How Do You Define Culture?

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What is Culture? We asked some fellow culture champions and this is what we heard.

  • “Culture is the rules, both written and unwritten, that govern how work really gets done in an organization.” – Lain Adams, Executive Coach and Strategic Leadership Advisory, RoundPegg Consulting Partner
  • “Culture is something that you feel on a cellular level. It will either compel or repel your employees and customers. When it compels it will become a unique competitive advantage for your organization and drive engagement, innovation and excellence. When it repels it will become a very costly beast to feed, both energetically and financially.” – Melanie Kruger, Director, Human Resources & Organization Development at Conga
  • “We define culture as “how work gets done”. When we started our journey, we defined what is culture (the way we treat each other, the way we get work done) and what wasn’t (pay & benefits, employee reviews, work from home programs) – but our culture should make those things easier to talk about.” – Janet Clardy, Vice President, Human Resources at Experian Consumer Services

As our own Chief Psychologist and co founder Dr. Natalie Baumgartner points out, there are as many different definitions of culture as there are books and blog posts about the subject. At RoundPegg, we use a simple definition – how we do things in our organization.

Over the years, we’ve talked to thousands of people leaders about company culture and one thing is clear: culture is important no matter the definition. For decades, culture has always been a fuzzy, “feel good” type of exercise, but the times have changed. Organizations across the world now understand that a strong company culture can yield more profitable results. Just last week, Glassdoor released some research correlating a strong company culture with higher returns in the Stock Market.

The way we look at it, there are 3 different types of culture people talk about.

1. The Aspirational Culture

These are the espoused values that are written on the walls or the coffee mugs. Sometimes these values don’t describe how work is actually happening within the walls of the organization. An example of this might be a company that has an aspirational value of Transparency, but in reality, communication among groups is lacking (which often causes silos). Aspirational values are extremely important. Every person and every company needs to have goals and understanding who you ‘want’ to be as a company, is vital.

2. The Observational Culture

This is what a lot of engagement surveys, satisfaction surveys and even net promoter scores strive to uncover. An example might be asking an employee, “how would you rate the culture of the company?”, or more specifically, “do you have the support to do your job?”, “are you being challenged by your manager?”, or “do you understand the strategy and goals of the organization?”. Obviously this is invaluable data to capture, and understanding how your employees observe the culture of your company is paramount. What can make this problematic, however, is the fact that these questions can be heavily biased depending on the day your employee is having… did he/she get in a disagreement with their manager, etc.

3. The Actual Culture

This is based on the hardwired way your people prefer to work. More specifically, how they like to communicate, be rewarded and make decisions. We like to think of this as the CultureDNA of each individual. If you can uncover the unique core values of each employee, then you can get a better understanding of how a team prefers to work, and then scale that process throughout different departments and even a whole company. At RoundPegg, we use culture data to aggregate values to better understand alignment within groups and identify potential gaps. By acknowledging and understanding the gaps that exist between the fundamental core values of groups (think product vs. design or sales vs. marketing), we can understand points of friction.

By aligning your people’s culture DNA to your companies Aspirational Values, and then sending out pulse checks around the Observational Culture to understand employee perception, it’s possible to align all three cultures, insuring that all of your people are pulling in the same direction. This is the end goal – a healthy culture is an aligned culture. Employees are fully supported and employers are enjoying the results. Everyone wins.

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