In recent years an organization’s culture has become the metric that best determines success or failure. We know that a culture transforms our business, church, non-profit, and educational institutions. Sadly, Gallup relays, “that fewer than one in four U.S. employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their well-being, the lowest in the last decade.” Culture is fundamental to the success or failure of your organization, and statistically speaking there is an ever-increasing disconnect between organizations and their teams. We need to ask what affects our organization’s culture.
Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, expresses the importance of culture by stating, “Your brand is your culture.” For the stressed-out leader, Hsieh also provides unconventional advice when he explains,
“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.”
If culture is so fundamental, it’s important to ask: What culture is?
It is difficult to define. Culture is like the wind. It is challenging to describe but you can see the manifestations or the effects of culture in action.
Three Questions for Every Leader
Every leader can better understand their culture by asking three questions
What is Culture?
Merriam-Webster defines culture as: “- the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time…: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business).”
Gallup simply defines culture as “how we do things around here.”
ERC (Employers Resource Council), a human resources organization, describes it this way:
“Culture is the character and personality of an organization It’s the sum of the core values, beliefs, traditions, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.”
Stated simply, culture is what makes your organization unique.
I always have viewed core values (evaluate your core values with this assessment) as driving culture and culture as a manifestation of a business’s core values. In fact, if you take a careful look around your organization you will see visible signs of its culture and the core values that drive it.
Jesus said it this way,
“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Matthew 12:34
Our core values or what is in our hearts give rise to what is manifested in our organization's culture.
What does Culture look like?
Though core values are intangible, the culture they drive is observable. It manifests itself through your people’s behavior as they pursue the organization’s purpose, vision, objective(s), strategies, tactics, and performance goals.
The visual and verbal components of an organization’s culture are noticeable every day at work. Whether you are walking through a work area, sitting in an office, attending a meeting, or eating in the lunchroom, the organization’s culture surrounds you and permeates your working life.
What shapes workplace Culture?
Culture is particularly influenced by the organization’s founder. It is also influenced by the executives and other managerial staff because of their roles in decision-making and strategic direction.
Take some time today and look around. Walk through your organization and observe your culture. Listen to what your people are saying. Ask yourself the following questions to clarify your understanding of your own culture.
- What do I/they say and how do I/they say it?
- What do we do and how do we do it?
- Who do I employ?
- What does our workplace look like?
What do you see? What brand does your culture reflect?
In scripture, Paul writes to the Colossians to instruct them in specific ways to develop attitudes and actions that honor the Lord. Specifically, in chapter 4 he says,
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Colossians 4:5 NIV
Now that we have a basis of what culture is it is helpful to look at what affects culture in your organization. Understanding this will help us see how culture will transform your organization.
What Influences your Culture
If culture is like the wind, you can’t see culture, but you can see its effects if you know what to look for and where to look.
Do you understand the factors that affect the culture of your organization?
It’s important that you do, as studies suggest a correlation between financial results and a strong, inspiring organizational culture.
If you do not thoroughly understand your organization’s culture, your organization is probably underperforming, and you’re almost certainly missing opportunities to improve results.
You might be amazed to learn all the things in your organization that affect/reflect its culture.
Every leader can better understand their culture by observing five main areas in their organization.
Five Influences of Culture
People, People, People!
I have always said that the three keys to my companies’ successes were: People, People, People! Culture starts with people.
- Your hiring process: Where do you look for new team members? How do you evaluate candidates? Do you consider whether their traits, beliefs, and core values align with your organization?
- How you onboard new hires: What kind of training and orientation do they receive? How do you introduce them to your organization and the principles that you hold dear? What steps do you take to ensure that they smoothly and quickly integrate with your team?
- How you treat your people: Are they treated like assets or just “the cost of doing business”? What programs do you have in place to serve your people and reinforce your core values?
Culture starts at the top! Your and other leaders’ behaviors have a dramatic impact on your organization’s culture.
We can look to the bible for even more encouragement and instruction about how important our actions are. In the book of Matthew, it says,
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 ESV
As a leader, you have a great opportunity to influence and shape the culture of your organization, knowing that your culture transforms your organization.
You shape culture through:
- What you communicate: Do you champion your organization’s core values, purpose, vision, and objectives/goals? What stories do you and other leaders tell? What do you emphasize, recognize, and celebrate?
- How you communicate: Do you exhibit your core values in your personal and workplace behavior? Are you consistent in living out your core values as you pursue your organization’s purpose, vision, and objectives/goals?
The flow of information in your organization strongly affects its culture. Consider the following questions regarding your information flows:
- What kind of information is distributed in your company? Is it easy for your people to stay up to date about important information? This could include key metrics on company performance, new opportunities, or challenges.
- How about information regarding your people? Do you highlight employee achievements, accolades, and hobbies? Are major family events like birthdays, births & upcoming retirements recognized?
- Where does the information flow in your organization? It can flow vertically from one level to another. It also flows horizontally, among co-workers.
- What methods and mediums do you use to communicate with your team? Do you use email or an internal web portal to keep people up to date? How do you use face-to-face meetings to communicate with your people?
Policies and Practices
The policies and practices within your organization have their own impact on its culture and how it transforms. Consider how:
- Policies regarding pay scales, benefits, and opportunities to advance within the company all influence and help define your culture.
- Rules related to discipline and the way your team presents themselves also influence the overall culture of the organization.
- Practices and policies that govern how you do business, how you interact with suppliers, and how you serve customers – all help to shape your organizational culture.
Facilities, Inside and Out
The physical appearances of the inside and outside of an organization’s place of business speak volumes about the organization’s culture.
Walk around your place of business and observe how the following items shape your culture:
- Things that your company displays or exhibits.
- Personal touches that people bring to the workplace.
- The layout and organization of the workspace and common areas.
- Cleanliness and orderliness of the inside and outside of the facility, how sound/noises are controlled, and the general upkeep of premises.
The culture of your organization is affected by your people, information flows, policies and procedures, and workplace environment. The good news is that your leadership determines the direction of all these factors.
As you become aware of any deficiencies in your culture, you can take active steps to lead your people toward a culture that transforms your organization.
What one area of your organizational culture will you examine today?
P.S. If you see some areas where you’d like to change your culture, take heart! Understanding your current culture is the first step toward improving it have a culture that transforms.
Listen to this Podcast Episode on True North Leader to hear more about a culture that transforms any organization from a powerful thought leader, Darren Shearer: https://valuesdrivenculture.com/podcast/are-christian-leaders-called-to-create-disciples-at-work/