Cultural Arsonists


Every organisation, no matter its scale, experiences bushfires. Leaders know about these. Just like the bushfires that ravage Australia each summer, a percentage of these are the result of arsonists.

So let’s talk about cultural arsonists.

Who are these people? Are they “psychopaths”? Are they “sociopaths?”

Perhaps a tiny percentage would be diagnosable.

The rest? I think they are regular people, even good people. They joined the organisation with a particular view of how things should be done, how their career will progress and how they will influence the development of the organisation.

What turns a person into a cultural arsonist?

What goes wrong?

Their view is challenged.

Perhaps they arrive and find that the existing org culture is one of “entitlement – a staff club” if you will.

Or, they arrive and find the opposite, it’s a thriving and progressive culture and they can’t get a foothold.

Either way, the current culture is not a good “fit” for them.

This presents a challenge for the leader of the organisation.

The organisation may have just recruited the very person who will make positive change, and drive this through the organisation with support.

Alternatively, they have recruited an arsonist.

What else contributes to the existence of cultural arsonists in our organisations?

Good people can work incredibly hard, put in their best talent, and grow a wonderful career within the organisation.

But what happens to those for whom opportunity doesn’t knock? Line managers stall their professional growth, and processes within the organisation quash opportunity for them to shine?

Perhaps they become cultural arsonists, even though this was never their intention.

How do we identify a potential arsonist? How do we ensure our culture is not creating arsonists? How do we support a cultural arsonist to change their attitude?

Good people can become cultural arsonists if we don’t have well planned and implemented vertical integration of culture.

And here is where we do a backflip on Peter Drucker.

Yes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. So we need a cultural strategy.

Cultural Strategy to defeat Arsonists

The integration of culture and strategy are intrinsic to a successful organisation.

Vertical integration of culture across an organisation can only be achieved by designing, developing and implementing excellent cultural strategy.

We are great at developing operational strategy – but its to no avail without the underpinning platform of a well-integrated cultural strategy.

If left to its own devices, organisational culture can skip entire levels of an org, or entire cohorts of workers – and this becomes a breeding ground for cultural arsonists.

This is the most powerful of all strategies that an organisation will develop and implement. At its core is the WHY of our organisations. The operational strategies will fall into place once we get the cultural strategy right.

And the Fire Hose?

What about the fire hose analogy I referred to at the beginning of my post?

Every good cultural strategy will have fire hydrants built in. They exist to hose down smouldering embers before they take hold, and build into full-blown fires within the culture of the organisation.  

In rare cases, the hosing down of embers will see potential arsonists supported to find new opportunities beyond our organisations.

In the majority of cases, those individuals charged with manning the fire hydrants, are skilled coaches and mentors. They facilitate open communication of issues across all levels of the organisation.

They hold the WHY of the organisation aloft, for all stakeholders.

They are privy to the aspirations and frustrations of people across the organisation and facilitate the integration of the individual’s professional aspirations with the vision for the organisation.

With the fire hydrants manned, we have one component of the strategy of vertical integration of culture in place – managing cultural arsonists.

So… my take on it? Cultural strategy eats cultural arsonists for breakfast.

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