From the Ask Tom mailbag –
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.
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.