What is Culture?
"Culture isn't just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value."
Lou Gerstner - Ex CEO, IBM
Everyone knows that cultures can vary hugely from one company to another; we may describe it as the 'atmosphere'. We can see and feel it as soon as we walk in the door. Things that may be immediately apparent would include the level of noise (are people talking), the calmness or franticness, tidy or messy, energy or still. You may notice how formal or relaxed people are with each other; are they smiling and laughing, or are they serious and looking tired?
There are many elements at play that will contribute to the formation of that culture:
The type of work itself - many jobs develop their own sets of jargon, vocabulary and humour, some may require procedural rigour, or wild creativity, thick skin or great compassion.
There may be a huge emphasis on time related achievement of targets or quotas.
The mix of people and whether they have the appropriate knowledge and skills.
The organisational and management structure in which people operate.
The optimisation of processes; do they make best use of resources and people?
The working environment, tools, systems and facilities.
All of these things attract certain types of people who will respond to these factors both individually and collectively. And the way they respond will depend on their individual personality, prior experience, and of course the leadership style within the company.
"In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”
Howard Schultz - CEO Starbucks
"Strategy provides the clear and focused direction for decision making and collective action.
Culture provides the collective energy and motive force for the company to achieve its strategic goals".
Values and culture in many ways should be the same thing. However, what do you mean by values - a list of words written on your reception wall or website for all visitors to see? The real values of a company can be observed - they comprise a mix of beliefs and behaviours; beliefs are like pillars or anchors around which all other behaviour forms. Those behaviours become engrained in the company's ways of working and so become the culture.
When considering a company's culture, both as it is and as you would like it to be, it is often easier to think in terms of the demonstrated lived values - ie observable behaviours.
However, being able to articulate your real values is an important part of your strategic decision making capability. Ultimately, your values will define what you are and are not prepared to do as you pursue your strategic goals; where is your grey zone, and where is the red line?
"Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.”
David Cummings - Co-Founder, Pardot
Phrases such as 'Toxic Work Culture' and 'Hostile Work Environment' are quite common these days. As societies, we are becoming more aware of these issues and with the help of internet and social media, we are airing our grievances and concerns for all to read.
However, it is very easy to think that there are merely 2 extremes - you either have a good and healthy work culture, or a toxic work environment. Of course, the reality is not quite like that. Most organisations, even the best, will have bubbles of issues - the question is whether they address them or not.
Most work environments that have some level of toxicity or hostility have arrived there by management or leadership neglect - these behaviours have been allowed to develop maybe by turning a blind eye, or not responding to a situation in a timely and appropriate manner.
In truly toxic environments, various elements of management or leadership may actually have been complicit in creating that culture - through management practices that many would consider abhorrent, or leadership styles that may include such techniques as intimidation, humiliation, or bullying.
Inadvertent toxicity can be dealt with by means of a suitable sustained programme of interventions; complicit toxicity may need more drastic measures to resolve.
Healthy Workplace Culture Program
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"People don't resist change, they resist being changed."
There is no generally optimal organisational structure other than what is optimal for the achievement of the company's goals, while making best use of the available resources, and consideration of other constraints.
With regard to people, different types of people or personalities will be required depending on the way the company needs to operate, and they will need to be managed and led accordingly.
However, regardless of the nature of the company, its product or market, and the people who make and serve there, the employees will still need the environment in which they can thrive and do and give their best. This requires building a healthy workplace culture - appropriate to the particular company, and which may be very different from the next healthy company.
"I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better".
There is a great quote from Zig Zigler - he said: "you don't build companies, you build people and the people build the company". Your people are the source of your success; they are the guardians of the knowledge crucial to your success and growth. They gather the intelligence from the market place, they identify and solve problems, they innovate, create the products and services of tomorrow, and they serve your customers. They are as much a part of your brand as your product or your logo.
While taking time and effort to recruit the right people who are aligned in values and a good cultural fit will make life easier for everyone, it's what you do with them during their first year that is critical to their longer-term performance. During this first year, they are inquisitive and they learn how the company works. However, they become acculturated, which may include the 'accepted level of productivity', or they don't which may result in problematic behaviour and ultimately parting ways.
People join and quit cultures - not companies. The culture of a company is part of its brand and increasingly so; the top candidates ask culture related questions during interviews, and exceptional companies attract and retain exceptional people.
"My beliefs will run through everything I do. My beliefs, my values are my anchor and when people try to drag me, as I know they will, it is to that sense of right and wrong, that sense of who I am and what I believe, to which I will always hold".
Ed Miliband (British Politician)
While this question could turn into a deep philosophical debate, there is a more straightforward business consideration with 2 elements:
Firstly, is the culture enabling or even empowering the company to drive towards its goals?
Secondly, is the company, and its people, operating with demonstrated values or behaviours with which they are comfortable?
These 2 elements could be in conflict with each other, hopefully they aren't.
However, it is easy to make judgements about a culture based on our own personal beliefs and biases; we need to be very aware of that when considering the question of good, bad, right or wrong.
Just like quality or marketing, culture is everybody's responsibility; certainly everybody contributes to it. To be sure, the good people in HR have a very important part to play - but don't make culture their responsibility. Every contact employees have with HR during their employment should be consistent with the desired culture of the organisation; HR polices and practices should be aligned with that. HR may also advise on the organisational mechanics of achieving some of the cultural elements of the company's strategic goals. But the overall responsibility for articulating and leading the culture belongs to the executive and then the broader management.
A good cultural fit starts during recruiting, and while HR may coordinate the recruitment and onboarding process, everyone involved in the selection and onboarding processes has some level of responsibility.
Too often, HR are the people that will deal with problematic staff when they start reacting adversely to the culture - either through sick-days, stress leave, performance issues, warnings, or termination. They are usually the people that have to deal with the consequences of a poor culture - and expend a huge amount of time and effort doing so.
"Most companies overlook the most basic of all training functions: the onboarding of new employees into their corporate culture.”
Jay Samit - Author / ex-VP Deloitte
There are 2 distinct elements to this question:
Diversity is not a checkbox - and to fully reap the benefits of diversity, then inclusivity needs to be practised by all.
Many organisations do have an excellent culture that they want to maintain; this is useful to know and take into consideration whether the company is recruiting to grow or implementing other internal changes or transformation initiatives.
As new employees are brought into the company, the existing culture is at risk of being diluted by the new personalities. Strong cultures (good or bad) are infectious and are less likely to be diluted. And, by being acutely aware and openly conscious of the cultural elements (behaviours) that are important and need to be maintained, as new people are brought in, they will learn the expected behaviours. Otherwise, they will learn the tolerated behaviours - or even introduce a few of their own. The learning process can be augmented by demonstration (lead by good example), and good behaviours can be rewarded when seen; similarly, behaviours that are counter to that can be corrected. The recruitment process is a crucial element - ensure that prospective employees are aware of the culture that they will be getting into, and also ensure that they will be a cultural fit.
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Healthy Workplace Culture Program
calendars to have the day completely free of interruptions or distractions (ie leave phones outside of the meeting (room).
and sometimes, what you'd like to be good at. This includes more than just your product or service.
values and overall purpose.
will come across many unknowns or conflicting views, we will highlight assumptions and gaps that individuals had
about what should be a single shared vision – these are all very important to identify and often cannot be resolved
there and then.
what is important to you, and what you need to achieve over what timescale as you prepare to create the future
that will need further work. This document will provide the basis for your ongoing strategic and operations plans
- we can work further with you on those if you wish.
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