Some Thoughts about Creating a Positive Culture

         In our book, Unleashing Human Energy through Culture Change, we begin with two quotations that set the stage for creating a positive culture. They express what we believe are two fundamental truths that must exist if an organization’s culture is to free its people to unleash human energy.

In this blog, we will focus on the first quotation, by Abraham Lincoln.  

  “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

In our last blog, we stated that faith in people, trust in them, and respecting them as individuals were the basic values that were necessary for a positive culture. These values require a level of optimism if they are to be implemented. Like rose bushes, workers may have thorns, but if we focus on the thorns, we lose sight of the roses. It is here that leaders make a difference.  

In his classic book The Human Side of Enterprise, Douglas McGregor puts forth two sets of assumptions. One, which he calls “Theory X,” has assumptions about workers--that they are lazy, avoid responsibility, and only work if coerced. Imagine what an organization’s culture would be like if its leaders operated under the beliefs of Theory X. Workers would be micro-managed, controlled, and disciplined if they did not conform to management’s rules. Most of us would not like to work under this kind of culture.  

McGregor’s second set of assumptions is called “Theory Y” and includes beliefs that workers, under the right conditions, enjoy work and accept responsibility. Here, one could imagine a great place to work, one where faith, trust, and respect were openly displayed in a cooperative culture. Under Theory Y assumptions, workers would have more discretion in performing their jobs, and leaders would serve their employees by providing everything needed for successful performance. Discipline would only be needed for those who did not fit the culture.  

While McGregor never used the phrase organizational culture, he provided the conceptual framework for it. The business response to McGregor’s research and writing is interesting.  Many critics of his Theory Y assumptions argue that workers are lazy and only respond to discipline and financial rewards. These critics believe that trusting workers leads to chaos, poor productivity, and financial ruin. General Motors culture was built on Theory X assumptions, and look what happened to it.  The company saw its domestic market share fall from over 60 percent to less than 20 percent on the way to eventual bankruptcy. That is a lot of thorns!

We believe the only way to create a positive culture is with optimism. We need to see the roses.  This does not deny the existence of thorns. What optimism does is raise the human potential by unleashing human energy and organizational performance while treating workers with faith, trust, and respect.