I find corporate culture similar to brand. They are both hard to define and both hard to change. The are also both determined by individuals that your company has limited control over.
Brand is determined by those outside of your business including your clients, customers, suppliers… Many organizations work hard to influence their brand, but it is ultimately defined by how others see your company.
Culture is defined by employees. Most leadership teams try to influence their culture, but at the end of the day, it is determined by employee perspective. It is normal for companies to use words to try describe their culture. This is important as they try to make changes and describe their culture to candidates. Words, though, have much less impact on culture than actions. Actions even when silent, tend to be heard loud and clear.
I once worked for a company that decided respect would soon be a cornerstone of their culture. The CEO used several approaches to accomplish this goal. For example, she let everyone know that she was using a coach to help her prioritize respectfulness in her day-to-day activities. She also implemented mandatory dispute training that required employees, when there was a disagreement, to use the words “I understand your perspective is….” before continuing the conversation. The training was not popular, but it had an impact on the organization establishing how we interacted when the temperature began to bubble over. It became a habit and eventually part of the culture.
Understanding your culture begins with asking questions of both your leadership team and your employees. Some of the ones listed below can get you started.
Do teams get to make decisions, or just team leaders? What happens when a mistake is made? punishment? celebration? something in between?
What is the physical layout of your facility? Is it open and collaborative or is there lots of private space?
Are office doors typically open or closed?
Do your employees get together socially? Do different levels of employees get together socially?
The answers to these questions can be surprising and often contradictory, but that’s OK. After all, we are talking about people here.
Once you have some perspective on your culture, confirm it with your employees. If you don’t do an engagement survey, now would be a great time to start. There are tons of survey vendors, just send me a comment if you would like suggestions.