A People-First Organisational Culture Revolution. Existential. Not Optional. by Karen Walker

Sleep was hard to come by last night, sure, it was still 43 C / 109 F degrees after the sunset, and I don't have air-conditioning. Rather, what's keeping Australians awake, is living our new normal. The ongoing, catastrophic tragedy of loss of every life-form - human, wildlife, livestock, pets, forests, ecosystems - that is piercing the very soul of our society.

We grieve over climate change created losses through drought and soaring temperatures, warming oceans and dying marine ecosystems, dying river systems and water sources, degraded air quality, and the ravishes of extremes - monstrous bushfires and floods.

We weep for communities that have lost so much - homes and all their possessions, livelihoods, neighbours and family members - whilst facing the rapidly approaching reality of their locality becoming uninhabitable.

The people-first culture revolution in organisations

Globally, societies would be able to address the huge challenges faced today - climate change, growing inequality, loss of trust in our institutions, social disconnection, mental health crisis - if all our organisations, put people first. Why would a people-first culture in commercial, government, NGO and not-for-profit organisations, be so powerful?

Humans are social beings, our lives depending on and structured around, the various groups and communities we're a member of. Organisational cultures, enacted by business and management constructs designed to enhance, rather than prohibit, our natural human instincts, enjoy outcomes of more ethical, moral, and sustainable, decisions and actions.

  • Sebastian Junger in his latest book Tribe "proposes that many of the ills in modern Western society are due to the loss of tribal sentiments lying deep in our evolutionary past. We remain hunter-gatherers in our souls while our bodies (and minds) dwell in a culture that, for all its material blessings, is inimical to tribal virtues: cooperation rather than competition, affinity rather than alienation, a spirit of sharing rather than one of rugged individualism."
  • Junger provides many examples of how in desperate and difficult times, modern Western society has returned to our ancient tribal behaviours of cooperation, solidarity, courage, self-sacrifice and deep sense of community. Australia's volunteer firefighters are embodying this today.
  • As a species, we’re still using the same technology to successfully navigate being a member of a group. The amygdala of our brain. Developed long before we used language to communicate, it’s designed to ensure our ancestors’ survival, through being an accepted and protected member of a tribe. Today it continues to relentlessly guide our emotions and social behaviour towards belonging and the greater good, why it's so painful for employees and everyone, when workplace cultures repress these.
  • As a species, even those of us residing in densely populated, cities, and neighbourhoods, we all retain a deep connection to the natural world. Be it the yearning for trees, rivers, oceans, wildlife, and holidays, that help us escape from our unnatural habitats to those more natural. This, too, is our ancestors' wisdom programmed into our very being, that our survival relies on living in harmony with our environment and other species, rewarding us with positive emotions and wellbeing when we do.
  • When organisations intentionally shape their cultures to resonate with their employees' innate humanity, they create a sense of belonging, connecting individual's roles, and that of their organisation, to its role in society. Resulting in financial success, at the same time contributing to the wellbeing and sustainability of all on planet earth.

As a specieshumans are all scientists, seeking knowledge of how things work, coming up with theories and testing them. Avid categorise-rs and measure-rs, we relentlessly seek meaning and understanding in our lives and world around us.

Will history record Industry 4.0 as an era where we didn't squander the opportunities technologies provided, to positively change the destiny of society, the environment and humankind, by using the innate powers of the compassionate, human mind?

  • We need to battle mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy workplace cultures, of relentless busyness and stress, and stop regarding working longer and harder as a status symbol. Putting mental health of workers, and healthy minds, first.
  • Organisations that create time and environments, for employees to use their creativity, critical thinking, decision making, complex information processing, social and emotional skills, are rewarded by employees co-creating the most powerful solutions to complex problems. Increasingly complex, global challenges require continual innovation and change, making critical thinking time essential.
  • For humans, ecosystems are about individuals and entities interacting, communicating, trusting, sharing and achieving mutual benefits. Organisational cultures rewarding engaging in active co-evolution and creation of mutualistic relationships, ensure their survival. By contributing to social progress and being among the most trusted, in an increasingly connected and dynamic world. Appreciating that solving the biggest challenges society faces today, relies on the collective wisdom and brainpower of many, not the few.

The cultural revolution needed in organisations isn't optional, nor is it about brand, reputation, governance, and accountability. It's existential. It's about all of us.

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Karen Walker is an Advisor, Expert and Operative in Strategy Execution, the series of decisions and actions undertaken to turn strategic visions of organisations into reality. An evolving journey of understanding possibilities and using situational awareness to adapt tactics and goals to realise maximum value. 

A specialist in the casino and gaming industry, with extensive experience in the implementation of new and innovative practices and the establishment of greenfield operations, Karen’s career spans senior operational management and leadership, program director, project and change management, and business transformation lead roles, across a number of sectors.