Why is ‘Culture’ so important?

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. It is itself a product of many factors: History, market, technology, strategy, type of employees, management style, even 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.

On what BASIS is this Culture decided?

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.

Where do we get INPUTS for framing our culture?

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.

WHO should finally DECIDE the Culture?

For every company it will be the executive leader. 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.

WHAT areas should the company Culture involve?

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.

These are examples of what we want our Culture to be:

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. It is about showing that we think our time is valuable and that of other people is even more valuable.

Mental Bandwidth: You must have the mental clarity to contribute on multiple fronts and be able to multi-task and switch context without damaging your brain or your health.

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.

How do we ensure each individuals is a reflection of our Culture?

Our processes will be designed though involvement with our people, not created in isolation and then imposed on them.

We’ll always endeavor to explain WHAT we’re doing, but WHY we’re doing it and HOW we intend to do it.

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 certain amount of time (usually a few 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.

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?