What is Organizational Culture?
When I set out to define organizational culture (aka corporate culture, workplace culture, business culture), I started by researching dozens of existing definitions for the term. What I found was that, although a seemingly endless amount of definitions exist on the web, most of them have common themes. From these common themes, I came up with what I feel to be a universal definition, written below:
Organizational culture is the sum of shared values, norms, and behaviors among employees in an organization. It is “how things get done around here.”
With the nutshell definition laid out, let’s take a look at each part that makes up the whole of organizational culture.
1. Is shared mindsets and behaviors.
You can create guidelines and documents in an organization, but unless they are adopted by the workforce they can’t be considered culture. The best way to change written ideas into actions is for management to start abiding by them, showing the rest of the team that they are valued.
2. Starts with a good hiring process.
Writing job descriptions, interviewing, and assessing potential candidates with a culture in mind is not only acceptable, it’s vital to creating the culture you want. Take, for instance, a company like the Mars Corporation where employees of all rank are treated as equals. To continue building this culture, an important part of the interview would be to find out how each candidate feels about employee equality and hire only those who will be advocates for that approach. Behavioral assessments like the Predictive Index can provide hiring managers with a tool to identify behavioral traits of a candidate that are a match for your culture.
3. Is reinforced through onboarding.
Getting employees into the right mindset from the beginning is most of the battle when it comes to creating the organizational culture you’re aiming for. After being hired, new employees begin to be influenced by their coworkers and immediate reports. Pairing new employees with dedicated employee mentors, people who are good representatives of the organizational culture, helps reinforce written expectations over the first year the new employee spends with the company. Additionally, having meetings at regular intervals with the new employee to review expectations can help keep things on track.
4. Defines your company’s internal and external identity.
Organizational culture is important not only to the internal day to day workings of your business but it’s also noticeable from the client facing side. Take, for example, one of Google’s cultural values: you can be serious without a suit. Clients coming into the office will notice the casual dress code. Google even goes a step further to provide free dry cleaning and haircuts to its workforce. The clean, presentable appearance of their employees will also make an impact on clients and on those who know the employees outside of the workplace.
5. Is the emergent totality of everything that has occurred and is occurring in the workplace.
Organizational culture is a living, changing thing. Something that happens today can change what the culture was yesterday. As a result, it’s important to have written values and always be sure to adhere to them to continually reinforce the culture. Of course, good leaders also always remain open minded to positive changes that can be made to the culture. For employees to truly buy into an organization’s culture, they must also feel the ability to change parts of it that aren’t flowing well.
To conclude, organizational culture is shared values, norms, and behaviors of employees. However, it’s also a living thing that needs to be demonstrated, reinforced, and changed when necessary. The most effective cultures are written down and also acted out on a day to day basis. Lastly, your culture isn’t only seen by employees but is also clear to clients and impacts your reputation with them. Therefore, having a well defined and positive organizational culture is imperative for success.