Cultures are definable entities. Think of it this way. Culture answers the question, “What’s it like to work here?”
Why is culture important?
- Because culture socializes people to the organization.
- Because it reinforces what is “acceptable” behavior.
- Because it reflects how people are treated and how they relate and engage with each other.
- Because it ultimately affects your ability to attract and retain top talent.
Leadership and organizational development experts study cultures like anthropologists. They look at the uniqueness of the environment based on distinct values, beliefs, customs, rituals, and symbols. They look for how they mesh, how words and actions align.
They examine different types of leadership, the makeup of teams, and nature of critical routines and practices. But there’s more.
Three processes that say a lot about the culture
These three processes provide some of the best clues for what a culture looks like. More importantly, these three can make or break organizational success.
Process #1: Decision Making
Two components define decision making:
- the process for making decisions
- the people who make them
Both inform the notion of “how we do things around here.”
The Decision Making Process:
Consider the different options for making decisions:
- Top-down through executive fiat.
- Highly bureaucratic.
- Rationalized process of data collection, options, and recommendations.
- And my all-time favorite: No decision-making process.
The Cultural Implications:
- Top-down decision making reinforces compliance.
- Bureaucratic decision-making means dealing with red tape and time delays.
- A highly rationalized approach creates discipline.
- Being highly participative creates buy-in, but it also is time consuming.
- When there is no decision-making process, the situation is rudderless, where quasi- and non-decisions are “made” over and over again. Been there. Done that.
The Decision Makers:
- Their motivation, values, style, and most importantly, their behavior, set a political tone.
- The way in which they relate to others and make themselves available speaks volumes.
- In any given situation, these are the individuals whom you may need to influence to get buy-in and commitment.
- How decision makers take counsel and invite participation set in motion certain patterns of behavior that contribute to what the culture looks like – and that culture can attract and repel top talent.
Process #2: Communication
There are two aspects of communication that impact an organization’s culture:
1.) The extent to which information is shared.
Information is currency. When information is shared, there’s a greater sense of trust, transparency, and openness. When information is closely held, it creates a more political environment.
The more someone has it, the more power they wield, the more charged the political climate.
2.) The other important aspect is how communication is structured.
Bossidy and Charan describe these structures as “social operating mechanisms” that are used “anywhere that dialogue takes place.” They emphasize that it is through these mechanisms that “beliefs and behaviors are practiced consistently and relentlessly.”
Types of communication structures and the questions that arise are:
- Town hall, small group, and one-on-one meetings.
Are the objectives of these meetings clear? Are there agendas, or do people just wing it?
- Voicemail and e-mail.
These are good for conveying information but problematic for resolving problems. What is the purpose for each?
- Collaboration rooms and hallway chit-chat.
Is the communication planned or spontaneous?
- Remote meetings.
How do you maintain the right level of communication with colleagues whom you don’t “see” on a routine basis, if ever?
- In-person communication.
Remember that one? The granddaddy of them all. It still exists. Are you using it to the fullest?
Process #3: Problem Solving and Prioritization
At a surface level, problem solving and prioritization may not look like they shape the culture. But look deeper.
Problem solving first.
It runs the gamut. It happens on the fly, in routine meetings, or more methodically through a process for escalation. It’s how organizations approach problem solving—as reactive, anticipatory, or something in between—that defines the culture.
Same story for prioritization.
Consider these events ripped from today’s business headlines:
- SHIPMENTS DELAYED
- CONSUMERS REVOLT
- MAJOR CUSTOMER DEFRIENDS US, FRIENDS OUR #1 RIVAL
- THE IT TEAM DEFECTIONS CONTINUE
- WINTER STORM CLOSES DOWN EAST COAST
How an organization prioritizes and reprioritizes work is a process that defines the culture.
- What does this process look like?
- How do people react?
- How are the changes communicated?
- How quickly and smartly does leadership take action?
Take a minute.
How does your organization make decisions?
- Communicate up, down, and across the organization?
- Solve problems, prioritize work, and reprioritize when changes occur?
Ready for the money question?
What do your answers say about your culture and how do they define “what it’s like to work here?”
Is it a culture that encourages and inspires key employees to stay or to start looking for other opportunities?
Interested in assessing your organization’s culture?
Need pointers on how to discuss the results with your team and your business partners?
Download our free guide on “How to Assess Your Culture.”