I enjoy watching films, I guess it’s the escapism into a new world, getting inside the lives of new characters, and being carried along by the storyline. As Robert McKee, one of the gurus of screen writing likes to say, “It’s all about the story.” And occasionally I go see Independent and foreign films. In all movies there is an element of the viewer being able to “suspend disbelief” and just enjoy the show. It’s what makes movies work.
But I must confess it is hard for me to get fully engaged in foreign films that have been dubbed, and many are very poorly dubbed. The lips and sound are not always in synch and the voices don’t always relate to the character or their nationality. To me it stretches “suspended belief” to the breaking point.
Corporate Culture as a Poorly Dubbed Movie
Like many of you I have sat in countless senior executive presentations and road shows where the topic was “our Values” or “our Culture”. Most are interesting, there are even some good jokes and a few compelling examples. But is often difficult for the audience to “suspend disbelief” and buy-in to the Values “movie” happening on the podium.
The trouble is, the lips are moving, but the day-to-day behaviour is out of synch. Part of the mystique of actors and evangelists is that they don’t regularly show their private side, so they build up a persona around their characters which helps the audience “believe” in the screen story. Not so with company executives. We see them every day. We watch how they actually behave, in meetings, with colleagues, during times of company stress, at company social gatherings, in one-on-one discussions. And often the lips and the actions are not aligned.
Organizations are shadows of their leaders; that’s the good news and the bad news!
Because employees watch their leaders for clues on what are accepted behaviours, the way a senior executive acts (her/his behaviour) is far more influential than their words. If you want to know what the culture is really like, you can listen to the road show, or you can watch how leaders act and behave. When the lips and the actions don’t match, it’s not difficult to determine which is the real culture!
What’s the real movie? It’s the day-to-day behaviours, not the Values statements hanging on the wall.
John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
PS: John also writes thriller novels