Thinking Out Loud

Company Culture:  An “Anthropological” Discovery Process

Company culture drives productivity as it draws and repels talent. It is more than slogans. A culture is organic about how it develops; you can’t invent it just because you want it to be a certain way. There has to be congruity between what you say about it and how it really is, and that is all about trust and integrity. 

The discovery process begins with a study of the organization’s “ancient” history. How and why did the organization start? What were the values and passions that created a start-up pathway? Who were the people involved? What were they like?

What did the founders leave behind? How do you see their footprints in the organization today? Are there employees (at any level) who know the organization’s history and are loyal to the original vision and the founders’ values? Who embodies the spirit of the organization—the current CEO, the receptionist?

Next, it’s important to observe the specific behaviors of those in leadership. How do they behave? Does their behavior align with what they espouse about the company culture? For example, does the CEO have an open door policy—telling everyone to please come in and talk—yet check (or at least eye the sender) of every text message that dings in?

Also look at the public perception of the organization. How is it perceived by clients, customers, the community, the press, etc.? How well does it align with how you would like your company to be seen? Why do you want to be seen that way? What does it mean to you?

Think about that old Rolling Stones song about getting what you need, instead of what you want. It’s relevant. You might want a particular culture but without being clear about what the culture is and what culture is needed at this particular time, you might be creating a mirage.  Organizations want to be seen a certain way. Image matters. But if the image is not deeply connected to the internal culture (the behaviors of those who work there), then you are creating smoke and mirrors, and that is not sustainable.

So the question “Who are we right now, and what do we need to grow (not only financially)?” provides a platform for establishing the culture needed to best serve the organization. As you mindfully look at the organization and those who work there, what attributes, what practices, what people already embodies that? Is it a full-force embodiment? What would full-force look, sound, and feel like? What specific behaviors would you be manifesting? In other words what would you be doing differently?  Challenge yourself to do the one thing—right now, consistently—that you believe would make a positive contribution to the culture your organization needs? Think what would immediately happen if everyone did this.

Here are additional questions to consider as you look more thoroughly at your company culture:

  • How do we treat mistakes?
  • What do we tell new employees—under the radar?
  • How much autonomy do employees have in decision-making?
  • How do you talk about your client’s/customers to each other?
  • How free are you in making suggestions for change?
  • Does your manager acknowledge mistakes/shortcomings?
  • How do you feel when you tell someone about where you work?

Company culture is a living entity, reflected in the specific behaviors of everyone who works there. There is a shared responsibility to be intentional about how you support it. Any change, however slight, begins with a realistic appraisal of the history and current climate. That honest inquiry results in a work environment that marries what you want with what you need.

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