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Lesson 3: (Bo) “Tell your sons and your sons’ sons”: Maintaining the organizational culture
…”We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“…and that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child what I have wrought upon Egypt and My signs which I have done among them; that ye may know that I am the Lord”
“On that day, you must tell your child, ‘This is because of what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt'” Exodus 13:8.
Were so many plagues necessary to compel Pharaoh to let the Israelites go? After all, the all-powerful God could have executed His plan in one fell swoop. Why go through blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, and the rest of the ten plagues? Verses in Exodus, Chapters 7 and 10, provide us with God’s two key objectives beyond freeing the Israelites from slavery: 1. that Pharaoh and the Egyptians “shall know that I am the Lord,” and 2. that in future generations, the Israelites will tell their children and grandchildren what God had wrought in Egypt and that they “may know that I am the Lord.” It now seems apparent that God anticipated that multiple episodes of the dreadful plagues––to be endured by the Egyptians and observed by the Israelites––would facilitate internalizing these key messages.
While this tack succeeded among the Egyptians in the short term, it may not have been as effective for them in the long term, as they pursued the Israelites until the Egyptian army’s demise at the Red Sea. In contrast, extended Jewish families assemble annually at the Passover Seder feast to repeat the story of what God wrought upon Egypt to bring about the nascent Israelite nation’s freedom. As we know, stories are remembered; dry facts are not (whether at the Passover Seder or a job interview). Thus, the primary content of this feast is telling the story of the many stages of how God extracted the enslaved Israelites from Pharaoh’s grip. The message is passed to “the hearing of your child and of your child’s child.” Thus, these annual affairs help subsequent generations internalize the miraculous events of the exodus story so that they have become part of the people’s DNA: “You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants.”
The Israelites needed to transition from being slaves to Pharaoh to a culture of being God’s servants; thus, new values anchored in actual events needed to be internalized. They needed to identify with this history intimately to establish their nationhood, receive God’s commandments, and embark on a new lifestyle in the Promised Land.
Maintaining the Organizational Culture
In any organization, its culture is paramount to its long-term success. However, defining organizational culture is an elusive endeavor. Most definitions allude to the intangibles that hold the employees together as a unit, much like a family. However, critical values must be consistently internalized and reinforced to ensure that all generations at the workplace are “on the same page.”
Organizational culture may include multiple factors: the nature of workplace interactions (boisterous or refined? self-disclosing or just ‘correct’?); workers’ engagement with the organization (is it a good place to work only if the wages remain high? do employees feel committed to the organization’s mission); relationship with management (does management elicit employees’ input? are their direct pathways to access supervisors?); relationship to time (do workers respect colleagues’ time by being prompt or is a more laid-back atmosphere encouraged?). Clearly, there are no ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ answers, but shared language and procedures are critical for any organization’s smooth functioning.
These ‘soft’ aspects of an organization’s culture are critical in our era, given the persistent need to orient and “break in” new employees who may not aspire to remain with the company forever.
One aspect of organizational culture is to stress a shared past. This includes, for instance, remembering how the organization emerged from a garage-based start-up with young creative entrepreneurs to a global enterprise that enhances the common person’s life. The organization, then, will typically seek avenues to reinforce the fundamental values that bind the workers. These actions might take the form of “salesperson of the month,” “initiative of the month,” or even an annual banquet when the story of the organization’s past is reiterated in new ways by the company’s veterans, much like the Passover Seder, where four cups of wine are served, and the younger generation is given the opportunity to learn from their “elders” but also to grill the management.
Points to Ponder:
- Some organizational cultures evolve by inertia, and sensitive employees may seek to adjust it to make the workplace more pleasant. For example, some firms stress hierarchy and power, others stress ‘the bottom line,’ and still others insist on workers remaining within the confines of the role for which they were hired (a diminishing lot). In short, some have held onto values that may have worked well in the past but need to be reassessed in light of the tremendous changes in the workforce.
- In our world of expanding remote and work-from-home frameworks, creative solutions need to be put forward to reinforce those values that help bind the organization’s workers. For instance, before remote meetings, the convener can open up the virtual meeting room a bit early and keep it open post-meeting to allow for informal small talk. This will contribute to workers’ engagement and fortify the company culture (and also facilitate beginning the meeting on time).
- Try this: In the face of constant change, it’s the managers’ and team leaders’ responsibility to remind employees that their organization’s basic values have not changed or indicate how updated values have evolved: Find ways to integrate shared values in memos, short speeches, and other informal communications. For instance, the manager can periodically approach team members by stating: We were established and have thrived by respecting and accommodating client feedback. What innovative ways can we apply today to ensure we honor this tradition?
 Exodus 7:5
 Exodus 10:2
 Exodus 12:24–27.
 Watkins, M. D. (2013). What is organizational culture? And why should we care? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture?registration=success