Defining Culture

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Defining Culture

by Luanne Ramsey

A company’s culture can be the difference between success and failure.

Organizational culture can be difficult to define, let alone understand. The definition of culture is the collective unwritten beliefs, rewards, ethics and behaviors that determine how people within the organization react and behave, both toward their internal and external stakeholders, peers and customers.

I define culture as both the written and unwritten norms of people within an organization. It’s like a code of behavior.

There are two types of culture-flexible culture and inflexible culture. Flexible cultures exist in organizations where people are encouraged and rewarded for their commitment. These cultures are innovative, diverse and change-ready. Inflexible cultures are marked by their inability to change and exist in places where people’s energies are focused internally.

Examples of Flexible Cultures

Customer-focused: This is a culture where people have ownership of their clients and are welcomed to push back internally and argue on behalf of their customers. This is a culture that adapts quickly to meet the needs of the marketplace, as they know the needs and demands of the end user.

Learning culture: This is a culture that encourages innovation, and where commitment is rewarded over loyalty. In this culture, innovation and acceptable risk taking are rewarded; and people are constantly encouraged to not only learn, but apply their learning within the organization.

Ethical culture: This is a culture where people feel that the organization “walks the talk”. It is a culture that embraces diversity. Employees believe that they are part of a greater good-that what they do makes a difference. In this culture, people are engaged and empowered.

Examples of Inflexible Cultures
Survivor: This is a culture where people are so focused on the internal threats and politics that burn out is high, and innovation, because it is “sticking your neck out” is low. It is a culture dominated by fear.

Centralized: This is a very top-heavy culture where senior management is at the center of every decision. It is a 50s-style corporate culture where the only people who make any decisions are senior management and change happens very slowly-if at all-because people have no ownership. It is a culture dominated by complacency. In this culture, when they tell you to hammer a nail, you keep hammering until they tell you to stop.

Bureaucratic: This is a culture where process and procedures take precedence over people and needs. Systems are very well entrenched and are very rarely reviewed or changed.

What Makes Up a Culture?

The major elements that make up a culture are:

Leadership
Ethics
Attitudes and Beliefs
Rewards and Recognition
Processes and Procedures
These elements, when combined, have a direct impact on the culture of your organization. The culture is the one critical factor that will determine the overall health and future health of your organization.

Don’t assume that just because there is a mission, vision, or core value statement that this way of thinking is on auto pilot and fully embodied in all members of the organization.

Yes, it is critical to hire passionate, competent employees, but, if the internal culture is not cohesive, even the brightest stars will dim over time.

Take a look around your organization. Where would you say your organization is on the culture barometer?

Something else to think about: How do “you” fit within the elements of culture?

If you are a leader of people or a business unit with multiple levels, you are responsible for creating a healthy culture with each interaction.

Luanne Ramsey is the Business Development Manager for The Rosen Group. Luanne came to The Rosen Group in February 2008 with a unique background as both a staffing and human resources professional. She has nine years of experience in the global staffing industry–including experience as a Senior Recruiter, Staffing Manager, Branch Manager, and Business Development and Sales Manager. A seasoned HR Professional, Luanne has held leadership roles from Generalist, Employee Relations, and HR Manager to Business Partner for Global Medical, Pharmaceutical Organizations.

© 2009, The Rosen Group Newsletter. Reprinted with permission by The Rosen Group, specializing in Human Resources Solutions and HR Staffing.


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