Why Culture Trumps Your Organization’s Proclamations

by , in Culture

All organizations have grand visions of how they want to be seen. It always involves customers, employees, and the organization as a whole. They want customers to feel appreciated and completely satisfied with the level of customer service received, employees that are empowered to take initiative and add value in everything they do, and be seen as an organization that is admired for its innovation and treatment of employees. Organizations proclaim these things in mission and value statements, speeches, press releases, articles, proposals to customers, and a variety of other mediums.

What is said and documented by organizations is what is wanted; what is observed is often much different. This is because culture always trumps proclamations. Culture is like dark matter in our universe. Scientists can’t see or touch it, but they know it’s present because their current mathematical models for the universe do not fully explain what they observe. Something big is missing, an X factor, dark matter. When an organization’s proclamations do not reflect what is observed it is because of their X factor, their culture. It dictates employee behavior when they are being watched and when they are left alone. It is the single most powerful influence in an organization.

A poor culture corrupts an organization into having customers who feel they are a nuisance and subservient to standard policy, employees that put in only enough time to look busy and do not dare do anything other than what they are told, and organizations that cling to the status quo and care solely about boosting their bottom line.

Exactly how does this happen? It happens one experience at a time.  An employee is shamed or disciplined for trying something new and failing. Project celebrations are eliminated to save money even though profits are at a record high. Customers with unique situations are ramroded through the standard customer service process. It’s these rain drops that over time create a river that wears down the mountain side.

Culture is created at the top and driven down through the organization. Even if senior management doesn’t intentionally create a culture one gets created anyway. It’s just something that happens in groups of people. Cultures are always created one way or another.

To intentionally create a culture; identify six pillars you want to establish. You can start with your proclamations as I’m sure they were well thought out. Then steer your organization towards them by:

  • Hiring, firing, encouraging, and disciplining employees based on your six pillars.
  • Being careful when making decisions as you may erode what you are trying to build up.  Dive into the systemic cause and effect relationships to ensure decisions move you closer to where you want to be.
  • Constantly modeling the behavior that supports the culture you want and making sure your subordinates do the same (they will pass it down to the rest of the organization).
  • Staying with it, it takes time.

Also, keep in mind that subcultures can exist within larger cultures. While their influence cannot deviate too far from the larger culture’s they can still be different. This gives managers some leeway in their departments. Even if their larger organization’s culture is causing unwanted behavior managers are still able to put some of it in check by creating a strong subculture. No manager is totally helpless.

Lastly, every person in an organization has the choice to be influenced by the culture or not. If it is a good culture the choice is easy. If the culture is toxic then it is a much more difficult choice, one that could affect their future employment and peer relationships. Even though the influence of a culture is very powerful, everyone still has a choice and the responsibility for that choice.

So, next time you hear an organization’s leaders proclaiming who they are, remember the proof is in the pudding. Watch and see, your observations will reveal their culture and the driving force for the decisions and behavior of their employees.