What is an organization’s culture? It’s been described as a set of values and behavior that make-up the unique psycho-social environment of an organization.
A more formal definition is that it represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of the members of an organization. And is itself a product of many factors: History, market, technology, strategy, type of employees, management style and national culture.
But it has been best and simply outlined as “The way things get done around here”
Culture is not just what we BELIEVE is right but it is the way we DO it.
Any organization has to first create the right ‘Principles’ (strategic direction, competence-standards, policies…) Because if the principles are faulty, then dressing-up the display window will not work.
The principles need to be Communicated clearly. We need to improve or change whatever is getting in the way of people understanding our principles.
And then these principles need to be expressed and Enforced. Because if they are not enforced, then anything we say we stand for becomes a mockery because it is not seen to happen.
But all of this—creating the principles, communicating and enforcing them—happens within the context of the organization Culture. And this process involves every level of leadership in our organization.
The basis can NOT be personal preferences of any one person.
It can only be a functional realization of what is right for THIS organization in THIS context at THIS stage of its evolution.
Culture is NOT decided solely by copying abstract theories read in a management book. Or by aspiring to untested romantic notions. It is decided based on experience of what has worked and not worked.
All the layers of leadership can and should actively provide inputs to help set or improve the culture. But some layers are involved less. For instance, the Board of Directors cannot be burdened with or held responsible for creating the Culture. Neither can the most junior employees as they are mainly expected to live-up to that culture rather than design it or decide on it.
For every company it will be the ultimate executive leaders. Why? Because it is better to have a consistent, less-than-perfect culture rather than a conflicting mish-mash of different people expressing their own preferences in each company.
There is only ONE guideline to determine what will become the subject-matter of company culture: Does this issue influence what we want our company to be and to achieve?
Culture is visible through our People, our Work, our Processes, our Offices and our Reputation.
This is what we want our Culture to be:
- Transparency: We will have the courage to share our views directly and frankly. And take a stand. We will NOT be double-faced and cleverly try to be all things to everyone.
- Positive Orientation: We will always count and appreciate our blessings before we criticize the problems. We will not use our free time to focus on needless negativity.
- High-energy: We are a high-performance, high-expectation, high-sacrifice (both personal and professional) setup, like every digital economy company that hopes to succeed.
- We will be Self-critical, with a Kaizen mindset. We will be always looking to see what we can do better, not constantly looking back at what we have done. Or what others have NOT done.
- We will be Emotionally Mature. And not over-sensitive to criticism. We will not always seek praise and affirmation for the most minor of achievements.
- Intensity: We will be willing to start earlier, sleep later, work many weekends, take less vacations…We will raise our intensity to the level that our goals require.
- Reflexively Communicate. We’ll reach boiling point if we keep simmering silently with resentment. Therefore, we will reflexively communicate.
- Standards. Our standards of work are the highest we can reasonably strive to, not the least we can get away with. We aspire to exceptional quality in main areas of our work: Strategy, Products, Technology, Brand.
- We invest attention-to-detail in everything we do. Reports are distilled, presentations are crystal clear, documents are never error-ridden or sloppy.
- Reliability. We are consistent. To Do’s are sent immediately after meetings, goals are tracked… Punctuality is critical because it is not just about coming to office on time but also about being on time for meetings or appointments, deliverables. It is about showing that we think our time is valuable and that of other people is even more valuable.
- Mission-mode: We may have a dozen minor issues that we may or may not agree with, but our entire conduct shows that we are focused on the main mission: The success of our company.
- Involvement: Our processes will be designed though involvement with our people, not created in isolation and then imposed on them.
- Explain: We’ll always endeavor to explain WHAT we’re doing, but WHY we’re doing it and HOW we intend to do it.
- Office: Our work spaces reflect all the above qualities. They are neat, efficient, focused and constantly improving.
- Reputation: We understand that in the age of social media, ten idiots will have a hundred opinions. We will focus instead on what people we RESPECT feel and say about us.
Every layer of leadership should believe in our Culture.
If there are differences, even one leader can convince the others. But an organization where one layer of leadership believes something and another thinks differently will create friction and politics. Which is why there needs be a consensus in belief among all of us, even as our beliefs will (and should) be challenged from time-to-time.
We need to choose the markers of Culture. And once chosen, define and communicate them systematically. For example, there has to be consensus on what exactly ‘working very hard’ means.
Most of us are well-intentioned, but we suffer from common deficiencies—poor work-habits, immaturity, lack of self-discipline, juvenile emotional resilience—which are often a result of the complex interplay of multiple factors in our childhood.
Therefore, if we are creating a culture with high-standards, we should expect that only a fraction of every hundred people who apply to our organization will be ready for it.
Each person can be given a defined amount of time (between 1 to 3 months) to understand the culture and decide whether they align with it or not.
Individuals are welcome to critique our culture. Despite our positive intent, we do make mistakes—sometimes major and stupid ones—but we usually correct most of them reasonably fast.
If you as a leader believe in specific criticism that has been raised—whether it was by a junior employee or a board member—then raise it directly at the right forum and propose a change in our principles. Or propose a change in how we engage and communicate with people.
Eventually most people need to believe the core of what most of us believe. And then if there is repeated dissension on principles, we need to do what leadership demands. Which is to engage with each of those negative people and pull them out—as we do with weeds—before they over-grow the garden.
Processes should be in place to swiftly and consistently, penalize or reward people for adhering to or violating the culture. We already have in place a PRICE and CWPD processes. We just have to follow them.
The result? A natural positive competitiveness to adhere to our culture will develop.
It does not matter what we write here.
The litmus test is this: If we ask someone who knows our organization well (employee, investor, client, partner, ex-employee) what are the first 5 adjectives most of them will use to describe our Culture?