In addition to leadership, culture is another organizational influencer that affects the overall quality of an organization. Culture is one of the most difficult things to quantify. It ultimately affects performance, however we measure performance – in other words part of the impact of culture – but we are not actually measuring culture itself. Culture is a vibe, a feeling, a sense of belonging or not. A lot goes into that and when not done with purpose, it eventually turns toxic.
No one and everyone owns a company’s culture. When a new company is small, the culture is more easily influenced because there are less people influencing it. When a company experiences growth, then culture begins to take on a life of its own when not proactively addressed. This is why hiring for culture matters; you can’t train to culture. I’ve always advised my clients to hire for 4 things (and in this order): Character, Culture, Chemistry, and Competency. The first three are either there or they’re not. Basic competency is needed to execute well on any role, however you can train to optimal levels. Having a rock star who has a dodgy character, is grossly misaligned with the culture, and has terrible chemistry with their team mates will quickly become the bane of your existence and massively underperform your expectations and needs for that role.
Every organization must develop its own culture and there is no “perfect” culture that can be a plug and play mechanism you get from a webinar, seminar, workshop, book, or website. Culture is a needy toddler that will either embarrass you in the peanut butter aisle at the supermarket or make you beam with pride when they unexpectedly show amazing empathy towards those less fortunate. It requires constant attention to make sure it is moving in a direction that yields the business results the organization needs and desires.
A healthy and productive culture is made up of predictable elements. These are applicable for any organization, but also for any social group. Culture is prescriptive in some respects and quite ethereal in other respects.
Key Culture Components for Business Outcomes Through Human Flourishing
Purpose/Meaning – Does the purpose of the organization (and a person’s role) – think vision/mission – provide something meaningful beyond a paycheck? Does this purpose connect with the human needs of the person?
Symbols/Artifacts – These can be things like your values, your strategic plan, or other guiding principles within your organization. It can also be that ugly trophy that includes bragging rights that everyone covets and outsiders wonder what the big deal is.
Language – This is a critical component of a quality culture. What words you choose to use to describe work, the organization, and relationship quality.
Values Alignment – Every organization has a set of values, guiding principles, or whatever governs behavior in your organization. Values affect HOW you achieve performance and what is acceptable within your organization.
Behavioral Norms – What is acceptable within your organization from a behavioral standpoint? This could be reflected in how people respond to leadership and the power differential that comes with that interaction. It could also be with how people can choose to interact with team mates as well as how they approach their work.
Stories – There are numerous stories within any organization that are representative of the culture you want to have. Sharing these stories is crucial to developing the culture you want to achieve the business outcomes needed to be a sustainably successful organization.
Metrics – What are you measuring? The things that you choose to measure dictate what your culture could be. The expectations you place on people from what you’re measuring is a critical component of developing culture.
Social Interactions/Construct – What does the social environment look like in your organization? This connects with the behavioral norms, but it is more than just performance. It is what social interactions are acceptable and/or embraced within your organization? This is a crucial component to culture as well.
Processes – This is most overlooked component of what influences culture. Business processes, bureaucracy, and how work gets done all impact organizational culture. Often times leaders want culture to look a certain way, however the processes that facilitate work can fight against that desired culture and it is rarely understood by leaders.
These 9 components contribute to the quality of your culture. The context created by leadership influences how culture develops, based on the elements listed above. In that sense, leadership is an input to culture. It is common that people believe that the output of culture is performance, but they would be mistaken. Performance is an ultimate result of culture, but the more immediate output – that ultimately leads to performance – of culture is emotions.
People develop an emotional response to culture based on how their expectations were met through that culture. As I mentioned in my post on leadership, expectations and accountability is driven by how leadership chooses to show up within the organization. Those expectations get pushed through the above mentioned cultural components. Through culture, there is an interpretation that takes place and generates an emotional response.
The value of that emotion is based on the culture of the organization. Hate is valuable when the culture supports that emotion. For example, a NGO that is fighting against human trafficking and child prostitution would see hate as a valuable commodity. That emotion wouldn’t play well in a financial services company. Knowing what emotion(s) is/are beneficial to an organization is an important step in positioning your culture appropriately. The cultural influence on what emotions are most valuable will then become an input into your employee engagement efforts, which will be the next blog post in this series.
The goal is to optimize the performance of the talent within your organization as a means to achieve business outcomes. Again, the focus is on helping the human to flourish as a catalyst to facilitate the flourishing of the organization.
I would love to hear your thoughts on either this post or this blog series and if you are thinking of using this framework to achieve better business outcomes through human flourishing. Feel free to leave a comment below.
If you would like to have a more detailed conversation about how this framework can help people flourish and improve the performance within your organization, click here to schedule a chat!