Three Ways Your Organization May Be Misusing the Word Culture

The definition of organizational culture varies and in some cases the meaning is debatable. Organizational culture…

The definition of organizational culture varies and in some cases the meaning is debatable. Organizational culture is commonly defined as the human behaviors within an organization and the underlying values that keep those behaviors in place.

If you do not clearly define and visualize your organization’s culture, people will define it themselves. This can be a problem because everyone will describe the culture with different language and meanings and, more importantly, they will define or think of culture in different ways.

There are three common mis-uses of the term culture that employees and organizations should watch out for:

  1. The first impression culture fit. Assessing culture fit at first glance is not really possible. It’s easy to be drawn to surface level similarities and demographics, such as age, style, or lifestyle. Although these might be useful for starting a fraternity, they are less effective in creating an organization. The most successful organizations are made up of employees with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise united by a strong foundation of similar values. To effectively evaluate culture you need to explore working styles, communication styles, motivations, and values. In some cases you have to ask a lot of questions to find people who don’t just talk about the right values, but actually live those values. If at first glance someone in your organization says, “I just don’t think they are a culture fit” you may want to ask more questions about how they are defining culture.

  2. After hours culture. If you are in a job interview asking about the organization’s culture and the answer is; “A lot of us go bowling on Wednesday nights.” That might give you a glimpse into a tiny aspect of culture and personality but it does not describe the behaviors and values that influence how work gets done. Some questions that might give you a better view into organizational culture are:

    • What are your company’s values?

    • What working styles make people a fit vs. not a fit at this company?

    • What are the successes that are commonly recognized and celebrated across the organization?

  3. Can we have some more culture please? 

Culture cannot be handed to the organization. Employees often wait for culture to be created rather than stepping up to help build it. For example, one employee-led aspect of our culture is we cheer and clap as people leave on Friday. This may sound silly or frivolous, but it creates a genuine feeling of appreciation and value for the employees and it aligns with the center of our culture map: Support and Collaboration. This small show of support wouldn’t have been effective if leadership or HR had handed it down. In our case it came from the team. If an employee asks for culture, it should inspire a conversation around what organizational culture is and how it can be created, together.

At XPLANE you are a culture fit if you excel in a collaborative team environment, communicate openly and directly, and bring pride and quality to our areas of expertise. This allows us to hire everyone from young designers that love the nightlife, to seasoned consultants that like to be tucked into bed by 9:15. What unites us is our sense of values, purpose, and desire to create a great place to work.

Kathryn Jarrell is the Chief of Service Delivery at XPLANE.

Related Posts:

Process Problems Aren’t Just About Process

Culture Fit (And How To Misuse The Term)

November 23, 2016
Kathryn Jarrell