Cancel Meetings and Keep Doughnuts? Corporate Culture Counts

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Culture counts and now there’s proof. Last month, Merriam-Webster declared the 2014 word of the year: Culture. Who can argue with a dictionary company? The pick is based on significant increases in lookups on the dictionary’s website along with spikes of concentrated interest. Of all the billions and billions of words in the dictionary, culture is the one with the biggest increases in lookups? Why? I think that people are trying to understand the word culture, how to measure it and most importantly, how to change it.

I doubt that people were searching for the word because they wanted to qualify as a classical music lover or learn how to eat caviar with the Downton Abbey folks. Could be that some were interested in how a pearl develops, but I doubt it. Boy George and the Culture Club? Not so much. People are trying to understand what the word means relative to our own organizations. As in, what is corporate culture? what does it look like here? And, do I like the culture here?

I am not surprised that culture is the word of the year. Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company, a startup, a football team, a police force or a college, the culture dictates so many behaviors. Current events are demanding that we look at an organization’s culture. The culture answers the big questions like:

  • What is important and how we do things around here?
  • Who makes decisions and what factors are decisions based on?
  • How do we treat each other? With care and respect? Or, is everyone competing? Are we are all enemies?
  • Do we work like dogs or do we bring our dogs to the office?
  • Can we really tell the truth to each other? To others?
  • Does my contribution count?

When the culture is off track, nothing is quite right. Pay and benefits might be good, maybe you just received a promotion, no matter, you still dread going to work in the morning.

We have all been in successful organizations where the culture is not right. (See rowers on Viking ships.) We have also all been in organizations where everyone talks about culture and there are efforts to improve it, but it still sucks. (See company picnics.) I have heard some say, “My company doesn’t have a culture.” Yes it does. To me that statement simply means you don’t like the culture.

Cultures are tough to change. Lots of change efforts have begun with free food and fewer meetings. That approach leads to weight gain but not much change. Some would say the only way to change a culture is to change the people. People changes usually happen after the efforts that involve free doughnuts and employee surveys don’t go anywhere.

The fact that so many organizations are looking at culture is a good thing. And organizations are not just reviewing culture – changes are being made. And that’s a good thing.

What defines your company’s culture?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Marques

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