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What You Should Know About Shaping Organizational Culture

What You Should Know About Shaping Organizational Culture

Ah, the magic word — culture. There’s a growing awareness of the importance of shaping organizational culture, and the role that leaders and managers have in creating it.

Why don’t the recipes for successfully innovating in one company transfer to another? How can one organization manage to reinvent itself, but another can’t? What explains the attractiveness of working at certain corporations over others?

The difference is culture, and shaping organizational culture is a growing area of attention for organizations.

Fundamentally, culture is about the meaning people make of the world and their companies.

One of our favorite organizational culture examples goes something like this: Once upon a time, there was a company where middle management worked on the third floor, and senior managers worked on the fourth floor. The carpet was nicer on the fourth floor, and the chairs and offices were bigger, too…you get the picture.

One day, the middle managers had to meet on the fourth floor because their own meeting room wasn’t available. The overnight staff switched the luxurious chairs in the senior management room with chairs from the third floor. Nobody told them to do so, but culture demanded that you sat in the “right” chair.

Organizational culture is the collection of habits and beliefs of how things “ought” to be. Anytime you hear the words, that’s just how things are done around here, that’s culture.

5 Ways to Shape Organizational Culture

While leaders can’t fully control a complex entity like culture, you can do your part to shape it. We have other insights and recommendations on changing organizational culture, but at a high level, here’s how individual leaders can contribute to shaping organizational culture. It starts with simply reinforcing the behaviors and cultural elements of which you would like to see more:

  1. Sense the culture. Walk around with a mental video-recorder and observe the current culture. There are assessments to give you a state of the culture; see if you can learn to identify your organization’s culture. Do this on a continuous basis, not once a year in a strategic workshop.
  2. Contribute to the conversation about culture. Do your part to contribute to the conversation about what the company’s culture is, and what it should be. Ask: What elements of our current culture are helping us, and what elements are actually hindering us? (Work on exploring the link between your culture, leadership, and business strategy.)
  3. Model the culture in your own behavior and actions. Start by showing the desired culture in big and small ways. What you say is important, but what you do matters more.
  4. Dampen the elements of the culture that hinder growth. A powerful way to reduce unwanted cultural elements is to ignore them and not dignify them with attention. If that doesn’t do the trick, don’t be afraid to call out problematic behaviors or actively and openly oppose them.
  5. Strengthen the elements of the culture that promote growth. Contrarily, acknowledge and celebrate wanted cultural elements. Give at least positive feedback and praise, or even better, give your support in terms of influence, contacts, or resources. Reinforce what promotes growth.

Creating a Single Culture in a Global Organization

Shaping culture in an organization full of geographically dispersed people working together on virtual teams is another challenge. It’s particularly important to focus on intentionally creating an organizational culture that’s shared when you’re trying to shape a remote work culture.

It’s the old adage of “think global, act local.” Or put another way, to build and shape a single culture in a global organization, have one global purpose and identity, but allow for geographical differences. Global employees must share corporate values if they’re going to align with them and work to uphold them.

This might mean defining a common purpose, ambition, and set of values. For example, introducing a single global tagline across the business, and developing a new leadership framework, core competencies, and values.

If organizational values align with the personal values of employees, and the culture aligns with the business strategy, then your organization is more likely to achieve success.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Partner with our experts to diagnose your company’s current state and identify the behaviors and elements needed for shaping an organizational culture that supports your business strategy and priorities. Our organizational leadership culture change service will assist you in creating organizational culture habits to take your company into the future.


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May 24, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff to help you and your organization's leaders at every level. Want more content like this? Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-backed articles, webinars, insights, and news about leadership development solutions sent straight to your inbox.

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