Beyond the Bullshit: What's Your Real Company Culture?


Delighted while doing nothing else. Multitasking is the ultimate maelstrom, after all.

Cue uplifting music. . .(thanks Steve Dolbinski)

Recently, I realized that the phrase “company culture” had gotten way out of wack. 

Organizational culture is defined as: "a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations."

But it's those darn job descriptions again.They’ve got culture all wrong. Here's what a lot of them sound like:

Unlimited vacation policies, casual attire, open-air offices. Lots of collaboration. Annual light-rail passes. Free yoga in the lobby every Friday. Vanilla Porter in the fridge. Occasional donut-eating contests.

These are not culture. They are manifestations of some of the more exciting parts of  culture.

The other thing I see under the Culture subheading is Company Values. They look a lot like this:


This seems logical, right? That these values describe company culture? 

But stop right there. I gotta know right now. Before you go any further. . . .do you love me? Are these really your values? Or just what you aspire to? I mean, I'm not saying they're bullshit, but let's make sure they're not lip service nestled in a nice little gift bag.  

Whatever they are, it's nice to have them written down. Nice to think about them sometimes. Like when you read your own company's website. Which is typically never. 

But actual company culture is more enigmatic. It's something you have to work at. . . .something that inherently stems from leadership. . . .and simultaneously. . .something that evolves from your employees and the every-day-grind. 

So let's review. While company culture includes the manifestations (down-dogs, happy hours) and the values (honesty, innovation), true company culture is somewhere in the soft, chewy center. No idea how many licks it will take to get there. 

And now for some hard questions. Everyone's favorite part. The answers to these will be a good start to defining your culture.

1) Meetings: Do you start on time? Do you limit their length? Are you strict about format? Are you fond of all-hands? Are they more of a brainstorm? Do you overuse the optional attendance thingie? What are your meetings really about?

2) Autonomy: Do you tend to train people, then let them loose? Or do you fail to train and just micromanage? Is it better for your employees to ask permission or beg forgiveness? 

3) Ideas: When your employees have an idea, are they encouraged to tell theirmanager? Where does it go from there? Buried in an inbox? Posted on a community board? Maybe you have an all-hands where ideas are shared every week?

4) Social: Is social time structured? Can you grab a beer when you want? Are events scheduled with clear boundaries? Is there an exclusive or an inclusive feel to your happy hours? Do you prefer partying outside the office or inside the office? What's the most common lifestage? Do more people have kids or kayaks?

 5) Feedback: Do you have a feedback system in place? Do you follow it? how often do people get it? Is there a way to give feedback about the feedback? Sometimes you have to put a Starbucks inside a Starbucks. 

6) Process: Do you have processes in place? Do you like to talk about them? Do you actually follow them? Does someone manage them? Do they work? 

 7) Communication: Is it basically word of mouth? Are you dependent on a platform that's spotty and messy at best? Do you have a project manager? Are they effective? Do people visit cubicles or use IM?

First find your culture. Get help. Find eventsconsultants and internal tools to broaden your discussion and research. 

Then try and articulate it on your website. And your job description. Then call me. You can watch House of Cards while I finish it up. 

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