Company culture is one of those ethereal things that sometimes gets mentioned and then dropped as a topic because it’s too big or too vague.
And we can’t do much to influence it, so why spend time on it.
It’s true that we often refer to culture as that thing buried beneath the ground, only raised up when we discuss vision, or values, or mission statements, or three-year objectives.
In other words, when we are looking at the company’s big picture.
But what about living it daily?
What about discussing what you wish your culture to look like with your team?
How about mentioning it at each meeting you have?
Doesn’t that sound too airy-fairy? Too touchy-feely?
Well, it depends on how seriously you take the whole concept of culture.
Firstly, what is it?
How can we define this all-encompassing term that seems to underpin everything we do but doesn’t appear to want to be pinned down?
One definition is ‘it’s the environment we work in, the rules we adhere to, the standards we accept, the processes we use to progress in work, the communication methods we use to inform, and the belief systems we choose to manifest and maintain’
Yes, it does underpin everything we do, but are we aware, consciously, of driving our culture every day?
Why is developing your culture so important?
Because it exists whether you consciously create it or not.
It is followed and produced by the way you run your department every day.
And if you don’t create it on purpose, it will grow by default.
So you can either plant the values, standards, rules and beliefs yourself and nurture them to grow and bloom….or you can let it develop by itself and take over the whole company, like deep-seated weeds that don’t need attention.
Which is it to be?
According to thought-leadership company Asperian Global, it can be broken down into four components or areas:
Espoused values, Enacted values, Basic assumptions and Observables
The espoused values are the things that are seen as a result of how you run your department.
They’re summed up in the goals you achieve, the vision statements you publish, the quality of your products and the marketing statements you put out.
People can see what your espoused (cause or belief) values are by how you commit yourself not the community or by what you do with the profits you make.
It can also be seen by how you treat your team members on things like remuneration, support systems and the like.
J.E. Sheridan in ‘Organisational Culture and Employee Retention’ (Birmingham, Alabama) states that having a clear and labelled culture has a stronger influence on employee retention than all the combined influences of the labour market and employee demographics.
So what people see you stand for can be just as, if not more, important than the more obvious signs demonstrated every day.
What lies beneath is sometimes more powerful than what lies on the surface.
Enacted values are the results of what you espouse to be.
They are the demonstrable values that your team live to.
Sometimes they differ from the espoused values, especially when the company lives by the motto, ’Do as I say, not as I do’
If there’s a big discrepancy between the two sets of values (those spoken of and those displayed) then people can see the hypocrisy and it can have a negative impact on morale and overall performance.
You need to ensure you closely monitor what the company claim to be doing and what is actually encouraged.
Any incongruence in this regard can cause bitterness and antipathy towards the company’s morals.
Basic assumptions are those things that underlie the way the company does things.
For example, Apple’s dictum of ‘Think Different’ reinforces everything the company stands for; employees don’t have to consciously think about ‘thinking different’; they do so automatically because it’s part of the fabric of the company and is interwoven into all decision-making and problem-solving processes.
If you were to ask all your department members or company-wide teams ‘What are the underpinning basic assumptions that we all live by in this company?’ what do you think their answers would be?
Would there be a common thread running through all the comments?
Would there be a complete mixture?
Or, would you get blank stares and a misunderstanding of what the question even means?
The basic assumptions need to be made clear so everyone is singing from the same song sheet and not perpetuating the silos that exist in so many organisations.
Finally, there are the Observables.
These should support the other three components of the culture and should be demonstrated in all dealings every colleague has with their team mates, and how customers are dealt with at every touchpoint.
They revolve around the rituals everyone has, the style of dress, the office layout, the branding messages, the meeting behaviour.
In other words, they are the things you see people saying and doing daily to shore up the culture and climate of the organisation.
How can you ensure people manifest your company culture at all levels?
1) Empower people by talking about the mission, the values and the vision regularly
2) Get people to contribute ideas on how some of the values can be lived daily
3) Be consistent in the way you, as a manager, demonstrate your understanding of the culture
4) Ensure the culture is transparent in daily use, rather than buried beneath bureaucracy and the establishment
Your culture can be determined by ‘how we do things round here’.
You can choose it, or it will be manifested by default.
Naturally, you want your people to love it rather than loathe it, so make it come alive and live it it daily in all you practice every day.