What is Culture in the Workplace?

May 31, 2022 | On Leadership

Pretty much every single organization in some way is trying to figure out the same thing: what is culture in the workplace?

Work with us to define and operationalize your organizational culture

Culture can be pretty hard to define, and everyone defines it differently. With more and more people leaving jobs and careers over culture, getting this right is more important than ever for organizations everywhere.

The lack of a properly designed culture is what leads to toxic culture. It is important to have one and to back it up with behaviour. In most organizations with culture their team would define as toxic, the common trait is that it doesn’t exist at all!

This blog will first define what culture ISN’T, provide the three traits of company culture, and outline how you can build culture in your organization.

What Culture Isn’t

Culture isn’t merely about having substantial benefits and compensation. Culture isn’t having a foosball machine or arcade games in your break room. Nor is it about just having a “nice boss.”

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that you shouldn’t ever have those things. They are great potential strategies for productivity and retention that may well fit into your strategic cultural goals.

However, these things should only be in place if they align with your organization’s larger cultural ethos after it is deliberately defined.

So. How do you define organizational culture?

Here are the three components of a company culture that every organization must define deliberately.

Shared Values and Beliefs

The most crucial part of company culture is its shared values and beliefs. All other components of an organization’s culture are determined based on the standard set of values and beliefs the organization shares.

Simply put, shared values are defined as the beliefs that guide the behaviours of a group of people, or in this case, a professional organization.

The best way to determine your shared values as an organization is to craft a mission statement and core values. It’s even more important to make sure they are meaningful.

Many organizations have core values, but very few follow through on them. Many organizations put them in place to “check the box” or say they have them.

If you want to have a culture that counts, your values and beliefs must have meaning.

Make sure your mission statement is so simple that everyone on your team can memorize it while giving your team something to aspire to.

Anything more than three core values is tough to remember, and it loses meaning. Ask your team what core values they need to exhibit to achieve that mission. Choose the three most prominent responses as your core values.

Shared Assumptions

Shared assumptions are things that your organization accepts to be true about what it does.

To define these for your organization, you could ask what common frustrations the customers in your industry experience. Another approach could be to define your customers’ common fears regarding your product that you are trying to help them overcome.

For our organization, we have a few assumptions. Our most significant assumption is that the labour market can be intimidating to navigate for both employers and job seekers.

The labour shortage makes it intimidating for employers to find the right talent. For job seekers, not understanding how an employer makes hiring decisions makes it overwhelming to think about the right way to write a resume or participate in an interview.

Getting a core set of assumptions for your organization is the bridge between your mission statement and how you will define the behaviours that will help you achieve your mission.

Shared Behaviours

Now that you have a mission statement, core values, and shared assumptions, the next component of organizational culture to identify is shared behaviours.

Shared behaviours are behaviours that everyone on your team needs to exhibit to express your core values and achieve your mission while addressing shared assumptions.

One example from us at Best Culture Solutions is that we focus on the candidate experience in all of our activities. From recruiting to resume writing, we know it’s scary to be a job seeker. Focusing on the candidate experience can make it less intimidating. We also believe that the best thing we can do for our recruiting customers’ reputation is to focus on the candidate experience.

A great way to develop your shared behaviours is to ask your team to reflect on your mission and core values, then offer suggestions for what your organization’s shared behaviours should be.

It only works if you hire and train right….

These are the three most significant components of your organization’s culture. Once they exist, the most important thing any organization can do is to hire people who will be committed to their mission.

Earlier, this blog mentioned how values and beliefs are mere “check the box” exercises and carry little real meaning to most organizations. The way to overcome that is to hire the right people.

An organization can have anything they want on paper, but the people who walk in the door every day will decide how the culture is operationalized.

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have culture, values, or beliefs and focus solely on hiring well. It means that you need to define culture to provide a guide to who the right people for your organization are and a compass to provide them with when they are onboarded.

For organizational culture to have meaning, organizations need to create a candidate selection process that determines if candidates are self-motivated to contribute to your organizational culture.

Once those candidates are identified, they need to be onboarded to the culture. They need to be treated right by their leaders by rewarding those who live the culture and continued development.

The hard work pays off

Setting up your organizational culture, hiring practices, and onboarding is hard work.

However, when organizations put effort into building culture deliberately, it builds like compound interest. New hires enter organizations aligned with the culture. When the onboarding supports the same, it unlocks that person further and permits them to live those values in your workplace. The results can be mind-blowing!

The number of fires you put out goes down, and your results improve.

It may be hard to set up, but it’s even harder to be in reactive firefighting mode constantly.

If you ever have any questions or need help setting up your organizational culture or ensuring your hiring processes are aligned with your culture goals, we are always here to help!


Tim Dyck
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