Carter McNamara called organizational culture the personality of your organization. By itself, it may be difficult to define but everyone can sense it. Not only those who are part of the organization but even people viewing it from the outside. For example, I have found waiting in the reception highly educative and informative. I am convinced that a few minutes of waiting at the reception, tells me more about that organization than the formal presentation I am given by their executives when we meet shortly after.

The spring in the steps of employees as they go about their work, the smiles , the cheerful banter tells you something about the organization. On the contrary in some receptions, I also see grouchy faces, tense and ready to snap; people dragging themselves from place to place and an overall image of sloth and disinterest.

Cultures get established over a period of time. It is made up of legends, war stories, beliefs, ways of dressing, an almost unique language and acronyms only some one within the system will understand. “Go past L3” said a person when I asked for directions in a large campus “you will pass CFQ and DRY. Turn left at G4 and park near CorKT.” It didn’t make sense to me, hopefully it did to him!

Susan Heathfield in “How To Understand Your Current Culture” writes that a “culture walk” around the building gives you clues by observing:

  • How is the space allocated? Where are the offices located?
  • How much space is given to whom? Where are people located?
  • What is posted on bulletin boards or displayed on walls?
  • What is displayed on desks or in other areas of the building? In the work groups? On lockers or closets?
  • How are common areas utilized?
  • What do people write to one another? What is said in memos or email? What is the tone of messages (formal or informal, pleasant or hostile, etc.)? How often do people communicate with one another? Is all communication written, or do people communicate verbally?
  • What interaction between employees do you see? How much emotion is expressed during the interaction?

Organizational cultures are created, maintained or transformed by people. Frequently, when we talk of organizational change, we speak of culture because no successful organizational change takes place without change in the culture. While every member of the organization plays a role in shaping its culture, principal responsibility rests with its leadership team. They set the tone for others to follow.

Undoubtedly, the culture of an organization is an important factor in helping people within it decide to make a career there. Likewise for others outside it to decide to do business with that organization.

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This is the 88 th of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.