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Defining Your Company Culture

The answers lie in the culture you’ve created.

Developing a unique culture that helps your employees drive performance is a significant way in which you can differentiate your company. The challenge is that culture is extremely difficult for leaders to pinpoint, define, quantify, and understand at a level that they can actually manage. It may seem like a nebulous or fluffy concept to those who are used to managing via quantifiable data — and it’s even more challenging to identify aspects of an organization’s culture that, if proactively managed, will have a tangible, positive impact on performance. In this way, the people you retain to implement and manage your organizational, employee and company cultures will be some of the most important people on your team.

Let’s look at three different ways culture is at play in your business.

Organizational culture is the behavior of the people who are part of your organization, and the meanings that they assign to their actions (“Why do I/we do this work?”). Organizational culture includes your company’s values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs, and habits.

Employee culture is created by the beliefs and behaviors that dictate how your company’s employees are treated, trained, incentivized, how management interacts with employees, and how each person handles outside business transactions.

Corporate culture is often implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. One can also hire specifically to develop a corporate culture rather than letting the definition happen an undefined way.

You can put these definitions to work in this way: Corporate culture is built on the people you hire, and collectively, those people define how the company “feels” while it does what it does. The people you hire work inside an employee culture, which determines how it feels to work inside the corporate culture. The organizational culture is created by how the employee and corporate cultures impact the team’s ability to meet organizational goals.

Defining Your Culture

Looking to define your culture? Think about these three questions”

Why does the company exist and where is it headed? How does it do what it does? Successful companies have employees who are committed to the company mission and have a shared vision of the future. Define morals, attitudes, and tactics that are acceptable to your company as it does what it does. The premise of your organization can serve to galvanize the staff toward the success of your mission (Ending child hunger? Helping the world? Employees can get behind that!).

What skills and supports do employees need to do their jobs successfully? How will you structure training and support? What type of employees will best help you achieve your organizational objectives, and what tracks for promotion are available? It’s important to think about what employees experience when being hired, on-boarded, trained and supported in their daily work. Top-performing companies have employees who feel ownership over their work and provide input on organizational decisions. These employees are more likely to take responsibility within the organization and shoulder the autonomy to carry out those responsibilities. With thoughtful training and a structure that allows for support and advancement within the company, employees are more likely to take the initiative to grow their careers at the company that has supported their development.

How will your organizational structure allow decisions to be made effectively and efficiently? How will people be encouraged to operate in accordance with the stated values and norms of the company? Be clear about what you stand for, and the hierarchy or methods that will allow your business will solve problems. Create systems that help stakeholders reach consensus and know what your values dictate you’ll say “yes” or “no” to. Make your objectives and values clear – so that employees, customers, and shareholders can applaud you when you get it right, and identify actions that mean you’re getting it wrong.

Most employees tend to prefer a work environment where organizational goals are communicated and the company has developed methods to support the employees while they meet goals. The way you define evolve your company’s culture will touch nearly everything that happens – or doesn’t happen – in your company. Though clarifying your culture can be a tricky, time consuming (and daily) task, it is incredibly important to your success.

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