What defines our “culture”?

There has been much talk lately in the business world about “culture” – what it is and how to improve it.  Companies like ours make use of culture surveys or engagement surveys in an attempt to measure the current company culture.  Then, we develop action plans to improve the culture believing that a better culture drives better performance, thus, better business results.  So, this begs the questions, “What defines culture and is it really possible to improve it?  And, if you do, what improved results can we expect?”

Culture can be defined as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”  Someone, perhaps me, once said, “Culture is determined not by what you say, but what you do.”  I believe in this one-hundred percent!  We do not change a culture by the use of slogans, banners, songs, and campaigns.  We create and/or change our culture day-by-day, action-by-action.  Culture is our way of life in the specific function, group, floor, plant, or company in which we reside.  It is what we do and, though, a targeted campaign might gradually influence what we do, the true culture is largely determine by the leaders of that group.

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”  – Gruenter and Whitaker –

Many individuals that read The Porch each day are leaders.  You lead something – a function, a group, a line, a family, a team – each person is responsible for other individuals to some extent.  What kind of “culture” are you creating in that group?  If you believe the quote by Gruenter and Whitaker above, you create a culture by what behavior you tolerate.  For example, in a family, the culture is defined by how much discipline you expect from each member.  Do you require that everyone make their own bed each day?  Do you require that everyone put away their own things?  The culture, then, is determine by whether you allow one member to consistently violate the rules of behavior.

In a company, the culture is, to a large extent, defined by how we allow employees to treat each other; by what standards of behavior we require; by the level of personal accountability we demand; by the level of quality we deem our minimum standard; by how much personal flexibility we allow; etc.  It is possible to define a company culture by requiring that everyone dress the same, by requiring everyone to work 12 hours/day, by prohibiting anything deemed fun, or by demeaning individuals when they fail to attain perfection.  We can also define a company culture by allowing individuals to take reasonable risks, by encouraging individual innovation, by demanding that we treat each other fairly, and by providing an environment that encourages work/life balance.  You can see that our actions as leaders define what culture our group will have.  In other words, we define the “way of life” for our team or family.

So, I would argue, that the best way to enhance the culture within our group/team/company is to embrace the statement above by Gruenter and Whitaker… we must stop allowing behavior that does not represent what we desire for our group.  All of us can help to create the culture we desire.  We each have a part in creating a culture of encouragement, fair treatment of others, high standards of work, and fun.   So, what do we do today to get this started?

This could be our best day yet!  There is still a chance.  Let’s go for it!


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