What is organisational culture?

Organisational culture is arguably one of the most essential ingredients for ensuring your company’s success. Whether you are conscious of what your organisational culture is or not, it is at the heart of nearly all the activities that drive your company forward; the attitude of the employees, the overall approach they apply to their work, processes and procedures, the selling story, customer service and, tied up with all of that, the company mission statement. Therefore whether or not you are conscious of the concept of organisational culture, and your company’s culture in particular, defines whether you are really in control of driving your business forward or just leaving things to chance.

Who are the people behind your organisation? How is personal culture relevant?

Let’s break this down. To understand organisational culture, we need to understand people and what culture means to the individual. People come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with a wide range of talents and skills but what I am really interested in focusing on, for the purposes of this article, are people’s personality traits and their values. It is easy to picture an office with some fictional characters to make the point.

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Gordon can always be counted on to make the drinks for everyone else in the team but come lunchtime he is out the door like a shot and returns exactly one hour later. You can set your clock by him. Christine pops down to the local supermarket sometimes and will always ask if anybody else wants anything while she is there. Occasionally, she doesn’t even bother asking for the money from her colleagues if it is only a small item. Geoff will also shop for people but he writes a list, takes the money and gives everyone their exact change. Susan has a packed lunch. She gets on with her job, eats at her desk and is a pretty hard working and reliable staff member. Occasionally she makes a drink for others if she is asked specifically by another team member.

Hopefully most readers can relate to Gordon, Christine, Geoff and Susan, and I have deliberately created fairly benign people, to strengthen the point I want to make. Most people know what it is like to have a negative person in the office and the effect they can have on their surroundings. What sets people apart from each other are their values and culture. For Geoff it may be unthinkable for him to operate in a different way. His sense of purpose in getting things right and above board dictate that he will write a list and ensure all accounts are settled to the penny. Christine, on the other hand, may consider it a very poor show to ask for 75p for a chocolate bar even if she knows her colleagues would never return the favour.

How are values instilled into people?

Our values are shaped from a number of sources, consciously and unconsciously: the stuff that has been taught us by teachers, by parents, by religious influences, by friends and peers; opinions that have been formed on the basis of experience, discussion and reflection; and other traits are reached for because we see them in the people we respect, admire and aspire to be like. The truth is very complex. We are all constantly facing new situations and challenges on a daily basis and while some behaviour patterns are predictable, most of us are still capable of surprising even our closest friends given a brand new experience to deal with.

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Changing mindsets

One of the skills of an effective coach is to help reshape their client’s thinking. By facilitating a change in mindset, they open the door to a whole new way of thinking that is positive, goal focused and constructive. When clients are empowered to question and throw away thought processes and conditioning that have been holding them back (self-limiting beliefs, short-sighted thinking, fears etc), that person is able to revise their behaviour to become more effective, reset their goals, and to map out and implement a plan to take them forward.

Your company is no different.

Without a consciously defined corporate culture or organisational culture, the overall mindset of your company, the way your company behaves and performs, will be the net total of all the different individual mentalities within – and that means no direction at all! You may have processes and procedures in place but can you count on your employees to understand the importance and reasoning behind those processes? More importantly, are your staff’s behaviours matching up with the goals and aspirations of your company? Before you can share company expectations with the team, your own organisational culture needs to be identified and, if necessary, changed.

Defining your company’s values

If you want to have an organisation driven by motivated individuals who are all working in harmony for a common purpose, you first need to define your company’s mindset, your company’s key personality traits, your company’s values and its way of doing things. In short, you need to define your organisational culture.

Laying the foundations

Once you know your company’s culture, everything else will fall into place. It becomes the north star of your organisation. Your mission statement will encompass your organisational culture. It will define what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it, who you want to achieve it for…you get the picture. It symbolises your entire brand. It is who you are as a business and it expresses the ideology of your vision, why you started the business in the first place and what sets you apart from other businesses that you compete with.

When people set up an organisation, it is very easy to get lost in the actual day to day running of the business and lose sight of core values. Once upon a time, you had an idea that provoked you to act and set up the business. This idea and your belief that you could make it work and grow was the source of your passion. Your values, your vision, your brand, your personal investment in how you wanted to operate. That was the seed of your organisational culture. The organisation has germinated but did you pass on your passion, your values and your culture onto your staff members?

So you know your organisational culture. Now what?

Your company’s culture is the foundation of everything so now it is time to build. The values and aims of the business need to be translated into processes, procedures, products and plans. If you pride your business on its attention to detail then ideally this pride needs to be shared by every staff member so they can take personal ownership of every task they do. The organisational culture needs to be instilled into each employee’s personal culture.

Mindset change is easier said than done. Sadly there may be people within your organisation that will nod their heads and immediately throw away the ideas you share with them because their way of doing things is better, is the way things have always been done, is all they are prepared to do for the amount you pay them etc etc. Some will always have a reason not to want to change. Changing staff mindsets is a blog post in itself but it will boil down to how effective you are at encouraging your employees to share your passion and your vision, to understand your company’s values and to want to buy into your organisational culture. It is about persuasiveness, effective communication and change management.

There are other safeguards you can put in place to breathe your company’s culture into daily activities. Again, looking at attention to detail, you include extra quality assurance steps to your production process; all written material to be proofread twice before leaving the company for example.

Hire the right staff

Ultimately, while you can design your company processes to reflect the company’s values, people are at the heart of your company’s future. If the people you employ are not buying into the organisational culture, the systems and safeguards you install can only go so far because they depend…on the people who work with them. I am not suggesting you fire anybody who doesn’t beat the company drum but personality types, personal culture, personal values and traits are of crucial importance during your staff selection process. Remember, intelligent people can be trained in new skills but changing mindsets and attitudes is much more difficult.

One company. One mind. One culture.

So you can see the importance of company culture and why it is king. It is not a question of having a company full of clones who look and sound the same. When we look at organisational culture, what we see is a frame of mind and a set of values. If you don’t know what you stand for how can you get the right people to join the party? Reflect on your company’s values and redefine them if necessary. Flesh out those values into a comprehensive mission statement and either find the people who want to be a part of that mission or persuade the people you have to share it. That is the secret of mobilising your team and it is the magic ingredient that will lead to business growth and success.