Do Mundane Things Culture Club

Just a quick selfie please…

Here’s a question. How do you find a parking space for someone visiting your organisation?

Is it as challenging as securing a visa for a sightseeing tour of North Korea, for you and your friends from the photography club? Alternatively, do you just check for an available space and book it? Simples!

Recently I shared this post; ‘if you want to understand your own culture, spend time in someone else’s’.  This led to a conversation with Richard McCrory (@iamdoctord) about different ways of understanding organisational culture. The idea emerged of doing an assessment of culture by observing how an organisation does mundane things.

No focus groups droning on about culture. No awkward sessions with people trying to draw ‘the culture’. No search for the truth in strategy documents. No analysis of the performance and impact measures. And hurrah, NO TICK BOX SURVEYS of do you, ‘strongly agree / strongly disagree with the following bizarre statement…’.

Just sit back and observe, or even better, try to do a few of the mundane things yourself. You know, the day-to-day stuff that keeps an organisation ticking over.

Watching things tick over. Behind the conversation was the idea that the approach to these mundane, everyday things is very likely to be a reflection of culture in the rest of the organisation.

If the process of getting a car parking space for a visitor is; slow, needlessly complicated and not focused upon the needs of the visitor (the customer), there’s a fair chance that this approach is likely to be replicated in other parts of what the business does (or am I being too simplistic?)

Alternatively, if the process of getting a car parking space is designed with visitors in mind; quick, straightforward and as helpful as possible, there’s a chance this is also reflected in what the organisation does.

Before I move on, it might be worth pausing to think about a recent example of when you have tried to park somewhere as a visitor, customer or service user. For me, my visit to a John Lewis store to collect a package, and an appointment at the outpatients department of a hospital spring to mind. They were very different experiences. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to work out how.


Focusing on Mundane Things. Getting back to the conversation about culture, we decided that we really needed a suite of ‘mundane things’ which we could use to assess culture. We also needed a scale for measurement (everything’s got to be measurable, hasn’t it?), and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In the meanwhile, here are a few of the mundane things that could be used to assess the culture of an organisation. I’m sure there are many more, please feel free to suggest your own. The idea is that you choose examples from the suite that are most representative and useful for the organisation you are looking at. Here goes:

  1. Book a parking space for a visitor
  2. Book a meeting room where you can talk to the visitor
  3. Get the visitor into the meeting room (past reception / security / bag scanning etc)
  4. Provide the visitor with a hot beverage (or a cold one)
  5. Book a train ticket for a business trip to London (or out of London if you work there)
  6. Speak directly to the Big Boss / Chief Executive (or anyone two ranks above you if you work in a many layered organisation)
  7. Send a letter of thanks to someone, outside of the organisation, who’s done something helpful
  8. I could go on… you are very welcome to suggest others

Bureaucratic Hell or Hippy Fantasy? – The Measurement Scale. I’m hoping this suggestion is a slightly more realistic measurement scale. It’s not linear, running from very good to very bad (or the other way around if you fancy). It’s basically two extremes, both probably wrong, and roughly the opposite of each other.

If you are familiar with the dyad/sliding scales used in SenseMaker you’ll get where I’m going here. In the middle it’s the Goldilocks Zone, not too much or too little of either. For most of the time, in a reasonably balanced ‘just right’ culture. The Goldilocks Zone is probably where you would want to be most of the time. You shift towards the ‘extremes’ depending on the context (a Bureaucratic Hell or a Hippy Fantasy).

So, how does this work with one of the activities from the ‘suite of mundane things’? How about Number 4: Providing a Visitor with a Hot Beverage? 


I’m sure you get the get the gist. I’m quite enjoying this. How about:

Number 6: Speak directly to the Big Boss / Chief Executive (or anyone two ranks above)

BOSS_4For anyone who happens to work in the Bureaucratic Hell culture, here’s a graphic explaining the Bird of Paradise Dance. It probably won’t help you get a meeting with the Boss’s Boss any quicker, but it might help ease the pain,… remember, The Bird of Paradise has an elegant dance…


So, What’s the PONT?

  1. How an organisation does the mundane things probably says a lot about the rest of their culture.
  2. Stepping back and observing the mundane things, or even trying to do them can tell you a lot.
  3. Culture doesn’t have to be a Hippy Fantasy, but neither does it need to be a Bureaucratic Hell. The Goldilocks Zone is just fine. Just remember that next time you are offering a hot beverage to a visitor, “…it’s not too hot and not too cold, it’s just right…”.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

6 Responses

  1. Great post Chris. About 15 years ago I was mentored by a guy called John Hughes from a company called Customer Services Network. He told me that in all his experience you could pretty accurately assess a companies culture by how easy it was to park a car, the greeting you got in reception, and whether someone offered you a coffee. If they got those three right – it was very rare they messed up the other stuff.

  2. OMG that made me laugh out loud. I’ve got two little insights for checking in to the organisation’s culture: first, have a quick look at the block emails circulated around the place, are they filled with rule reminders and other feckless trivia; secondly, look in any fridge?

  3. Anon

    One place had a great set up for drinks – then ‘savings’ meant NO drinks at all. From thence forward if you want to ‘refresh ‘ guests you simply purchase from your own pocket & make the drinks , yourself – time consuming , irritating but simple 😊. Interestingly getting visitors into the building was also a bit of a faff – so a new online system was created – this didn’t get rid of any ‘faff’ but it made it so complex that people started sneaking huge groups through the back door. This issue was solved by increasingly shouty ‘risk’ threats via email & notices . Illogical use of extra tech and short term savings !

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