Cultures are not defined by the one big event; culture is defined by culminative small events and behaviours over time. Culture isn’t the cactus plant that you just remember to water every couple of months when you spot that it’s brown and dry. Culture is an orchid, needing the right amount of water, light, food and constant TLC, sure they still get pests, but if you look after it you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful sight.
Culture is often talked about as if it’s something that belongs to the organisation, like it’s given away on the door as you walk in. Culture belongs to everybody, ethereal and floating around, influencing how stuff happens, what stories are told, who fits in and who does not.
“There are written and unwritten behaviours and attitudes that influence the way people think, act and are; the why and the way that sh*t gets done” (1).
There is not an empirically good or bad culture per se; it is down to each individuals experiences, values, expectations, and the behaviours of your immediate boss often determines how you experience company culture.
The old PUSH!
Culture is pushed through the office environment (the nice vinyl’s and the private offices, or not), dress codes, the benefits packages, the polices, and the strapline mission and values. These are just merely healthy nudges to avoid the path of least resistance – the toxic workplace.
“In thermodynamics, entropy tells us that systems tend to gradually decline into disorder. This principle can be applied to organizations – without the healthy nudges toward positive cultures, you can expect the culture to crumble into anarchy” (1).
In our new world of work, with increased flexibility and choice, remote roles, remote leadership, the decreased face to face time and consequent increased use of technology the healthy nudges are at risk of losing their, albeit surface level, impact.
The new PULL!
Pushing surface level culture was never enough but in our new world, we must certainly co-create culture that can be pulled. The perceptions, traditions and stories that people tell that leave others with the tingly feeling of “I want to work there”. The shared assumptions and beliefs, the unwritten rules, the relationships and feelings.
Organisational culture in the new world needs to focus on the unplanned, the deeper roots, the stuff that doesn’t need to be explicitly said or done.
Each time I walk into LUSH I know that I will buy a bath bomb or 3. So each time I enter the shop, do I seriously need to be asked 4 times if I’m ok? The relationship goes deeper than that, I trust their products, their brand and everything they stand for. I know where they are when I want/need them and I know I will trust what they say and do.
It is this type of culture and experience that your employees should be pulling from your organisation and playing their part in continuing it’s evolution.
A few tips:
- A strong building needs good foundations: vision, values, customer centricity, the hygiene factors.
- Senior leaders need to role model those foundations / the future desired state.
- Human-Centric Leadership and everything which encompasses that: communication, listening, empathy, trust, transparency, respect, vulnerability, feedback, reward and recognition, diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, authenticity, psychological safety etc etc etc.
- Recruit for people who are a culture add (not just culture fit), those who will add to the culture to build tomorrow.
- Enable deep connections: Refer a friend schemes / socials / a culture of collaboration. Build fun memories and rituals.
- Culture will never be finished. It needs to be on the agenda, literally.
- Focus on high performance and learning. Accepting, sharing and learning from mistakes.
How do you contribute to the culture of your organisation?
1 – The Human-Centric Workplace, Simone Fenton-Jarvis (2021)
2 – Elemental Change, Neil Usher (2020)
3- Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan (2011)
4 – The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle (2018)
5- Rising above a toxic workplace, Gary Chapman (2014)
6 – The Energized Workplace, Perry Timms, (2020)