Culture – today’s informed business leaders are well aware that everyone is talking about it in the same conversation with employee retention and employee engagement. Is this subject topical because of the shortage of talented candidates in the market? Is it because of the current loss of some of their best people?
When the discussion becomes “organizational culture” or “corporate culture,” most people have a sense of what that means within their own environment. A fairly simple definition of this concept is “the way we do things around here.”
What is it like to live in your organization? Is it a safe, inspiring work environment that demonstrates trust and respect for employees? For their efforts? Yes? Not so much?
There are plenty of prescriptions for how to create and/or change an organization’s culture. Unfortunately, just like recipes, they get tossed and adapted. In many cases this happens with barely a mention of what we mean when we say ‘culture’. I’m not suggesting this is just about semantics because it is actually really important. Sloppy thinking leads to sloppy actions. Company HR departments cannot afford to be imprecise about something as important as company culture. Hopefully, this is a lesson that has already been learned
Sloppy thinking leads to sloppy actions. Company HR departments cannot afford to be imprecise about something as important as company culture. Hopefully, this is a lesson that has already been learned
What is Culture?
Consider some key concepts within the social sciences:
- Culture is enacted: continuously created by every member of an organization, through their day-to-day participation in the organization. It’s dynamic, shared, crowd-sourced; not static and unchanging.
- Culture is “how we do things here”. It provides members with (largely unspoken) rules for how they should behave to gain and maintain social ‘membership’ in the organization.
- Culture is manifested in a variety of ways, including:
- Language –shared words or labels your organization uses for things.
- Rituals – such as Town Hall meetings, the summer BBQ, award ceremonies etc.
- Dress code – how people are expected to dress in the course of doing their work
- Symbols – the meaning attached to corporate symbols
- Decision making – how important organizational decisions are made and communicated
- Conflict resolution – how conflicts are expected to be handled- discussed or avoided?
- Status- who is recognized and esteemed, both formally and informally?
- Social Activities – what is encouraged, what is considered accepted behavior and what is not deemed unacceptable
So this is (to some degree) a circular process. “The way we do things around here” is created by the actions of an organization’s members – guided by “their system or process”. By acting in accordance with the existing system or process, “the way we do things around here” is further legitimized and reinforced.
What Culture is NOT:
- It’s not the company’s employer brand. Brand is something that is a targeted, tailored message for an audience. Just because something is ‘said’ doesn’t make it a culture.
- Culture is not monolithic. It’s dynamic. It’s not something that is taken out of a box and sold to employees during orientation. A culture is created and recreated every day.
- Because culture is transmitting from, to, and between the members of an organization, it’s actually quite difficult to change without a critical mass of people consistently ‘transmitting’ the new culture.
Why it’s REALLY Important That Companies Lose the Sloppy “Culture” Thinking
Unfortunately, there are so many blog posts, articles, webinars and presentations directed at HR people who are about superficial things – things that are not really culture-related.
Sloppy thinking is created by half-baked ideas. These ideas may not even be very realistic. Organizations need a better definition of what is good, right and real about organizational change efforts before addressing and undertaking them.
1. Culture Is NOT Homogenous Across the Organization
Culture is not uniform and it is definitely not advisable to be a cult. Organizations are made up of human beings, not robots. Internal inconsistencies and sub-cultures may exist within a culture- and in many cases that may be completely normal.
A sub-culture within a department or a team can encourage identification amongst it’s individual members. It can bind groups together. Sub-cultures can be adaptive for a particular group based on their own demands, constraints or specialized function.
2. Having a Team Building or Social Event is NOT the way to Change Culture
Sending employees on a team-building social event will not change thinking or behavior. Social events may impact morale and team dynamics, but they are not the same thing as company culture. Remember that culture is more than a talking point. It is not something so superficial that a couple of events can create any lasting, worthwhile or strategic change.
3. HR CANNOT Single-handedly Change an Organization’s Culture
Just like employee engagement, employee retention and other types of initiatives, can set up an HR department for failure if they are expected to implement culture change on their own.
Culture is enacted, dynamic and crowd-sourced. Culture change is like conducting an orchestra – all of the players are creating something together. Culture cannot be unilaterally changed. It needs the ‘players’ to willingly start playing and embracing a new tune.
Make culture as important as any other performance. Research has proven that a shift to creating and aligning corporate values will generate growth in employee engagement, customer service rankings, and profits. And we all want that!
Ted Talk Creating Workplace Cultures, Energy of Inspired Employees
“To be an enduring, great company, you have to build a mechanism for preventing or solving problems that will long outlast any one individual leader.”
~ Howard Schultz, Chairman & CEO Starbucks