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Nov 8, 2017

the culture rant

Culture is more than just the biggest workplace buzzword of the year 2015. There is no shortage of definitions of organizational culture.  Seriously, look it up.  After reading about 468 definitions, here is a sampling of my favourite definitions of culture:

noun | cul·ture  | \ˈkəl-chər\

  • a set of shared beliefs, attitudes, values, goals and practices of your organization.  
  • “the collective way we do things around here”.
  • the manifestation of what your company values - what behaviours you reward, who you hire, how work gets done, how the physical space is organized and how decisions are made.
  • the “personality, heart and soul of the organization”

If culture is hard to define and explain, then it’s also a hard thing to get right.  Culture means different things to different people. Culture isn’t static, it’s fluid – it grows and evolves over time.  Culture is shaped by every employee and is the result of actions, reactions and interactions.  Culture is greater than the sum of its parts and it is a force to be reckoned with.

So, now that we’ve established that culture is the “awesomesauce” of organizations, here’s my “take” on culture:

Culture is rooted in values.  Define the core values of your organization. Values should be clear and concise.  If I need a dictionary to understand the core values of your organization, you’ve failed.  Throw them out and start over.   Don’t be vanilla and generic.  Every company says they have a really positive team culture.  Every company says they are more like a family than a team.  And every company says that they are committed to the mission, vision and values of the organization.  EVERY company says that.  Don’t be like everybody else.  Dare to be different, and authentic. Ask your employees.  Consult with your teams.  Find out what makes working at YOUR Company special?  

Values need to be authentic.  Build the culture you want to work for. The worst mistake that you can make is to steal the values and culture pieces from other organizations because they sound good on paper.  If you don’t believe what you’ve toted your culture to be, if you can’t live it every day, if you’re not passionate about it, if it doesn’t inspire you, if it doesn’t aspire you to do better and be better, then they are just words, on a piece of paper, that mean nothing.  You’re building a plastic culture. Plastic is artificial.  Plastic is toxic.  So, for example, if one of your values is that you TRUST your employees to use good judgment to make good decisions, then don’t make your employee handbook a 1200-page rulebook that feels like a Choose your Own Adventure book, laced with decision-making matrices, and double-digit levels of approval.  Similarly, if you’re going to be super original, and say that one of your values is INNOVATION, then have the sense to recognize that true innovation involves risk-taking, mistakes and yes, sometimes even (gasp!) failure.  An old, cranky, bloated, bureaucratic organization may not have the infrastructure or mindset to truly be able to stomach the heart-pounding risks associated with being innovative.  

Leaders cultivate and shape culture.   And I don’t mean that they sit in a boardroom, in a coffee shop or at a bar and come up with what their culture is.  Sure, some of that happens.  What I mean is that the leaders set the tone for the organizational culture that takes root.  So it’s essential then, that leaders walk the talk, that they be consistent, and that they put culture first.

Talk about your culture and values.  Don’t just pen them, present them and then shove them in an old dusty drawer.  Display them proudly, talk about them often, in ways that are both subtle and bold.  Be transparent that you value culture over everything.  Be transparent about the fact that you believe that strong culture and values will lead to a strong bottom line.  Believe it.

Hire for values.  Culture is not set in concrete.  It is a living, breathing concept. It is affected and shaped by employees and people you work with.   So choose the people to work at your company well.  Choose the people who already live the values of your company.  Choose the people who are already falling in love with your culture.  Choose those people. Because the hard truth is that culture can’t be taught and it isn’t coachable, so don’t waste your time and energy.  I challenge you to spend more time assessing cultural fit than you do assessing technical skills and competence in your recruitment and selection process.  And if you’re not sure how to do that, consider reaching out to me (insert shameless plug). 

Live your values and culture.  Every. Single. Day.   Embed them into every part of the organization – in your hiring processes, in your onboarding processes, in your recognition, feedback and performance management processes, in the way you communicate with your employees and teams.  Culture and values should live in your people processes.  Call people out when they are not living the values.  If you don’t, you’re contributing to the weeds growing in your culture garden.

Fire for values.  It only takes the one bad seed, to plant toxicity and weeds in your culture garden.  Don’t tolerate the culture vulture.  You know who I’m talking about.  He’s the one who brings everyone down, who rolls his eyes, who squashes enthusiasm, who snorts in derision at every out of the box idea.  He is the employee who will never drink the culture Kool-Aid or dip his fries in the culture awesomesauce.  So, get rid of the culture vulture. Now.  Even if he was your first employee.  Even if he is your biggest revenue generator.  Even if he is your brother.  That’s how sacred culture needs to be.  Be brave enough to release the culture vulture.  You won’t regret it.  Releasing the culture vulture sets a powerful tone and example for your employees and teams.  It says that values mean something.  It means that you are committed to fostering and nurturing culture. And it means that ultimately, values and culture are everything.

Ok, rant over.

be happy, be well, 

saira - the sassyhrgal

Saira Gangji

Saira Gangji is the Principal & Human Resources Consultant with hrology. She has 15+ years of HR generalist experience, and has her master’s degree in industrial relations & human resources management. Saira is passionate about helping leaders and businesses succeed and transform their people and culture practices. She describes herself as mini but mighty, sassy and a little bit smart-assy. She admits freely that she is afraid of heights, a horrible knitter, and a huge fan of pizza.

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