Organizational culture is your client’s distinct personality that can make or break your consultancy project. I suggest, for the sake of the organization and the project, that you understand the client’s culture and address culture issues in a timely way. Later in this blog, I give four aspects of organizational culture to consider.
What contributes to an organization’s culture can be tangible, such as the quality of the physical work environment; or intangible, such as accepted levels of incivility. Regarding the tangible, I recall preparing to address an employee group and strongly recommending the removal of Jessica Alba and Mariah Carey posters from the wall behind the podium. Some employees had difficulty understanding “why”.
The accepted wall décor was a clue to understanding the company’s culture. Certainly, it didn’t tell the entire story. Culture can be difficult to assess because its definition relies on multiple aspects of the organization. But it’s worth examining.
If, as a consultant, you’d like to assess your prospective client’s culture, keep in mind that some aspects may not be easily accessible to you. For example, organizational culture is constructed with the attitudes, experiences, beliefs, and values shared by key stakeholders within organization. Some accessible factors that define organizational culture are:
Policies (and Procedures) – These have an often-overlooked impact on outcomes and employee commitment. Policies may not be challenged often enough. And the negative impacts of antiquated policies can be accepted as status quo (We’ve always done it this way.)
Individual Employee Connection to the Mission/Goals – This contributes to the spirit in which individual employees express commitment to the advancement of the mission/goals.
As a consultant to Organization Y, I was given a copy of the annual budget which included the income requirements for each department – including the income-driven responsibility for each FTE. Department managers were not given access to their department’s productivity goals and income-driven responsibilities. However, when managers received projections of their department’s responsibilities, they made greater commitments to the mission and goals. They encouraged their teams to make similar commitments. Employees developed competitions for meeting monthly productivity requirements.
Leadership-to-employee relations – Management styles and the organization’s interpersonal climate are important intangibles.
A CEO once described employees as akin to “… leaves on a tree; that change with every season. Some are lost every year – but, there are always more waiting to take their place.” That perspective filtered through the organization, and job security was not valued – turnover was high.
Interpersonal Communication and Dynamics – Terminology, communication styles, and overall interpersonal dynamics impact all employee levels. It’s how all stakeholders interact. Walking the hallways and observing interactions or lack thereof, attending a leadership or staff meeting, inquiring about inter-departmental collaboration and competition; these are methods that you can use to understand the influence of Interpersonal Communication and Dynamics on culture.
Each of these factors, and more, play an important role in shaping organizational culture. One factor, alone, doesn’t define the culture, but instead culture is a combination of these, and other factors – and that’s what makes each culture unique.