We often talk about organisational culture – or business culture. But what exactly do we mean by organisational culture? What type of culture does your organisation have, and what are the factors that make it what it is?
In this post we’ll explore the various different types of cultures that can exist in organisations. This will help you to identify the culture that exists in your organisation – and if you feel you need a cultural shift, we’ll let you know what steps you can take.
What is Organisational Culture?
Beyond your products, services, profits and goals, your organisational culture is what makes your business what it is.
When we talk about organisational culture, we’re talking about the values and behaviours that contribute to your business’s social and psychological environment. Every business is the sum of its people, and we’re all completely different in an unfathomable number of ways. So every business on the planet has its own unique organisational culture.
Organisational culture is implicit – so everyone takes part in it even if they’re not aware of doing do – and enduring. That means it’s a long-term thing, and if it’s ever going to change it won’t change overnight.
Organisational culture can be self-perpetuating. Some new hires will fit in and some won’t. Those that don’t fit in will leave sooner or later.
The following things might contribute to your organisational culture:
- Your goals, philosophy, ethos and history as a business, along with your future expectations.
- Your values – both spoken and unspoken.
- The inner workings of your business – like where people sit, and who talks to who.
- The way you interact with the outside world, from your customers to your supply chain.
- Any shared or conflicting beliefs, customs and opinions among your team.
- Rules, written and unwritten, whether or not they’re considered valid. This includes the team’s shared definitions of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behaviour.
And here’s how your organisational culture might manifest itself:
- How you conduct your business – including how you treat your employees, how you treat your customers, and how you interact with your wider community.
- In the extent to which people feel free to express their opinions, make decisions, and develop new ideas.
- In the relationships between staff in management, including how power and information flows through your hierarchy.
- Employee engagement – your company culture will directly influence how committed your employees are to their jobs, and how invested they are to your goals and vision.
Why is Organisational Culture Important?
Well, just look at all those ways in which your organisational culture might show itself.
Organisations with a “good” culture can expect:
- Better relationships between employees, between staff and management, and with customers.
- Improved employee productivity and performance.
- More engaged employees – which might extend to improved punctuality, reduced absenteeism and a lower-staff turnover.
- An environment in which new ideas can thrive, which can help with product and service development while ensuring that everyone feels like a valued member of the team.
- A better reputation, which can boost sales and help you to attract and retain top talent.
But organisations with a “bad” culture can expect the opposite of all that – poor relationships, unhappy and unengaged employees, dissatisfied customers, a poor reputation, increased absenteeism, struggles with hiring and retaining staff, and a working environment defined by suspicion and resentment.
So obviously you want your business to have a “good” organisational culture. Unfortunately, the culture is one of the hardest things to change for any organisation.
Examples of Organisational Culture – Which One Is Yours?
Do you recognise your organisation in any of the following types of culture?
The Culture of Caring
An environment built on mutual trust and support. A collaborative workplace in which teamwork is encouraged and everyone works to support one another. Managers are good listeners who make a point of truly understanding and valuing every single member of the team.
Organisations with this sort of culture can be thoroughly pleasant places to work. However, the atmosphere might repel the sort of employees who focus on details and results, and the emphasis on people above all else might mean that these companies struggle to grow.
The Culture of Authority
The flipside of the culture of caring? This is an atmosphere in which every employee is pitted against every other employee. Strength and decisiveness are valued, and all leaders are confident, charismatic, and adept at providing clear and decisive direction.
These organisations will have a strong hierarchy, and they may excel at achieving their results. But is it sustainable? The price to pay for success is an atmosphere that many may find toxic, which can be terrible for employee wellbeing.
The Culture of Control
Think of this as a less extreme version of the culture of authority. Importance is placed on structure and hierarchy. All risks are calculated, and all outcomes are carefully considered before any action is taken.
This sort of culture tends to attract a specific kind of employee and a specific type of leader. Leaders value planning and control, and they never make a decision that’s not backed by data. This attracts the sort of employee who likes security and certainty, and who likes to know who’s in charge.
There’s nothing inherently bad with this sort of culture. It’s just that some may find the atmosphere stifling, and you may struggle to attract the sort of creative free thinkers that could help you to grow.
The Culture of Purpose
An organisation with this sort of culture has a vision, a long-term goal. This vision might be idealistic with an emphasis on sustainability. You can therefore expect an atmosphere of compassion in which emphasis is placed on shared ideals.
The Culture of Results
Similar to the above, but the long-term goal is a little less idealistic and a lot more focused on profits and growth. In this sort of organisation leaders place a great emphasis on achievements, with great rewards for anyone that meets and beats their goals.
This could result in a meritocracy, where the highest-achievers will rise to the top. But it could also result in a highly competitive atmosphere defined by suspicion, resentment and stress.
The Culture of Learning
This sort of organisation will place a high value on creativity, and will actively encourage people to share their views and discuss their ideas. The inventive employees are united by their innate curiosity.
The Culture of Fun
Everyone does what makes them happy, resulting in a fun and stimulating working environment. We recently investigated the employee wellbeing schemes of some of the world’s biggest businesses. With all the yoga studios, basketball courts, bright colours and extremely generous holiday leave, it seems that for many employee wellbeing is synonymous with a culture of enjoyment.
The Culture of Authority
Finally, the flipside of the culture of fun. Rather than valuing creativity and letting people get on with their jobs in a way that let’s ideas and collaboration flow, authority and structure take precedence in this sort of workplace. Everyone understands that they must play by the rules at all times. Leaders like procedure, and they may place an emphasis on loyalty and discipline.
Obviously in some sectors, such as security and the military, this type of culture is expected – necessary, even. But if your business is only as good as your ideas, this sort of culture won’t work for you. A focus on authority tends to dampen creativity.
This list is by no means definitive or exhaustive. There are as many unique organisational cultures as there are unique organisations.
But if you recognise your organisation in this list, and you’ve realised that your organisational culture isn’t in good shape, it’s time for a cultural shift.
Even if you don’t recognise your organisations in this list, but you like the sound of one or two of the cultures we’ve listed, you can still think about making a cultural shift in your organisation.
The good news is that it’s never too late for any organisation to make a cultural shift. The bad news is that instigating a cultural shift could be one of the hardest thing your business ever attempts.
How to Change Your Organisation’s Culture
We could write a book about instigating an organisational cultural shift. It’s an immensely challenging long-term process. But here’s a few things to bear in mind, and a few ideas to get you started.
- You’ll need a plan, an outline of what you want your organisational culture to be like. This way you’ll have a vision to share with everyone at every level, which should make buy-in much easier.
- Speaking of buy-in, your cultural shift will never work unless everyone is on board. Remember that organisational cultures are implicit, enduring, and self-fulfilling. If anyone’s not on board, they’ll either disrupt everything for the rest of the team, or they’ll feel so alienated they’ll soon seek alternative employment.
- Communication is the lifeblood of any healthy company culture. Introduce an open-door policy and encourage anyone to come and discuss whatever’s on their mind, whenever they want. This way you can ensure that all voices are heard, and you might get some insights into the pain points and reservations you’ll have to overcome to make your cultural shift a success.
For a more detailed guide to creating a more harmonious and productive culture in your organisation, we recently put together an essential guide to workplace wellbeing.