Tag Archives: culture cycle

Why is Culture Important?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
What is culture? Everyone talks about it, says how important it is. I know it is there, but it’s one of those warm and fuzzy concepts that’s like nailing jello to the wall.

Response:
Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. The culture cycle can be understood as a reinforcing system, recursive through four descriptive stages.

  • Beliefs and assumptions, the way we see the world.
  • Those beliefs and assumptions, typically unwritten, drive specific behaviors (for better or worse).
  • Driven behaviors, or cultural behaviors are tested by the consequences of reality.
  • Those behaviors that survive the test of consequences become our customs and rituals. Those customs and rituals reinforce our beliefs and assumptions, the way we see the world. The cycle begins again.

Every company (or social group) has a culture. That culture may be intentional or it just happens, but every company has one, and has the one they deserve. Culture is critical because it impacts the social structure, the way it operates and its impact on each individual. Culture determines the way you enter a group (company), how an individual is selected for the group. Induction includes the customs and rituals of orientation. Culture determines how roles are defined, assigned, formed, re-formed.

Culture determines any system of merit, performance management and review, individual development, career path, coaching and mentoring. Movement in the organization is impacted by systems of promotion based on accountability and authority. Compensation is designed, crafted and executed according to the way we see the world, the company and its business model in the competitive platform on which the company plays.

All of these elements are critical to a person’s understanding and self-perception. And most people in modern nation states exist inside a cultural system that impacts self-definition, not only the way a person sees the world (beliefs and assumptions), but the way they see themselves. Psychological healthy people are a product of psychologically healthy organizations.

How We Get to Customs and Rituals

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture. The one I currently kick around is –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

  • What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  • How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  • How is culture tested?
  • How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

Culture Starts
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

Culture is Visible
Culture, the way we see the world drives our behavior. We cannot see the bias in others. We cannot see their interpretations of the world. We cannot see the story people carry in their minds, but, we can see behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

Tested
Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Our culture stands for what we tolerate. This is counter to the notion of the lofty intentions of honesty and integrity. Our culture stands for the behaviors we tolerate.

Customs and Rituals
Behaviors that survive, for better or worse, are institutionalized in our rituals and customs. This ranges from the peer lunch on a team member’s first day at work (for better), to the hazing in a fraternity house (for worse). But, it all starts with the way we see the world. -Tom Foster