Students of leadership and management are often stumped when the conversation turns to organizational culture. That’s because the concept is not clearly defined, varying from professional to professional, from organization to organization, and from industry to industry.
Nonetheless, author Michael D. Watkins says there’s little doubt that organizational culture exists, and “it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations.” His interviews with business leaders turned up many definitions, including:
Understanding Organizational Culture
Authors Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn have identified four types of organizational cultures in their groundbreaking book, Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, Based on the Competing Values Framework.
The Importance of Culture
FastCompany writes that culture is what drives an organization forward, and those organizations with performance-oriented cultures see greater growth, involvement, communication and willingness to try new things. In Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 82 percent of respondents said culture is a potential competitive advantage. At the same time, only 28 percent of respondents said they understood their organizational culture well.
Culture is important because it:
Changing the Culture
Cultural change needs to start at the top of the organization, with leaders setting a good example and displaying the behaviors they expect from managers and workers. From that point, organizations can do the following:
- Get input: Culture is best designed with cooperation. Organizations should bring in stakeholders from throughout the organization — from the C-suite to the front line — to provide perspective and describe the type of business they want to work for.
- Create a roadmap: Once the organization knows where it’s going, it needs to determine how to get there. That involves creating a strategic plan with clear objectives and milestones. No one should expect change to happen overnight.
- Explain outcomes and benefits: This involves rewarding behavior that aligns with the culture.
- Measure the results: It’s not enough to have a sense that things are moving in the right direction. Organizations should get hard data to assess what is working and what is not. Employee feedback surveys, administered by the human resources function, can help perform spot-checks and identify potential weaknesses.