Do You Have the Culture You Want?

I know that it’s not in fashion to talk about organizational culture anymore as the concept of engagement has taken over.  But there is something still to be said about how people think they should act and the social norms that influence them.  These influences exist whether you talk about them at the country, state, or organizational level.

A good example in the US is a recent story with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Employees in one office admitted to putting more scrutiny into tax-exemption applications from political opponents of the president than other groups.  Best that we can tell now, there wasn’t an effort coming from the White House to do this.  But, at some point someone thought that the new approach was a good idea and went ahead with it.  Maybe there’s data which shows that those types of applications are more fraudulent than others.  Or, the culture of that office was one that made assumptions about one political group versus others.

Every company has a culture.  Some, like Hewlett-Packard and Google, wear it on their sleeves.  Others only think about their culture when something that completely goes against it occurs.  For example, a utility company may have an unspoken cultural norm of “keeping the lights on” that’s never really talked about until they suffer a massive failure.

When working with companies on their culture, it’s amazing how consistent employees are in describing it, even across departments.  Comments about what it is like to work at a company, such as “Do what you are told,” “You can question authority,” “It’s all about profit,” or “It’s all about the customer” are heard consistently.

Where does culture come from?  Sometimes from stories passed down (apocryphal or not) from something the founders did or said.  More likely, culture comes from the behaviors that are rewarded.  If working 18 hours a day gets people promoted, then people will work 18 hours a day.  If doing outside charitable work in the company’s name gets recognized, then employees will think of the company as one that gives back to the community.  If you want to change your company’s culture, you must examine what truly gets rewarded and recognized.  Only after those changes are made, and the passage of time, will you see a difference.  There is no culture change because a leader says so.

Your engagement survey results should be able to tell you quite a bit about your culture.  You can get a sense of your company’s culture by looking at your performance appraisal form.  If you want to be innovative, are you recognizing and rewarding (reasonable) risk or cost containment?  If you want engaged employees, are you recognizing managers who have low turnover?  While the saying “What gets measured get done” is a cliche, it also happens to be true.  The corollary is “What gets measured and recognized is your culture.”

What steps are you taking with senior management to develop the culture you want?

For more information on employee engagement, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

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