How Are You Contributing to Your Organization’s Culture?

Culture is so powerful, yet it is rarely at the top of an organizations list of action items. Many leaders agree that it exists, but don’t seem to realize their contribution to its’ development. There is so much that goes into creating organizational culture than businesses realize and perhaps it may be more than they are willing to take on.

Culture isn’t like purchasing new software or conducting agency training. Creating culture takes thoughtful coordination and strategic vision. It requires leaders who not only envision the behavioral outcome of a healthy culture, but also value the experiences that solidify and reinforce the culture. Furthermore, it requires leadership that are willing and able to ‘walk the talk,’ based on the employees’ perspective.

Organization culture is subtle yet strong. It may not be found written in a detailed rule book, yet it successfully guides behavior. It is unwritten, and people enacted. It’s filled with dos and don’ts, how tos and how not tos, yet may not be spoken. It exists whether you commit resources to it or not. It is a living thing which wise organizations attend to, and which requires a conscious effort to shape.

Here are a few examples of requirements for creating culture:

  1. Culture change requires truth in practice. To begin with, does leadership exemplify the desired culture?
  2. Culture change requires rule and policy alignment. Your effort will fail from the get-go if your rules and policies are in conflict with the culture.
  3. Culture change requires endorsement (regular communication to reinforce the message) of behavioral expectations. Sharing true stories are great to recognize the desirable behavior and make it relatable to the team.
  4. Culture change requires consistency. People will trust what is being asked of them only when they repeatedly see it produce favorable results. Culture doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time and constant reinforcement through actions and decisions made on a daily basis.

Consider one’s ethnic culture. How does one know what to eat, how to eat, how to dress, what to say and how to say it? These are the result of observation, teaching, and perhaps even occasionally testing the limits. Some are laid out in actual rules of conduct, but most are not. Most are conveyed down through generations by simply living it. This is similar to developing an organizational culture. Some are etched in a code of conduct, but most are conveyed from one person to another simply by acting in accordance with the prescribed culture. Newbies see the old timers behave a certain way and mimic behavior.

Find your culture leaders. Every organization has them. They may not be managers or supervisors. In fact, often they are a trusted peer. These are valued change agents when it comes to creating change within the organization. In fact, they can be your most powerful allies and can expedite the process significantly faster than forcing change from top, down or bringing in outside experts.

Trust is essential in the development of culture. It doesn’t matter how knowing and all-powerful your leadership team is, you will not create a cultural shift if your people do not trust you. In fact, as trust erodes, so may the cultural bonds that hold the team together. When that disappears, it’s every man (and woman) for himself (herself) and high performance will be a far stretch. Rather, you may end up with human machines, doing exactly as they’re told but not fully applying themselves and contributing wholeheartedly to the business. Chances are, status quo will prevail.

Identify your culture and examine how you have contributed to it. Have you attended to the above requirements? Are all components in alignment? Reflecting on these will give you a leg up on creating a favorable culture that drives your business forward.

Lori Okami is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has over nine years of experience in local and state government in Human Resources, grants management, and as an educator, as well as over twenty years in the private sector. Lori has written over 400 health and fitness blogs for Hawaii’s premiere online news publication. Lori’s expertise is in organization alignment, change management, and customer relationship management (CRM). You can read her posts here.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Great piece, Lori! I particularly appreciated the bit about consistency. I think once you’ve identified culture leaders its really all about execution, no matter how large or small the project is. Once trust in the initiative is established across the org you really start to see change occurring with increased buy-in at all levels. Culture is so important!

Lori Okami

Thanks Blake! Yes, it can be transformational! You are right, execution is key. I really wish more leaders would pay attention to the impact of culture on their organization and begin investing time and resources to its development. Powerful!