What is organisational culture? Is it something that can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, written down, or felt? It is all of these things. Organisational culture is what makes a company what it is. It is the company’s personality. Although it is often difficult to define and document accurately, organisational culture is a hugely powerful tool and force in an organisation, which is difficult (and often unnecessary) to change entirely or copy.
When a person joins a new company, they are gradually shown the ropes: How do we work? How do we approach things? What is acceptable? What is not? When have you succeeded in your work? How do we celebrate things or do we celebrate at all? What do we value? How do we lead? These are all manifestations of organisational culture. They have evolved throughout history and are shaped over time, through new people, and as the business develops. The organisational culture of a company may be quite different when the company is a start up compared to when it is employing 300 people. Still, a basic tone of the organisation will remain if so desired.
How a culture changes and what is emphasised about it are things that can be directed if regular attention is paid to this. It is unlikely that a culture can ever be changed completely, but by highlighting the sought-after and desired characteristics of the culture the organisation learns new habits and slowly the old ways are forgotten. Just as humans can learn a new way to think, so can organisations.
The strength of organisational culture is measured in difficult situations. Do people pull together in these situations, are the values mentioned in speeches reflected in decisions, and how do people respond to new situations? What happens in these moments reveals the true nature and strength of a culture. A strong culture that is based on strengths and has been consciously directed will carry through difficult times.
The world is changing at a tremendous rate and it is increasingly challenging to manage this change. If a company’s organisational culture is strong and it beats in the heart of every employee, it is easier to trust that people know how to make sound decisions, operate appropriately and move things in the desired direction even when no blueprints or instructions for such changes exist. Organisational culture can act as a beacon, which guides the organisation in the right direction even when fog obscures visibility of the future. Is your organisation’s lighthouse in working condition and ready to lead you towards new waters?