Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What is organisational culture

The biggest enigma for a new employee of any organisation is knowing what is it's culture.

If I honestly try to recollect what I perceived and experienced as organisational culture at the companies, I worked for, it really has been very very different, very unique, very special and very weird.
Vital question is , does every organisation has a culture? Where do we find culture? In mission, vision, core values, employee handbooks?

I think the first question that helps one get the seminal understanding of an organisation's culture is, Who do you think you are and who do you think you are not and do not want to be. If we know who we are and what we are for, who we are responsible for, who inspires us and what choices we make in cases of dilemma and why we chose one against other options, we would know we have a culture that values something over something else. If we know what we do and would always do, we have a solid belief in what we are and what we do and then we start looking for people, employees, partners, customers, society that resonates those beliefs and values. There is nothing right or wrong. It is set of beliefs that are integral and time tested. This forms the DNAs of the organisation and reflects in everything that we think, act or believe in. Unlike values, which may be personal, communal, learnt hybrid and location specific, culture is a concoction, that does not change its composition, color or consistency, irrespective of who it applies to and which land and section of people it addresses.

Culture like character is a virtue that reflects and can be captured only on the 'moments of truth'. Anywhere else it is gospel.

Culture, while is reflection if character, it has 2 forms, one that we see with our eyes and the other, we believe in and hold on to ourselves as legacy, a form of belief that holds us together! The second one may have lost its relevance and context, but still it holds and you see, different generations in the organisation reflect those learned aspects of culture we call old habits! They are formed by generations that shaped them.

Culture is in small things, the way you treat people, the way you value them, the way you value other person's point of view and even beliefs, emotions and sentiments, way you treat success and failure, way you treat un-equals, way you accommodate change and diversity, way you act or not act in times of crisis and ethical dilemma. Offering a seat is culture, asking for tea/coffee is culture, leaving someone till door of your cabin is culture, listening with passion and intent is culture, speak your mind is culture, call a spade a spade is culture, raising a red flag is culture, promoting company values is culture, etc. And not doing all these can also be culture. Then, you can debate, a good culture vs a bad culture, an old culture vs new culture, etc.

Wikipedia definition of organisation culture is:

Organizational culture is the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling.

Some interesting quotes on organisational culture. My favorite is the last one!

"Fixing the culture is the most critical – and most difficult – part of a corporate transformation."
Lou Gerstner, retired CEO of IBM

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.”
Tony Hsieh, Founder and CEO of Zappos.com

"Everything I do is a reinforcement, or not, of what we want to have happen culturally… You cannot delegate culture.”
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Peter Drucker, Esteemed business thinker and consultant 

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