Senior leaders are pointing to culture as key to future success, but they are having trouble defining it. In a recent study, 86 percent of global business leaders say organizational culture is an urgent business issue, yet only 14 percent said they knew what the “right culture” really is.
Defining company culture
Defining company culture is a top priority because it’s critical to organizational success. Culture can be defined as a shared set of assumptions, beliefs, behaviors and values that support a unique work environment. Culture describes an organization from within, “glues” all its members together and creates an environment where people can thrive. Culture affects the way people interact with each other including customers. Potential customers make decisions to do business based on how they feel about a company’s culture. Potential employees make decisions on whether to join and stay based on a company’s culture. Culture is simply the way things really get done when nobody’s looking Every company has a culture, whether or not it has been formally defined. The example of an iceberg provides a good analogy for corporate culture.
The portion of the iceberg we can see (above the water) is the way we SAY we get things done and includes more formal items such as vision, strategy, goals, policies and procedures. What is invisible or not easily seen are the things below the water. These explain how we REALLY get things done. This includes perceptions, tradition, values, unwritten rules, and generally the feelings and emotions of its people. In an effective corporate culture, there is no difference above and below the water. In an ineffective culture, there are differences between what you say you do and what you actually do.
Culture must align with business strategy
There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” culture, just an effective or ineffective one. And effectiveness is especially dependent on how well the culture aligns with the business strategy. Often a company’s legacy culture has been successful – causing leadership to pay little attention to whether or not it is positioning them for continued success. Just as strategy is
reviewed and refreshed every few years, culture must be reviewed at the same time as part of the strategic process.
Culture is strongly influenced by leaders:
• The vision leaders have of the organization’s future
• The criteria they set for recruiting, selecting, promoting and terminating talent
• What leaders pay attention to, measure and reward
• What they model, teach, coach and give feedback on
• Stories leaders tell about organizational events and people
• How leaders structure the organization, division or department
• What leaders formally and informally communicate
• How leaders challenge each other and the status quo
• How they make decisions that affect others
• How they build trust and pride with employees
Leaders must answer these questions:
• Is there a gap between the way we say we get work done and the way we actually get work done within our team, our department and/or our company?
• What kind of impact am I having on our culture?
• Will our current culture lead us to future success?
Have You Defined Your Company’s Culture as Part of Your Strategic Process?
In addition to determining your organization’s strategy, business model and brand, leaders must determine the kind of culture needed to continue to drive future success.
Lynn Whitesell provides advanced expertise in leadership solutions, organization and culture transformation and executive coaching. She co-founded Harris Whitesell Consulting, LLC to partner with leaders and organizations to help them achieve measurable improvement and reach their full potential. For more information visit harriswhitesellconsulting.com.
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