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Understanding Culture, the Pulse of Your Organisation

Culture is like the pulse of an organisation. It always provides us an interesting cue to help understand the organisation It is very often we hear the spiels: “Our key success factor is our culture!”; “There is something wrong with our culture” and “we want people who will fit into our culture!”. Most management pundits

Culture is like the pulse of an organisation. It always provides us an interesting cue to help understand the organisation

It is very often we hear the spiels: “Our key success factor is our culture!”; “There is something wrong with our culture” and “we want people who will fit into our culture!”. Most management pundits glorify culture as the difference between pioneers and laggards or winners and ‘also-rans’. Culture is like the pulse of an organisation. It cannot by itself give you a lot of information. But it acts as sort of a window which helps one peek into the portals of an organisation. It helps you ask questions to delve deeper into the institutional psyche. 

The better you understand culture, the better you can leverage it to help build a high performance organisation.

The interesting thing about culture is that it can never be clearly defined by the people bound by it – it is difficult to ‘see the forest through the trees’.

Management science itself has developed a few tools like Culture web analysis, Social network analysis etc. to categorise various issues and present to you a diagnostic chart that broadly describes the enterprise’s cultural, organisational alignments to various people and strategic issues. But an easier way would be to answer a series of questions internally like:

How do we respond to situations?

When there is a critical incident in an organisation, it is often the best time to observe the character of the organisation. Read these actions from the organisational context. Do we always adhere to a set of documented procedures? Or, are we encouraging our managers to take the best course of action that deems fit to them? Are we driven by selling more or are we conscious to create a work ethic around conceptualising great products?

What are the perceived winning behaviours?

What kinds of actions are applauded in the organisation? Who are the ‘rock stars’ in the organisation? What do we see in our role models? What are the attributes that we admire in them? One should also be cautioned against falling for stereotyping like – engineers like technology, HR hates numbers, marketing department is more aggressive, customer representatives don’t want challenges, the IT department is inflexible etc.

How are we perceived from outside?

It always helps to let an external stakeholder speak about how the organisation is perceived from outside. It is often the characteristics of leaders that are clearly visible to the outsider. But the impression gets formed not just through experiences but also through articles, word of mouth and the media hyperbole.

Based on what I have seen in the last two decades, these are some great ways to build a high performance culture in your organisation.

Have a shared vision – More than a statement on the newsletter, a framed picture on the wall or an organisation screensaver, a simple clear statement conveying what the company exists for is important and, more importantly, offers something that is meaningful to every employee.

Reinforce the right behaviours – Have a clear reward policy where employees who do the ‘right thing’ are lauded and rewarded and made an example of.

Create informal communication avenues – A good newsletter is often not enough, one has to encourage employees to discuss the organisation by leveraging social media, group chats and informal get-togethers.

Look at culture from the organisational context – It is important to be aware of what your employees think of your structure, processes, salaries, incentives etc. It is this context that outlines your culture and what needs to change before the mindsets.

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