What the heck is Organisational Culture? And why do we mostly feel it when we’re frustrated at the company we work for?
What is culture really? Coming up with a brief definition myself without peeking in a dictionary: the collective behaviour of people in some group.
Now Wiki: Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.
Phew, I’d never come up with that. It’s actually composed of many things and surprisingly, individuals as well as societies.
Perhaps, it’s easier to see it in a different light, if a foreigner wants to blend in a new country she better adhere to the culture of that country.
It’s this kind of thing that when it sucks, you notice it and when it’s good it’s underrated and not appreciated (reminds me of defensive systems ah) but it's still there alive and kicking.
It’s true that observing this elusive behaviour and agreeing on what it is in an organisation is very hard, but if we put efforts into it I am sure it’s possible to come up with observed positive and negative behaviours. Culture somehow affects all the individuals in the organisation. Notice I talk of it as it’s a live-thing on its own. Even though it’s a passive kind of thing.
Culture is one of the most important things together with values and processes in an organisation. And they affect each other as in a triangle, or they can even be collapsed under culture, if we look at the broad definition of it. And indeed many things in the organisation can be attributed to its culture/DNA.
If a company is successful hitting its milestones but everyone isn’t happy and burnt out, then it will probably say something about the culture. So it is true if people do way too much politics or steal credit instead of pushing the organisation forward (“I am more important than the org”). Or some people are too toxic in the organisation no matter what, and they always speak out. Or managers avoid giving honest direct answers to hard questions. And the list goes on...
It’s clear that if everybody (and managers in particular) set an example, becoming a role model, management behaves in a certain way: transparent & visible, high integrity, professional, etc. All employees follow the values of the organisation. These all help to create a healthy environment. It's only natural that managers have more effect on the organisation than other employees as employees look upon them and as they take the big decisions anyway. Their actions speak of themselves, even if they like it or not.
For every action that is taken in the organisation there's a consequential (good or bad) message that is echoed in the chamber of culture. Don't say you didn't know.
When culture becomes a topic people discuss and managers worry about, they already affect it. Most managers simply don’t think about culture and don’t try to affect it actively. They only feel it. When values are fit and not abused, it helps to create a wanted culture. When a CEO takes decisions it also reflects on the culture passively but actively - as eventually employees might imitate her. An organisation should take care of its culture from day one. I believe, HR should do orientation meetings for newcomers where values and wanted culture are also presented. This way people are going to be aware of it, and hopefully slowly, behave accordingly and not just behave in the way they absorbed(!) from previous places which might not be good for their current organisation.
It's hard to maintain a good culture and screwing it up is even easier but it seems that by doing a minimum necessary culture cultivation the organisation may already gain a lot!