Managing Culture

I am occasionally asked, “what is all this talk about “culture”? or the question might be, “ I see culture can be an issue, but since we can’t measure it, why should I spend my energy and resources on it?”

Well, culture is critical to the performance of an organisation.  Whether you want to spend your leadership time and resources on it or not, you will have one. It is not something you can decide to not have, like a system upgrade, or a marketing division. Every organisation has a culture. The leadership issue for you is, “is it a culture that supports your strategic goals?” If you do not know what your culture is, or, do not know what culture will support your strategic goals, then you are not managing a key element to the success of your strategy.

Culture is the subconscious behavioural norms. It is driven by the need of people to fit in.  As a result, a culture exists in every social organisation and includes nations, families and you guessed it, places of work.  These behavioural norms are created by messages people receive (rightly or wrongly) about what is valued and how people are expected to behave. Some of these messages were received long ago and even though no one may be in the organisation today when that event occurred, that message may still be influencing today’s culture. 

Culture comes from three broad areas:

  1. Behaviour of others, especially those people deemed important. That is important from the employees’ perspective, so it would be a mistake to assume that only includes people in formal organisational leadership roles.
  2. Symbols. These are events, decisions and artifacts to which people attach meaning
  3. Systems and tasks. The methods for managing people and tasks.

Culture management therefore is in part, about managing the messages people receive and the perception of what people see is genuinely valued within the organisation.

Messages are of course received from every action and decision within an organisation, not just through the formal message systems of the organisation. Every budget decision, policy decision, product decision, etc can therefore send a message and therefore influence your organisation’s culture.

There are generally regarded to be three phases to culture change. The outcomes of a successful phase one include a well-articulated view of what you have and what you want. The outcomes of a successful phase three include evidence of a competitive advantage in both the customer and employment market based on your culture.

If you would like to explore these issues further, contact us here at Organisational Capability Solutions.