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Company Culture: What It Is, When It Should Change, and How to Change It

Recognize This! – Never hold your current culture sacred. It needs to flex with changing times and changing goals.

We spend far more time (awake) at work and with the people we work with than any other group of people in our lives. The culture of the organization we work within plays a profound role in how we experience work itself as well as the attitude we bring home with us from work.

What Is Culture?

Company culture is important. But what is it, exactly? Yes, it’s “the way we get things done around here,” but it’s also more than that. This SmartBlog article offers this definition:

“Experts in management science and organizational behavior and communication see organizational culture as an explicit product of the choices that a group of people makes with respect to accepted behavior as they interact with one another and key stakeholders outside of the organization (e.g., customers, suppliers and regulators) and attempt to develop ways to confront their broader social environment.”

A few things leapt out to me from that definition:

  • Explicit – Culture is not implied. It’s very much an explicit outcome.
  • Choices – Every one us chooses the attitude and approach we bring to our work and our daily interactions with those we encounter through our work. Changing our choices changes the culture.
  • Accepted behavior – Behaviors are the heart of your company culture. Not what people do, but how they behave as they work to accomplish the organization’s objectives. Do you accept bullying behaviors or ones that undermine the ethical standing of your organization? Or do you choose to only reward (accept) behaviors in line with values that matter to you?

When Should Culture Change?

In this excellent article, Steve Tobak wrote a good deal more on the importance of behaviors to culture as well as what culture is not (perks) and what it can and should be:

“Company culture is not permanent, nor should it be. We live in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. While some behaviors or methods are timeless, most are not. As long as they continue to generate results, then by all means, abide by them, reinforce them, and keep them around. But don’t hold them sacred.”

This is a critical point. While it’s easy to think that behaviors in line with a core value such as “teamwork” will always be needed, the behaviors in line with “risk-taking” are more suited to your R&D department than to Accounting. Don’t hold all employees to the same desired behaviors (or even Core Values) if they are not applicable to their roles or to changing company goals.

How to Change Culture

But how do you know your culture is in decline and now is the time to make the necessary shift? Rosabeth Moss Kantor offers nine symptoms to watch for in Harvard Business Review. More importantly, she also offers solutions to move your culture to a new level of success, including these (quoting):

  • Model respect for talent and achievements at every level. Offer frequent public thanks. Praise those who meet high standards while helping poor performers improve (or weeding them out if they don’t).
  • Stress common purpose. Communicate inspiring goals larger than any individual or group. Find a grand challenge to unite people.
  • Reinforce the positive by saying and demonstrating that change is possible. Ignore the voices of negativity.

Indeed, that’s the crux of how you build and evolve a strong, positive, powerful culture over time. Model what you want to see, involve everyone in the bigger picture, and reinforce both through frequent, timely and specific recognition.

How would you explain your company’s culture?

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8 Responses

  1. Hi Derek,

    This is a great article as it reminds me that revisiting the culture of our organization is just has important and revisiting or reaffirming our vision. Thanks for posting it.

    Julia

    • Derek Irvine says:

      Thanks, Julia. You’re exactly right. An ignored culture (even a good one) can rapidly sour if not watched and watered.

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