What is Culture?

Arlene DeSantis Jones ·

Currently, there is a lot of buzz around organizational CULTURE, and rightfully so. If we don’t consider culture as foundational to a successful business, then we’re seriously shortchanging ourselves and our customers. Whether you’re providing a product or a service, it’s the people and culture in your organization that make a profound impact on whether or not customers do business with you.

So what is culture anyway? Simply put, culture is the behavior behind how we do business each day. It guides how we think, behave and make decisions. The CEO is responsible for determining the general direction of the company’s culture, while the employees are responsible to shape and nurture it each and every day. Oftentimes company VALUES will be used to help define the company culture. Values could be a series of words or perhaps a definition. Values must be simple enough for people to remember and recite when asked. Check out this quick video about how we succinctly communicate our values (Show Up, Smile, Support) at EDSI.

In addition, the culture that you desire is more likely to happen if you define BEHAVIORS to support your values. Over the past six months, we’ve focused on further defining the key behaviors which represent our values and have been excited about the impact and conversations this activity has sparked. We’ve coined these behaviors the “EDSI Daily Ways.”

Culture is certainly not one-size-fits-all. So if you understand culture is important, how do you create a culture that best fits your business? Once you determine the direction, how can you grow it across the organization? Let’s take a detailed look at these and other important questions.

UNDERSTANDING TODAY'S CULTURE

First things first, discovering the current state of your culture is the best place to start. Let’s say you’re listening to a speaker on a topic of interest and your attention wanders. What is it that brings your attention back to the presenter? Is it the fancy PowerPoint presentation with the 7 important bullet points? Or is it a story - a story that gives practical application to the topic? I’ll bet it’s the story. Stories tell us a lot about people and organizations - and they provide great insight into a company’s culture.

If you want to understand your culture’s current state, listen to the stories that are being told by your employees and customers. What do hear them saying? Is it a fun place to work? What type of testimonial is your customer willing to give? What do customers say about the people they interact with in your organization? Listening is a critical first step in understanding your current state.

Next, how do you feel about what people are saying? Are these the types of behaviors and values you want associated with your company? Is this the type of culture you want to emulate? If so, you've got a great starting point. If not, that’s okay - there are always several key people in the company who reflect the desired behaviors and by observing them, you can begin to build a good foundation for the future.

PLAN FOR TOMORROW'S CULTURE

Now that you understand the current culture, how do you move your organization to a more desirable, productive culture? This phase involves writing down all the themes you’ve observed during the current state analysis. It also depends heavily on the CEO involving trusted people who can help to shape the culture. If your organization already has desirable values, then you'll want to add behaviors to those values that further define them. This way people understand how to live out the values as part of your culture. If you don’t have values, this is a great opportunity to create them. Remember, you want them to be simple so employees can easily commit them to memory.

Once you’ve documented behaviors and themes, it’s best to take those ideas to trusted people within your organization for further review. Ask what these values and behaviors mean to them. Ask which values and behaviors resonate with them from an organizational perspective. Asking the right questions of employees will ensure that everyone’s on the same page. Though the CEO is responsible for setting the tone, it’s always important to include people who are already living out the desired values. This approach creates a broad base of ownership and participation in the new culture.


Culture does not change overnight. In fact, Kevin Schnieders, CEO at EDSI, states that “just when you think that people aren't getting it, you begin to hear the stories and think, okay, they've got it.”

PERPETUATE THE CULTURE CHANGE

Once the groundwork has been laid for the desired culture, it’s time to begin integrating it into the daily activities and routines of your business. Permeate the organization with the associated expected behaviors and values in order to effect lasting culture change. Below are just a few examples.

VIDEO MESSAGES – Have the CEO record a short video on company values and behaviors and why they are important to the business.

INTERVIEWS – Ensure the right culture fit is a part of the candidate qualification process. Utilize your values and expected behaviors to help you hire the right candidates. Create questions that get at the behaviors you expect to find in people who fit the culture.

PERFORMANCE – Once employees understand the expected behaviors, it’s time to incorporate these into your performance reviews. Defined behaviors encourage natural conversation and stories regarding performance, reiterating the importance of the desired culture and supporting values.

MANAGER REVIEWS – Have employees rate their manager on how well he/she performs in relation to values and expected behaviors. This creates a great opportunity for managers to see what they’re doing well and identifies potential areas for improvement. This could also provide an opportunity for clarification in the case of confusion regarding behaviors, values or culture.

RECOGNITION - Take time to send regular communications, create recognition programs, and positively identify expected behaviors when demonstrated by employees. Let people know that you notice. Retell the stories that exemplify the company culture. One of our defined behaviors to support our values is, “my word is my bond.” I've heard stories about people sharing, "I apologize that my word wasn't my bond today, I didn't get that deliverable to you in time."

Most importantly, have fun creating the right culture for your organization! Enjoy sharing the many stories and benefits of a company culture that is right for you and your customers.

OWN IT - IT’S YOUR CULTURE!