Corporate (or Organizational) culture is one of those focus areas that is not always fully understood and is not optimally utilized either in an organization. A basic definition of organizational culture is “the collective way we do things around here.” It involves a learned set of behaviors that is common knowledge to all the participants. Dr. Mercer said, “Organizational culture is how every employee knows he or she must act even when no one is watching.”
As Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general from 3000 BC, indicated in his explanation of strategy, that culture forms an integral part of any organizational strategy. It consists of the created and shared beliefs, values, and glue that holds an organization together, and involves the very nature of the organization.
Culture is about individuals in a group sharing patterns of behavior. There is no cultural absolute. Because culture is relative, we have the power to create a culture that is the best fit for an organization’s future direction. All organizations have a corporate culture.
What differs is the degree to which someone’s notion of corporate culture is documented and protected. According to Dr. Sullivan, “At best, it is a phrase that builds camaraderie or a sense of unity among employees. At its worst, I’ve heard it compared to cult like religious beliefs.”
The best way to find out what an organization values is to track one or more of the following:
- what they pay attention to,
- what they talk about,
- what they passionately defend,
- and what they praise and reward.
In an environment with a strong corporate culture individuals located in different departments should act pretty much the same given the same set of circumstances. For example, if your corporate culture emphasizes “work life balance” then the same request for time off for an outside activity should get essentially the same positive response from managers, no matter where they’re located.
One of the surest ways to align the culture to the organization’s strategy is to apply leadership practices that are also aligned. The leaders, at all levels, need to know what the required culture is and then determine ways of establishing practices and procedures in all operations that will closely reflect the desired culture.
They also need to role model the very behaviors they wish exhibited by everyone in the organization and provide the necessary support to others that will enable them to function accordingly as well. Particular attention also needs to be given to all communications.