What is an organization’s culture and why is it important?

Larry-pic009Your organization has a specific culture. You may not know it or recognize it, but it’s there. Your organization is different than every other organization on the planet, and knowing what that culture is will enable you to hire the right employees and manage in a more clear and efficient manner.

An organization’s culture defines how your employees interact to get work done. It is the intersecting point of values, attitudes, customs, beliefs, behaviors and philosophies that creates the feel you have when you work at or interact with an organization.

First, let’s look at some practical examples of culture to more clearly understand what it is. Then let’s discuss why it is so critically important in hiring and managing employees.

Here’s an easy example to give you an idea of what culture is: You are visiting another organization and are greeted by the receptionist. How did that interaction feel to you? Did you feel like you were interrupting her day? Or did she take time recognize you and understand who you are? Were you told to just go sit on the couch? Or were you offered coffee? Did she update you on how long your wait will be? So, what did this whole interaction say about the organization you are visiting? That they are very client-service oriented, or maybe that they seem to have enough business and that guests are just an interruption.

Now let’s ask some similar questions about your work environment:

  • Does your organization feel like a cooperative environment where titles are less important than each person’s value or is it hierarchical where employees are guessing what management wants?
  • Is the best work done in teams or is it a “star” system where a few employees really get the work done?
  • How are mistakes handled? With punishment? Are they ignored? Does the manager correct them? Are they used as a training opportunity?
  • How are employees trained? Very strong guidance or “throw them in the water to see if they can swim”?
  • Are employees encouraged to take risks? Or are new ideas suppressed with “We’ve tried that before”.
  • How critical is the quality of the product/service? Enough to take an extra hour to fix it? The whole weekend? Is the manager involved?
  • Is personal development encouraged? Are daily tasks used to instruct? Are new managers sent to specialized classes?
  • How do the board and executive director interact? The board leads? The executive director leads? It’s a collaborative effort?

These are just a few examples. There are dozens more that you can probably devise.

Do you think you know the answers to all of these questions for your organization? Try this: Test them on several employees and managers. Do you all agree? Then you have a handle on your organization’s culture. If not, this would be a good time to have these discussions.

Now, why is this important? I suggest that a majority of the hires that fail are fired or leave because of a lack of “culture fit”. Did the new employee understand what she was getting into? Did he understand how he would be treated? Trained? Rewarded? Encouraged? Did she understand the “politics”?

This also applies to current employees. Are they comfortable with the culture? What aspects of the culture create anxiety and confusion for them?

So, take a little time. Determine what your culture is or what you want it to be. Solicit everyone’s input. Communicate the results.

Author:  Larry Tucker, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECorOC.org