Organisational culture is a buzzword thrown around by practically everyone from academics to marketers, but we believe it’s widely misunderstood.
To keep things simple, at APPS we use the term as follows:
Organisational culture is a general description of how people within an organisation behave towards themselves, each other, their strategic partners and their clients and customers.
When we look at culture, we’re looking at it from a purely commercial focus, and asking the question:
Are your people’s behaviours having a positive or negative impact on the organisation’s capacity to drive its own performance?
Mary Sherry is an Organisational Psychologist, the British Psychological Societies expert point of contact with the media on culture change and work related matters, and the founder of Achieve Positive People Solutions. She has spent over 20 years working with organisations to improve their performance, and over that time she’s identified two key points about culture that leaders need to know.
The first is that we often find that the leadership’s view of the culture of the organisation is distorted as compared to the rest of the organisation’s view. Time and again we find there is a disconnect between perception and reality. The impact of this disparity is that leadership is unaware of issues which impact their people’s willingness and ability to drive the organisation’s success and therefore don’t address these issues. This is often because information becomes increasingly sanitized by the organisation as it escalates to the top.
Leaders and CEO’s will point out all kinds of things they believe create a healthy culture – the benefits packages, nights out, an air hockey table, an agile approach, branded values on the wall, employee surveys and an HR guru. Whilst these things are nice to have and can be part of the infrastructure to support a healthy culture, they don’t create cultures, only behaviours can do that, and if the leader doesn’t set the right behaviours, someone else will set their behaviours, which may not be beneficial to the organisation. We’ve probably all seen organisations that possess the above and still have toxic cultures which cap the organisation’s success.
The second is that your organisation can have a totally counter-productive culture with high levels of staff attrition, sickness and absenteeism, presenteeism and an absence of trust, communication and inspiration and STILL experience success for a period of time. This second point goes a long way to explaining the first – if you’re still experiencing success then it doesn’t look broken, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The reality is this – if you’re happy with capping your own organisation’s success, and settling for what you currently have then you can carry on pointing at the values on the wall and your beanbags in the corner while you play air hockey with your HR guru.
If however, you are the type of leader who is driven to achieve something game changing, to create something bigger than you and to leave a legacy that the world remembers you by, then you NEED to be focused on developing and maintaining a culture which engages and empowers all of your people to be as willing and able as possible to act in ways which drive your organisation’s success. This is especially true as your organisation grows and develops.