Organizational Culture – What Is It?
The term organizational culture can seem nebulous and difficult to define. It’s actually pretty simple to define.
Organizational culture is simply the organization’s collectively accepted ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Why Does Culture Matter?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is not just a well known phrase. In our experience, it’s actually too soft of a statement! We believe that culture will eat everything in its path, so we’d better send it in the right direction.
As soon as there is more than one person in any organization, that organization’s culture is born and begins to take shape. From that point on – whether we know it or not – the cultural norms of the organization are being created and cemented. The only real question is, how deliberately and mindfully is the organizational culture being created? Typically, the answer is “not very much”. That’s a huge lost opportunity in the form of greater productivity, higher employee loyalty, and greater agility in today’s constantly changing world.
The best time to deliberately create and optimize your organization’s culture was from the very beginning. The next best time is now. The worst time is “later” because in today’s fast-paced and get-it-done-yesterday world, “later” never gets done.
What Makes or Breaks An Organizational Culture?
The definition of organizational culture is simple, but culture is actually quite complex. That is because there are so many factors that form and influence (for better or for worse) your organization’s culture, including:
- Organizational leadership’s demonstrated behaviors
- Are they walking the talk?
- What do people throughout the organization commonly do or not do?
- What people do matters a lot more than what is said
- Are people generally transparent and open, or do they play their cards close to the vest?
- What emotions are accepted as OK to show in the workplace and which are not accepted?
- Is the primary form or motivating people more about the carrot or about the stick? (i.e. – incentives vs. punishment)
- What is the gender balance of the organization?
- Has the company been highly successful in the marketplace?
- What is the socio-economic background of the organization’s people?
- Is the organization driven more by a research/engineering mindset or more of a sales/marketing mindset?
- What do clients expect from the organization? High quality of service? Innovation? Low cost?
- What kinds of products or services does the organization provide?
And that’s really just the tip of the cultural iceberg.
We know from experience that every piece of work we do with clients has a direct impact on the culture of their organization. That’s true whether it’s doing 1:1 coaching with the organization’s CEO, leading a multi-day leadership retreat with the C-Suite team, facilitating a storytelling workshop for a product management team, or working with a client organization from top to bottom on optimizing their culture.
Everything we do has an impact, and everything we do is a piece of the cultural puzzle. So, while we’re happy to work with clients only in pockets of their organization, we’re always thinking deliberately about the holistic culture of the environment we’re working within and we tailor our work to help optimize that culture.
Key questions to consider about your organizational culture:
- Has the organization created an optimal culture for their business strategy?
- What are the gaps between where the culture is today and where it needs to be to best support the business’ goals?
- How do we bridge those gaps?
- What’s the business bottom line impact (ROI) of bridging those gaps?
Again, every organization has a culture. If it’s not created and evolved diligently, it will default to being created haphazardly. And then that haphazard culture will likely eat everything in its wake, greatly limiting even the very best products and strategies.
While every organizational culture has its own unique flavor and flair, we’ve found that there are distinct stages of evolution that every organizational culture goes through. When we are brought in to work top to bottom on an organization’s culture, we begin by shining light – through our tools – on where the organization is at in their cultural evolution and how their current culture is impacting their organization’s bottom line. That understanding helps our clients codify their current culture in business terms, and clearly see the pay-off of consciously optimizing their culture.
Evolution of a Culture
Notice that it’s the Advanced and Inspired cultures that drive the best business results, yet only about 15% of organizations consistently operate as an Advanced or Inspired culture.
What would change in your organization if your culture was consistently operating at the Advanced or Inspired levels?
Our Approach to Culture Change
Based on our CEO’s Amazon 5-Star rated book Unshakeable Influence: Mastering the Inner Game of Leadership, we help our clients to transform their culture taking a truly holistic approach to culture change.
Too many culture change programs only look at distinct pieces of the puzzle rather than solving the problem holistically. When we are hired to improve organizational culture, we look at the problem from top to bottom and bottom to top, and from the collective organization to the individuals within the organization. In this way, we we can help our clients optimize their culture much more quickly, sustainably, and effectively.
All of our culture change programs are based on the following proprietary elements.
The New Organizational Culture Paradigm
IQ: Mindset Skills of a Culture
EQ: Inner Heartset Skills of a Culture
EQ: Relational Heartset Skills of a Culture
Culture Change: Putting It All Into Practice
Our global team of coaches has substantial experience in taking a holistic approach to your organizational culture change initiatives, including:
- Optimizing leadership culture
- Creating a coaching culture that helps bring out the best in everyone
- Creating an optimal multi-generational culture for today’s ground-breaking five generations in the workforce, without sacrificing one for another
- Creating a culture that millennials love
Culture Change Case Study
- CEO wants to improve button-down, silo’d culture to be more open, transparent, trust-based and relationship focused to modernize the culture of a legacy organization
- The culture needs to adapt to the times in order to attract and retain the best talent and stay relevant in a competitive services industry
- Aging baby boomer C-Suite team will be aging out soon, with insufficient leadership pipeline
- 360 assessments and executive coaching starting with the C-Suite team and trickling down throughout the organization to include all leaders, in a multi-year phased approach
- Aggregate 360 results analyzed in order to design and deliver group programs to address common challenges for leaders at the various levels
- 18% improvement in overall attrition, and 23% improvement in mid-level attrition
- Improved leadership pipeline, with clear successors for all key executive roles
- Improved candor, transparency, conflict resolution, and collaboration, resulting in 27% improvement in overall productivity of the organization