POWER TALK: You don’t take a bad culture head on

Saturday May 26 2018


By WALE AKINYEMI wale@powertalks.biz

I was in Mombasa a few years ago. I stayed at my favourite hotel and once again, I felt loved, welcomed and treasured. My experience at that hotel has been the same since 1996.

From the concierge to the waiters and right up to the general manager, there is a common thread that says they love what they do and we do what they love. I was ushered to my room by a very courteous young man who had been there for only four months, yet he was as excellent as the rest.

Compare this with another hotel that I had the misfortune of going to in Nairobi at the city centre. I don’t usually go there, but a client had hired me to train staff and they had selected that hotel.

I was treated very shoddily by one of the hotel’s employees. I asked to see her manager. He was no different.

Why is it that one hotel is the epitome of decorum and civility while the other oozes hostility? Why is it that in one, no matter how low you go among the ranks of the staff you get the same kind of excellent treatment, while in the other, even if you go higher, you get the same crappy treatment? Why is it that everyone I talk to agrees with the excellence of the Mombasa hotel and also the negativity of the one in Nairobi?

It’s a question of culture. To illustrate this, imagine that a matatu driver who has no regard for road signs is taken to a nation in Europe, where people respect road signs and a red light means stop even if no car is in sight. You will be shocked to see how quickly the matatu driver attunes himself to the new environment.

In the same way, I have seen foreigners drive in Nairobi in a manner that they would not dare in their countries.

Culture is a very interesting thing. It is the product of people, while at the same time, it shapes others. Culture is not something we do. It is how we think. It is the atmosphere created by our reasoning. The actions are only manifestations of the mind-set.

Organisations have a tendency to lean more towards the cultural orientation of leadership. This could be at a departmental or global level.

Many organisations spend a lot of money on rebranding, but they fail to realise that without rebranding the mind of their employees, it will be an exercise in futility.

Can culture be changed? Yes, it can but not by challenging the prevailing culture. People are very protective of their cultures. It can be done by introducing another culture.

The culture of incivility is not overcome by fighting incivility but by perpetuating a higher culture of civility. It starts with a resolve in our minds, which creates an atmosphere around us.

We all have a choice today, either to be shaped by a culture of incivility or to introduce a higher culture of civility and transformation. Instead of complaining about what you don’t like, be the example of what you like.

Imagine one million people subscribing to a culture of road civility (I believe that road etiquette is a true representation of national civility).

Change doesn’t happen in the world because there have been conferences on change. It happens because individuals decide to change and create a cultural atmosphere around them that go viral. Do not underestimate your power to bring transformation to this continent. You are one decision away.