Do you think culture is difficult to define? Do you think it is intangible and so irrelevant?
Do you think it is intangible and something that cannot be influenced?
Perhaps you have addressed culture through organisation design but for some reason you are not moving in the direction you planned?
Where it begins ...
In all parts of our lives the way we think about things will have an impact on the way we make decisions. We are subject to inherent bias about the world we live in, and many of these will be of our own making. What we were taught growing up and importantly what we learned on the way will inform our view of the world and how we behave in it. How and what we prioritize (our family vs work), our attitude to risk (do you wait for the green person to light up before crossing the road?), whether we speak up at work (on ethical behaviour or innovation) and how we respond to challenges (thrive on stress vs stress is bad) all will have an impact on how we engage and interact with our environment.
What has this got to do with culture in the workplace?
Everything. How we think, how we view the world, how we are raised, how we experience life, our values, our beliefs - all of this accompanies us into the workplace - we don’t leave ourselves at the office door, we bring in everything that makes us who we are to the workplace. With this foundation we create relationships, connections and position our own personal authority. We begin to establish rules (if they are not already established) about how we do our work. We establish implicitly what is allowed and what is not allowed, what is accepted and what is not accepted, who is part of our group and who is not.
Culture is experienced through people
People who repeatedly spend time together form a culture based on the experiences, values and beliefs of the individuals involved. Another way to look at this is to consider the deeply held assumptions that can often start out historically as values. These assumptions stand the test of time, they can be taken for granted. They are not questioned and they become less and less open to discussion. This is a perpetuating cycle, which reinforces itself through the ‘stories we tell’. In the workplace the longer the experiences and memories of employees the more entrenched culture can be, resulting in a belief that it is hard to achieve culture change. It is not enough to describe the culture needed, it is the experience that will count. Another way to understand this is that “culture is learned”, one explanation for how shared learning occurs is the way in which people respond to critical events or incidents – when an event or incident is emotionally charged or anxiety producing it can initiate a set of responses (behaviours) which may then create a norm.
Culture seems intangible at first look, but my experience accompanied by a volume of sound research and literature supports the notion that culture is significant that can be measured. Meaningfully.
My method of review is called Culture Assurance — simply it is assurance through the lens of culture. It is based on a simple premise, that it is possible to effectively diagnose challenges and issues in the workplace that are traditionally considered to be ‘intangible’. It relies on engagement with people, understanding your organisation, your aspirations as well as your history and your past experiences that inform the stories we tell. If we treat your organisation as a living entity, we can understand its mindset and then we can diagnose its culture.
The benefit to you is you get to understand your organisation’s current blue print. While some people are just not wired to see what I call the glue that brings everything together, my method ensures that we make the glue visible. We bring to light what is hidden in the dark.
You might like to read our case study to see culture assurance in practice.