They say everyone knows what water is except a fish.
Most people are like that about culture: they recognize it when they see it but find it hard to define in their own businesses. This creates a problem for leaders. If you cannot define your culture, you also cannot celebrate what is working, or turn your attention to the places where it is broken.
Our Forbes column (this article was originally published at Forbes.com) is designed to answer the question, What is culture? But more importantly, it’s designed to help you build it and to tackle the problems that arise as you do.
So What Is Culture?
We like Edgar Schein’s explanation that “culture is to a group what personality or character is to an individual.” It’s the tone your organization sets.
To understand culture, it’s helpful to understand how it is created. Schein says culture comes from three sources:
- The founder’s beliefs, values, and assumptions
- The learning experiences of group members as the organization evolves
- New members and leaders and their belief, values, and assumptions
What do those three sources have in common? They are all centered around people.
When you are looking to shape culture you have two choices: you can let culture develop naturally, trusting that your good nature and the good nature of your employees won’t steer you wrong. Or you can design your culture intentionally – choosing nurture over nature. When you do this, you become an “architect of culture” because you design your company’s culture with intentionality.
What Are The Building Blocks of Culture?
Our research and consulting takes us inside companies known for their strong, positive cultures and their consistent success within their industries. These companies put their focus on 10 key areas we call the building blocks of culture. These building blocks create and sustain their cultures and propel them to business success. Do you want to make your culture great? Start with these 10 foundational actions:
- Leaders, especially the CEO, see themselves as the Chief Culture Officers.
- Clarity about their higher purpose and values.
- Hire & fire for culture fit.
- Develop people for culture and performance.
- Measure engagement and put people first.
- Recognize, reward, and promote for culture.
- Communicate consistently and authentically.
- Maintain a strong market & customer orientation.
- Focus constantly on innovation.
- Pursue a profitable business strategy.
Notice that none of the building blocks of culture mention onsite dry cleaning, five-star chefs, or a foosball table. These perks can be a lot of fun, but they are not the foundation on which a positive, sustainable culture is built. Notice also that these building blocks are not all “warm fuzzies.” Creating positive organizational cultures requires solid business strategy and a relentless focus on performance.
Companies that master the 10 building blocks create a culture that drives the company. It is the “secret sauce,” a renewable source of energy that keeps people engaged and customers loyal.
We’d love to hear from you: What stories do you have to share? What challenges do you want addressed? Talk to us @ValuesDriven.