This article is the first in a series: About Concept Organization’s Cultural Consulting Process. Read Part II: Evaluating Company Culture here.
Part I: Examining the Idea of “Company Culture”
In recent decades, the idea of “company culture” has entered into the common professional vernacular. The domain of “Culture” can be a bit like that of “Politics” – everybody talks about it, we’re all affected by it, but few know how it actually works.
It’s certainly something that’s likely to be on employees’ minds, especially in these times of uncertainty and rapid change. You can learn a lot about how someone feels about their work by asking their opinion of company culture. If they’re comfortable enough to be authentic in their response, you’re likely to hear a passionate opinion in one direction or another.
If you keep asking around, you may even notice that those happiest with the culture are the highest performers, and those who don’t feel a cultural fit may struggle to stay engaged or could even be developing mental health challenges. (In fact, a recent Gallup study showed that employees who felt they had a “fit” with the culture of their workplace were more engaged and about 20% more productive than those who did not.)
How Not to Culture
While we love working with companies that are thinking about culture improvement as a tool to unlock their full potential, more often than not they’re thinking about it because something is going poorly. Just a few examples of things that can indicate an unhealthy company culture include:
- There are quantifiable retention problems and high turnover.
- People are using all or none of their sick days or vacation days.
- People are afraid to innovate or take risks because every failure is punished.
- People leave exactly on the hour.
- There’s an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” or “beg forgiveness instead of ask permission” policy.
- Management eats lunch alone every day, while everyone else eats together.
- All management communications are by email there is no company-wide forum for discussion
- People get fired all the time or no one ever leaves/changes jobs.
- No individual personality is displayed in working spaces.
In addition, there are some good reasons that, despite their efforts, companies are unable to improve their culture:
- They’re looking for a cultural fix after they’ve just been hit by a crisis.
- They don’t have the bandwidth to engage in a longer-term effort.
- They’re trying to find a quick fix in a way that will make them look good for a year or two and then be forgotten.
- They’re trying to fix what’s broken without understanding why it broke in the first place.
- They’re trying to fix what isn’t broken.
Misconceptions About Company Culture
Despite being so critical to employee wellbeing, performance and the general “feel of the place,” company culture is often misunderstood. It is not the same as a corporate mission statement or written expectations (though authentic, relatable company principles and transparent processes are a good starting point for navigating toward specific cultural goals).
Culture is often visible in the behaviors, habits and traditions of each team or functional unit. How do they interact? Do they comfortably share challenges or only successes? Are they helpful to one another or do they compete and hide information? (Note that healthy culture isn’t necessarily about having “fun” or “happy” employees. While it’s important for people to be able to be themselves, a psychologically safe and empowering culture can be built in even the most sensitive of professional settings.)
Then What is Company Culture?
Your culture isn’t contained neatly within the attitudes and perceptions of employees. Rather, culture can be described as the sum of behaviors, actions, values, and beliefs that an organization exhibits and represents in all its dealings with the world. It can be experienced from within and without and even influences the customer’s perception of the product, subtly or overtly.
Culture can be influenced by both internal and external factors such as leadership, the company’s stated values and mission, recent financial success, or society’s perception of the business or industry. A culture that is toxic for employees will inevitably lead to an unhappy workforce with safety or public image issues, while a positive, healthy culture will result in high levels of employee engagement and satisfaction and a more consistent customer experience.
At Concept Organization, we believe culture is so important that we begin every consulting engagement with our Concept Cultural Evaluation. You can learn more about our approach in the next part of this article series: How to Evaluate Company Culture, where we share our techniques and what to expect when you bring Concept into your business.