One More Time – Why Culture Matters

First, let’s review exactly what culture is – and isn’t. Culture is the overall expectations of members’ attitudes and behaviours – what it takes to “fit in”. These expectations can be communicated subtly, sub-consciously or explicitly. Behaviours and attitudes cover everything from simple things such as how to dress to complex issues such as sharing opinions.

For non-management personnel, culture answers questions such as “How do I fit in? How do I excel? And, (sometimes) how do I survive?” For management, culture answers questions more like, “How do I expect people to fit in, excel and survive?” Often times, the answers to these questions are dramatically different between the management group and the rank and file members. (That is why it is so very important to regularly measure the organization’s culture.)

Culture is not a measure of employee satisfaction or employee engagement – they are the end result of culture. Nor is culture a measure of emotions. Many companies still describe their “culture” using emotion adjectives such as “fun” or “happy place to work”. Some companies erroneously describe their culture based on their operating strategy, such as “fast paced” or “customer focused”. None of these definitions or terms describe what behaviours or attitudes are expected from members.

Why Does Culture Matter?

Organizational Culture is connected to two very important sets of outcomes – people and productivity.  The people outcomes include member satisfaction and employee engagement and all of the subsequent outcomes such as turnover, sick pay, grievances and stress.  The productivity outcomes include individual and group motivation, customer service quality and interest in quality improvement initiatives. Together, these two sets of outcomes have a significant impact on the long-term viability of any organization.

This basically means that the more Constructive your culture, the more likely it is that your organization will experience long-term success. However, achieving a Constructive Culture is not a simple undertaking. The journey is often long and difficult. Some of the levers for culture change include organizational restructure, changing job designs, overhauling Human Resources Management systems and (nearly always) management and leadership training. And this is not a one-time journey. Every organization can do better – and every organization can have their Constructive Culture slip. For example, high turnover (especially in management) or a change in management behaviour caused by an economic downturn can quickly erode a Constructive Culture.

The implication is that senior management in every organization must pay attention to culture – now and always.

About the Author

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Allan Stewart

Allan Stewart has been the president of Human Synergistics Canada since 1996. His unique background combines a successful general management career with extensive workshop training experience and a varied academic career. Allan has conducted training programs for organizations in retail, finance, mining, manufacturing, energy, athletics, education, health care and various sectors of the government. He was a senior executive with Sears Canada Inc. and has been a professor at McMaster University and Sheridan College. He received his B.Com. from Queen’s University and his M.B.A. from Wilfrid Laurier University. Allan has over 30 years experience in developing and conducting training workshops. His past clients have included some of the largest and most successful organizations in Canada. He has trained executives, first-line supervisors, trainers, sales-people and line workers. He has been an instructor with the Executive Development Programs at McMaster, York Universities and the Ontario Police College. He has been a key-note speaker on television and at a number of professional conferences. He is considered a leading expert on organizational culture and development. Allan’s dynamic training style and practical approach make him a popular workshop facilitator who has helped people throughout Canada and internationally. He has written articles and workbooks on a variety of subjects, including culture, leadership, stress management, change leadership, entrepreneurship and selling. As well, Allan Stewart is a skilled consultant, interacting with individuals, teams and companies.  As a volunteer, Allan has conducted leadership skills workshops for youth in Canada's native communities and in third world countries. He has lead several charitable organizations, coached minor sports for over 20 years, counseled elite athletes, and developed and lead young entrepreneurs' programs.