What is organizational culture? This can often be described as all of a company’s beliefs, values, and attitudes, and how these influence the behavior of its employees. Understanding these components can change employee motivation, engagement, and connection helped me understand their importance in business. As an associate at Incite, I have many different roles to play. One of the latest roles I took on is leading our internal strategic priority around culture. What I’ve noticed in the last few months is that not everyone has the same definition of what company culture is or what it means, even amongst those in the same organization.
This gap in understanding is especially risky in the case of mergers and acquisitions, where two distinct cultures are being brought together to operate as one. One culture might not be better than the other, but if they differ in their understanding of what it should be or how it should be evaluated, then there will be inconsistencies in expectations, typically leading to problems down the road unless there is a plan in place to address these differences.
Before I started this role, here is what my checklist looked like for assessing an effective organizational culture:
- Does our team have fun and do activities together?
- Does our team like each other?
- Does our team enjoy the work they are doing and feel fulfilled?
- Do we have a flexible work environment with a strong work-life balance (another term that has varying definitions depending on the individual)?
I really thought our culture at Incite was top-notch because we checked all those boxes. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Incite has a top-notch culture, but what I realized after further conversations with other Inciters was that their definition was not the same as mine, meaning I had to be careful not to assume anything about our culture based on the narrow definition I had in my head.
In typical Incite fashion, we dug in with research and interviewed our staff to understand their perception of culture. Here are a few of the evaluation criteria others considered which I can now add to my checklist:
- Do we have psychological safety to speak our minds in a trustworthy environment?
- Do we feel heard, and in return are willing to hear positive reinforcement and constructive feedback?
- Do we create space for development, growth, and vulnerability?
- Do we have the right mix of leadership and people?
- Are we hiring people for fit and not only the sparkling resume of education and experience?
- Is culture being fostered from the top down? And does it need to be?
- Do we regularly evaluate what our team needs to experience a strong culture?
- Do we have confidence our team members have our backs?
Regardless of how your company defines an effective organizational culture, it is important to know how the rest of your team evaluates it. Issues arise when there is a gap between what leaders believe they’re striving toward and what cultural components employees want to see grow. That is when staff is left feeling any number of the “un’s” – unfulfilled, unsupported, unhappy, or unmotivated.
Next time you’re thinking about your goals related to organizational culture, take a second to step back and consider if you might be the only one evaluating it with that criteria. Is your whole team truly operating under the same definition of positive team culture?
Here are a few takeaways I’ve noted in the last few months when it comes to enhancing organizational culture:
- Ask your team what they think makes an effective organizational culture
- Determine gaps between your current culture and how your team would like it to be (not only your perception)
- Create a tactical plan and implement those ideas to meet expectations and foster positive change