Organisational culture isn’t like sales and profits – it’s not something that can be easily quantified or defined and it’s hard to write down exactly what your company culture is.
However, in your quest to maintain effectiveness and profitability, getting your company culture right and understanding it can have a tremendous impact on your business as well as your leadership decisions. It extends to every aspect of your company from advertising and marketing decisions, to product development and production methods. It shouldn’t be treated as incidental to your business but rather as a fundamental part of it.
What is organisational culture?
Culture is effectively the implied social order of your business – it’s the values and behaviours that make up the unique social and psychological environment in which you operate. It’s a collection or pattern of shared basic assumptions which inform decision-making processes, employee action or inaction, what is acceptable and what isn’t in ways that eventually become the norm for your business. For example, at its most basic, your business might have a culture where it’s completely acceptable to come to work in casual clothes, where the atmosphere is one which is quite laid back and open and you work collaboratively together. Conversely, your organisation may take a more authoritative approach where the culture is geared towards business attire and professionalism with a distinct hierarchy in place.
Organisational culture can grow and change fluidly or on its own – it doesn’t necessarily need to be led and directed but will alter as circumstances, goals and opportunities arise. But if you can align your culture with the personal needs and drives of your staff, it can help your business thrive.
Four accepted attributes of culture
As we said, organisational culture isn’t easily defined because it is so different from business to business. And indeed, there are many different models and methods out there. However, there are four generally accepted attributes of culture:
Culture doesn’t exist in isolation but rather is a shared concept. It exists in the rights and wrongs of group behaviour – what is acceptable behaviour and what is not as well as what people commonly experience.
You’ll find culture at every level of an organisation from the managing director down to the intern. It will be in the symbolism or branding a business employs, the type of person it hires, the environments it inhabits, the way it transacts business and the stories it creates.
Culture is long lasting, it’s not a flash in the pan. Culture can influence the direction of a business over a long period of time. For example, people are attracted by organisations with values and ideas similar to their own. When you hire people some will fit in and some won’t. Eventually, the ones who won’t will leave and your culture effectively becomes self-perpetuating.
Culture is implicit and arguably almost autonomous at times, a bit like breathing – you’re aware of it sometimes but not always, you don’t always control it but it is always there and vital to your wellbeing. Your workers have the ability to sense and respond to organisational culture without necessarily being aware of it. It’s instinctive or implicit.
Eight cultural/leadership styles
Every company’s culture is unique but they tend to fall into one of eight different styles:
A caring culture is one built on mutual trust and support. Workplaces are collaborative, colleagues support each other and teamwork is encouraged.
A culture with purpose is one founded on an ideal of trying to do good for the long-term global future. The focus is on idealism and sustainability. People are compassionate and leaders in this environment focus on their shared ideals.
In learning cultures the environment is one that is very creative and open to new ideas. People are inventive and united by innovation and curiosity. Leaders emphasise this creativity.
In enjoyment-centred cultures the environment tends to be one where people do what makes them happy. The atmosphere is fun, light-hearted and stimulating. Think of Google’s Googleplex which is well known to be more like an adult playground with its yoga, massages, volleyball and even giant dinosaur sculpture!
In a results-focussed culture the emphasis is on achievement. People in this environment are often united by a competitive spirit where outcomes are based on how well they do – they often aspire to be the top performer or the most successful. Leaders focus on achieving those goals.
This is characterised by workers who want to gain a personal advantage. It’s an environment where strength, decisiveness and a strong hierarchy are important. Leaders are confident and provide clear, decisive direction.
In this environment planning ahead, being cautious and considering all the risks are paramount. Workplaces tend to be predictable places defined by workers who want to feel protected and leaders who place emphasis on realistic outcomes and the importance of planning for all eventualities.
Order is another culture style where structure is important. There is a strong emphasis on playing by the rules, following a logical order and wanting to fit in. Leaders will focus on the procedural side of things.