) then negative UGRs are created. Similarly, if leaders say something is important to them, yet fail to display that in their behaviors, negative UGRs are created. This tells us that people are looking at the alignment between what other sayand what they do.
  • The extent to which people are honest and open. We’ve been in some organisations where people play their cards very close to their chest – revealing only what is necessary. We’ve also been in organisations where people will say one thing in a given context, and the opposite thing in another context – framed around pleasing the audience at the time. People can quickly deduce the extent to which staff and management are open and honest, and UGRs are created accordingly.

So what’s the point?

If the above are major contributors to the UGRs (and workplace culture), then it would be instructive to, at the very least, reflect on how each of these plays out in your organisation.