Culture

Questions about Culture
Questions about Culture 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I had the good fortune yesterday to spend a few hours with some really smart folks talking about organizational culture.  The conversation reinforced for me how complex the topic of culture really is.  While I’d love to report that I walked away from that conversation with some great learnings about culture that I could share with you here, that wasn’t the case.  What I did come away with was a list of questions about organizational culture.

Here are some of the headline questions for me:

  • What exactly is culture?  Is it something that actually exists or is it simply a way of describing the impact of the other stuff we do in our businesses?
  • Does culture come before the people or do the people make up the culture?
  • How do micro-cultures within departments and teams affect overall corporate culture?
  • Does culture exist beyond the leader?  Said another way, does the leader always drive the corporate culture?
  • Does culture drive brand or does brand drive culture?
If you have any of the answers or have some opinions to share one way or the other, I’d love to have that conversation here.  
Culture is Hard to Define, Do it Anyway
Culture is Hard to Define, Do it Anyway 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I recently sat in a facilitated discussion about the development of emerging leaders with a group of my peers from large employers in my area.  During the course of the conversation, one particularly seasoned HR leader at the table offered up that one of the most critical characteristics of the emerging leaders within his organization was “cultural fit.”  When pressed about what that meant, he explained that culture is something that’s very difficult to define.  The obvious follow up question is “if you can’t define it, then how do you measure for cultural fit?”  He responded that it’s just something you can tell about the person.  I glanced around the room as he said this to see nodding heads around the table.  (I am not making this up.)

As I sat a bit stunned to have just heard this exchange, the discussion continued.  In less than ten minutes, the same person brought up that attitude was a very important characteristic in their emerging leaders.  When asked to speak more about that, he said . . . wait for it . . . “it’s really hard to define, you just can kind of feel it.”  Un.  Freaking.  Believable.

So, to summarize this HR executive leader’s comments: They know that cultural fit and attitude are critically important components for identifying those people who will make or break the future of their company.  However, they have no reliable way to measure these things in others, so instead they fall back on the old reliable HR tool, “gut feel.”  Is it any wonder that HR isn’t considered a legitimate player at the executive table with this kind of thinking?

I wish this were an isolated or fabricated story.  Sadly, this type of scene is playing itself out in HR departments in companies everywhere.  Too many of us have fallen into the trap to believe that if something is hard to define, that it’s not possible.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Here’s a list of things that are hard to define:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Purpose
  • Values
For some reason, it seems that the things that matter the most are also the most difficult to define.  However, each of these can be defined.  This work is not for the faint of heart because it’s big, ugly, scary work to take on because despite the power that definition brings in alignment and focus, the effort will be met with resistance.  This resistance comes because the process of definition not only requires the organization to define and commit to what it IS, but also what it IS NOT.  This process takes out the gray area of culture or leadership where it’s easy to hide if you aren’t playing within the rules.  
So, yes, it’s hard to define culture.  Most people won’t even try.  Be different.  Do it anyway.