Organizational Culture is the term used in the world of work to describe what it feels like to work within an organization. It encompasses the values, behaviors, beliefs and ways of working of an organizations, as well as the ways that people in the organization behave towards each other and with their wider stakeholders.
Summary by The World of Work Project
An organization’s culture can most simply be thought of as “the way things are done around here” (Deal & Kennedy, 2000). It’s a term that’s used to describe what it feels like to be part of an organization and which tries to condense the complex and systematic web of human emotions and interactions within an organization into a simple summary.
Others though have described organizational culture as “much more than simply the way things are done around here”.
Many organizations now seek to “improve” their organizational cultures or to change them in one way or another. The do so knowing that improving their culture can lead to better results for the business. They often look to change and improve their cultures through delivery of a range of organizational development programs.
The result sought often include improving employee experience and thus employee engagement. They also seek to improve talent attraction and retention, innovation, customer service or to reduce risk.
In fact, in some views there is no end to what culture can achieve. An organization’s culture and ways of working is one of the biggest competitive advantage that any organization can have. To quote Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast“.
Unfortunately, some organizations only pretend to improve their cultures through a process of “culture washing“, as opposed to really improving.
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Ways to Think About Organizational Culture In The World of Work
There are many different ways for organizations to think about culture.
It’s possible to think about different types of culture (i.e. is a culture hierarchical or empowered). There are several different frameworks that have been pulled together to categories organizational cultures. A good starting point for further reading is Quinn and Cameron’s four types of organizational culture. You might also enjoy Deal and Kennedy’s Culture Model and Johnson and Scholes Culture Web.
It’s also possible to think about how the components of a culture appear within an organization, and how important these different factors are. For example, what role does a “company charter” play in an organizations culture, or what role does a poster in the entrance hallway to a building play. Edgar Schein’s Culture Triangle is a good tool to learn about as a starting point for thinking about culture in this way.
There are also many ways to think about measuring organizational cultures, and also to think about changing them. You’ll find more information on by browsing our our articles on culture. If you’re curious about the culture in your team, you might consider using an Organizational Culture Assessment Questionnaire.
The World of Work Project View
Organizational culture is hugely important for the success of organizations. From our perspective, organizational culture is one of the most important things that influences the ability of an organization to be truly purpose driven and to help make the world a better place.
In our view there is no “right” culture for organizations to aspire to achieve. Emulating the cultures of others isn’t a recipe for success. Instead, each organization needs to understand what its purpose is and what’s important to it, then create a culture that first with these factors.
As much as we are loath to say it, while it’s possible for a culture to rise from the grass-roots of an organization, most organizations are hugely shaped by the values and behaviors of their senior leaders. If a culture is toxic, the root cause may be the leadership. Similarly, if it’s benign, the praise may be due to the leadership.
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There, as ever, is a lot of original work behind this post. However most of this post is based on general reading and experience, as opposed to any specific sources. If you’d like to read more about corporate cultures, perhaps start with Deal and Kennedy’s 1982 book: “Corporate Cultures: The Rites And Rituals Of Corporate Life”.
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