Culture Lead: Understanding organisational culture

Wetumwene Shikage
Lorelle Viljoen

Organisational culture is the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, and ways of interacting that contribute to an organisation’s unique social and psychological environment. Basically, organisational culture is the personality of the organisation.

Culture is one of those terms that is difficult to express distinctly, but everyone knows it when they sense it. You can tell an organisation’s culture by looking at the leadership team’s effectiveness and how they behave, what employees recognise each other for, what employees wear, and so forth.

Companies often take a passive approach to culture. They figure it’s not something they can control or that they need to control. They believe that if they leave it alone, it’ll all work itself out. But leaving culture to chance does more harm than good for your organisation. Culture is an important differentiator to set your company apart from the competition.

When an organisation is not intentional with its core values and culture initiatives, employees may fall into the trap of negative behaviours and attitudes that badly affect their output. Conversely, being intentional about culture can create a positive work culture that will inspire and build trust and high levels of engagement.

Characteristics of organisational culture

Organisational culture can further be viewed as a system and includes an organisation’s expectations, experiences, philosophy, and the values that guide employee behaviour, and is expressed through various ways, including employee self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world and future expectations. Culture is based on shared behaviours, beliefs, norms, customs and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are known to be true. It also includes the organisation’s purpose, systems, symbols, language, and habits. Simply stated, organisational culture is “the way we do things around here”.

10 ways to create and live a positive culture

Organisational cultures are very dynamic. They shift incrementally and constantly in response to external and internal changes. So, assessing organisational culture is complicated because you are trying to hit a moving target. But it also opens the possibility that culture change can be managed as a continuous process rather than through significant shifts (often in response to crises). The culture of the organisation should always be about learning and developing. Here are 10 ways to create and live out a positive culture in your organisation:

• Set clear expectations and goals. Employees should clearly understand what’s important and what’s not and fully understand how their personal goals can contribute to organisational success.

• Promote a sense of purpose at work. Employee happiness is directly connected to knowing that they make a difference. Take the time to explain why the individual task is important to the company as a whole. Engaged employees are efficient, enthusiastic, and willing to do what it takes to help your organisation succeed.

• Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure a positive and engaged workplace where multiple perspectives are valued and acknowledged.

• Create an employee recognition programme where the desired behaviours are rewarded and recognise the impact made.

• Create opportunities for employees to give feedback and to have their voices heard. Psychological safety provides the support employees need to take risks and provide honest feedback.

• Lead through sensing and responding, as someone who predicts, and controls will not get the desired results from their teams.

• Be transparent to create trust between managers and employees.

• Create or support learning and development opportunities to advance the skills of employees. Establish a culture of continuous learning in your organisation as this will ultimately lead to organisational success.

• Invest in your organisation’s wellbeing. Be supportive during challenging times to build unity and trust in the organisation. For instance, Covid-19 support.

• Prioritise workplace appreciation and recognition to ensure that employees feel valued and respected.

• Establish trust by representing the values and organisational behaviours. Workplace culture travels from the top down. Leaders create culture. If an organisation’s leadership team is employee-focused, empathetic, and authentic, it will send a calming message to employees that their leaders are there for them.

• There are only opportunities in business, not problems. When emotions are high and stress levels skyrocket, even the smallest workplace issues seem like towering boulders. Tell your team that what they’re experiencing isn’t a problem; it’s an opportunity to reflect, analyse and evaluate.