Indications of a Good Corporate Culture

I’ve noticed clients use a specific word excuse for poor management styles, describe shoddy performance, explain away delay and many more quirks people bring to the workplace. That word is “culture.” Many experts tell us they can spot the indications of a good corporate culture, but I’m more interested in examining how culture is defined.

I’ve noticed the word “culture” is used as a catchall to describe workplace behaviour.  

Some Examples of Culture Conversation

Here is a sampling of comments I’ve heard employees and leaders say about corporate culture:

“We have a culture of mediocrity here.”

“Our company has always had a command and control management culture.”

“We all go for a beer every Friday after work; it’s part of the culture.”

“It’s never been part of our culture to be concerned with getting things right; our culture has always been to get things done.”

Invariably, the commenters would add:

“It’s impossible to change culture.”

“Our culture has been like this for years and years. It will take years and years to change.”

“There is nothing we can do. It’s the culture.”

I disagree with the above three comments. The reason people in those organizations arrived at this conclusion is simply that they’ve formed the belief that these statements are true.

What’s True for You

As we have discussed lately, a belief is simply the meaning we place on information or events. The meaning we attach to something becomes an idea we believe to be true. You’ll remember that just because we believe it to be true does not mean that it IS true. You’ll also remember that it’s the truth for us if we believe it.

To dispel corporate culture myths, we must understand what “culture” means.

In its most straightforward form, culture means “This is how we do things around here; this is what is acceptable.”

It stands to reason that we can change “the way we do things around here.” In fact, a 2019 study published in the journal Economic Alternatives found today’s businesses must adopt the idea of cultural change to evolve in a fast-changing world.

Not to worry. We’re already better at shaping culture than we realize.

That’s because there is no such thing as a single corporate culture. In any organization, there are multiple “cultures.” These cultures begin with the team leader. 

There may be a perceived culture that permeates an organization. However, each group, subgroup, department, branch, or office has its own culture.

Indications of a Good Corporate Culture

Each department, shift, crew or team leader will shape their own team’s culture. Very commonly, when that leader departs, a new culture descends upon the group with the new leader’s arrival. The current ways of doing things in a particular department aren’t necessarily indications of a good corporate culture because that culture can improve or diminish based on the culture of a specific team.

I have visited locations of the same company where the cleanliness in their lunchrooms has been striking and has lent credibility to the statement that “you can eat off the floor.”

And I have been in the lunchroom of other locations of that same company that have been so disgustingly filthy that I would not have entered even if adorned in full hazmat gear.

Both of these experiences are reflections of the differing “cultures” within a single company. They each reflect “how we do things around here; what’s acceptable around here.” 

It is possible to set norms and expectations within a broader corporate culture simply by the behaviour you adopt day in and day out.

Learned Helplessness

Those who say that it is not possible to change culture are really saying that it is not important enough for them to launch or support the culture change. They’re tacitly saying the existing culture is not causing enough pain to make the possible pain of changing it worthwhile. Or, they have tried previously to change the culture, not met with much success and concluded that no one would be able to change it, so there was no point in trying again.

This defeatist attitude is a sad, unfortunate conclusion that even has its own name. It’s called “learned helplessness.” 

I’m not suggesting for a moment that culture change is a painless experiment. Change invariably brings along with it a degree of pain for some. However, the purpose of change is to improve things and remove or reduce existing pain.

The challenge with believing that we can’t change culture is that we allow things that impact the culture negatively to fester. The longer we allow things to move in a downward direction, to consistently get worse, the worse they will continue to get.

It’s unnecessary and unfortunate. I have worked in organizations where the culture has changed overnight. It can happen, and it will happen every time as long as leaders are willing to examine their existing culture and change the parts that are not producing satisfactory results.

Therefore the only way to begin “improving things around here” is to introduce a culture of raised standards and constant striving for excellence. A redefining of “what’s acceptable around here.” Any team can achieve this result with positive reinforcement of all behaviours contributing to this ideal and discouragement of those that don’t.

It doesn’t take as much to change culture as we fear. It just takes guts.

Till we read again.

Photo of Rael Kalley,Habits coach in calgary canada

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