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Allan Stewart

  One More Time – Why Culture Matters

   by Allan Stewart

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.