Sunday, July 7, 2013

What Does Organisational Culture Really Mean?

Culture has become a ‘glib’ term in organisational ‘speak’ – where you’ll hear people talking about ‘transparent cultures’ and ‘innovative cultures’ as they describe their organisations. But true organisational culture goes a lot deeper and is always multifaceted, especially in today’s global economy.

You have to understand what forms your organisational culture, before you can start working with it to optimise the working relationships that optimises the ‘cultural’ equation.

Two of the core determinants of organisational culture are its demographics, which include age, gender, race, religion, etc; which need to be matched by the leadership, strategic and operational approach to the business as it looks at ways to ensure sustainable growth within its industry sector and for its specific target markets; while optimising the outputs from the organisational make-up (which includes ‘its culture’).

Although people within organisations will talk about their company culture, it isn’t often something that is properly discussed within the strategic framework of the business – so ‘culture’ becomes an individual or departmental ‘perception’ rather than an all-encompassing organisational ‘reality’.

It’s strange because 10 to 20 years ago culture was a key topic for large corporations looking to maximise their competitive advantage, where many organisations started to implement ‘programmes’ to meet the needs of their staff, which included proving crèches for children; gyms and health programmes for staff at all levels; the recognition of multi-religious holidays and requirements, etc – making the organisation feel more like a ‘home’ for its employees, trying to cater for the needs of their diverse workforce; and trying to create a culture that cared for its staff so that they, in turn, would care for the company.

It was from this foundation that the ‘wording’ around the company culture would be formed during strategic brainstorming sessions looking at the core strengths of the organisation and its people. Here employees would talk about caring, transparent, innovative cultures in one voice – excited by how the ‘culture’ supports them in their jobs and allows them to perform better, often by minimising other stresses that 21st employees have to cope with these days; from single parents to interfaith requirements.

Unfortunately ‘culture’ has started to become one of those business buzz words – used to impress, but without the real thought behind the rhetoric. Yet organisational culture has a huge impact on business performance and is a core driven of employee motivation and commitment both in the short and long term.

The danger with a recession type environment is that organisations can lose sight of the business fundamentals while they focus on the bottom line and short-term strategies. Forgetting about the culture, doesn’t mean that the culture will remain as a status quo while ‘you’ sort things out – most often it means that the organisational culture starts to stagnate, it loses its all-encompassing focus, and different, fragmented cultural pockets start to form throughout the organisation often on a matrix type scale, as individual managers create their own departmental or team cultures, which can vary significantly across the organisation.

This starts to lead to confusion and even resentment amongst staff at all levels, which is often missed by the leadership, as they often assume, wrongly, that the negative changes in morale and performance are due to the impact of the recession and the uncertainty in their market. In fact the change in culture being a fault of the leadership can go completely over ‘their heads’ as they blame morale and culture on external forces – when organisational culture is everything to do with internal forces, and virtually nothing to do with external forces what-so-ever.

Understanding how organisational cultures are formed and developed is a key part of organisational development and it actually means that in the harshest economic and market conditions, in the right hands, your organisation can still have an extremely positive organisational culture, where employee motivation and performance is still optimised – and as one, the organisation understands and can articulate the ‘positive’ factors the organisational culture means to them as individuals, teams and as a single company.


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