An Effective Company Culture: It Only Happens When Everybody Owns It

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Culture. I write about it all the time, yet I never seem to unpack all the myriad facets of culture.

Just think about all the different ways the word itself can be used:

  • A “cultured” person – one who carefully monitors their own behaviors so that they align with the best expectations of the environment they are in.
  • Cultured pearls – a thing of beauty created by human intervention into a natural process.
  • Ethnic or geographic culture – the traditions, behaviors and even expectations of a people group as defined over a very long period of time.
  • Company culture – “the way we do things around here.”

A 20-30% difference in corporate performance

I think that last one is lazy phrasing for a profound idea.

Indeed, company culture is far more than an idea. It is perhaps the combination of my three prior definitions. It is certainly shaped by human intervention and influenced by traditions and behaviors of the many over time. And yet it is the daily, individual choices about personal behaviors and actions that can dramatically (and subtly) shift a company’s culture quite quickly.

Culture became top of mind for me again this week after reading this post in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog. Author John Coleman unpacks the six different key factors of culture (Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative, Place) with which I agree wholeheartedly. Company culture is all of things and can be changed at the drop of a hat if any one of these things is changed in a demonstrable way.

Yet it’s the statistic right in his opening paragraph that grabs my attention most. (The stat comes from this article):

Effective culture can account for 20-30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.”

How are you enabling employees?

“Effective” culture – that’s a key driving factor in corporate success. John Coleman’s key factors of Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative and Place are indeed the forces behind an effective culture.

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But do not make the mistake of putting the creation of an effective culture on the shoulders of leadership alone. We all – all employees within an organization – own the company’s culture. Every person’s actions that reflect the values (or don’t) and contribute to achieving the mission (or hinder it) shape the culture in a new way every day.

The more important question for leaders is: How are you enabling every employee to own the culture and impact it on a daily basis? What are you doing to ensure every employees knows the vision, understands the values, and knows what “practice” they can implement in their own work to achieve it?

Do you know how to do this in your own role? If not, what would you need to do so?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.