Much of the organizational literature provides guidance on “building” or “creating” culture.
I don't believe we can “create” culture. Culture simply exists, in all organizations. It is an organic outgrowth of the dynamics and interactions of the members of the organization, all of which are influenced by the collective attitudes and practices of the organization’s members.
Because culture is very much a self-organizing system, we do not have the power to simply conjure up the culture we desire. The idea that we get to create the culture we want is a notion that is WAY too simplified for the realities on the ground, and it could even be described as downright naïve.
Before you get indignant, here me out.
What I believe we can (and should) do is purposefully and positively influence the culture of our organization (whether it be a family, a softball team, a yoga class, a business, or a school). How? By our attitudes, our acts of commission, our acts of omission, and our treatment of others. EVERY person within an organization exercises some influence on the culture of the organization. And, the degree of influence is not necessarily tied to where one lies in the organizational hierarchy.
So, how can we influence our organization’s culture in positive ways?
- Insist on and model respectful treatment of ALL others.
- Notice and celebrate behaviors consistent with the organizational culture we desire.
- Be extremely purposeful when the opportunity to add new organizational members presents itself. Design recruitment and induction processes that will unveil candidates with the attributes that will positively influence the organization. To quote Todd Whitaker, “Don’t hire the people that fit your organization; hire the people you want your organization to become.”
- Communicate often and in many ways the kinds of behaviors, beliefs, and values that represent the desired cultural norms. Folks will both over- and under-achieve those desired norms, but they’ll at least know the aspirations if the desired outcomes are clearly articulated.
I'm sure you’ve heard this before, but the only thing you can control is how you act and react. Be cognizant of the fact that each of those actions and reactions will influence the culture of your organization.
By the way, you’re influencing your organization's culture right now. On purpose?