What is Culture?

The term ‘culture’ refers to behaviour and norms found in human societies and social groups and is contributed to by the individuals who make up those groups. Organisational culture refers to the values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation, and it represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of individual members. An organisation’s culture will impact – either directly or indirectly – on the organisation’s performance and overall success.

Developing an effective culture can make an organisation more engaged, innovative, competitive, agile, collaborative, efficient and productive. A positive workplace culture will help to attract and retain high quality staff and limit the enormous financial and resources drain caused by high staff turnover. Some additional benefits of a positive culture in the workplace include: improved employee productivity enhancement of the company brand due to employee satisfaction enhanced employee cooperation and knowledge/skills sharing more positive and effective communication with customers/clients and stakeholders increased employee resilience in difficult and challenging times.

‘When companies select the top 20% of candidates based on a scientific assessment, they realize … 21% higher profitability’ [Nate Dvorak & Ryan Pendell, Workplace 28 June 2018]. ‘There is no doubt that virtuous actions such as caring, kindness, acceptance and respect lead to greater productivity (35% more) and an increasingly attractive workplace’ [Joe Tassinari, President, www.bizwrks.us]. US grocery chain Publix Super Markets’ employee-centric culture has resulted in a voluntary turnover rate of just 5% among full-time employees.

An organisation’s culture defines how it operates both internally and externally. It can be an effective ‘pitch’ for marketing and advertising, or to recruit staff. It reflects an organisation’s core values and whether those values are only theoretical or firmly embedded and understood by staff at all levels. A successful culture can help to align staff perspective and performance, enhance team dynamics and contribute to effective communication and workflow.

Research shows that organisational culture has a direct impact on employee performance and wellbeing. As any good manager knows, employees usually respond positively to supportive management behaviours, flexible working options and a culture that allows them some say in shaping the workplace environment.

Workplaces today face challenges different from those of 50, or even 30 years ago, not only with technology and increased competition but also with increasingly complex regulatory and legislative issues. Quality systems must be reviewed regularly to ensure continuous improvement, and benchmarking and best practice are familiar business concepts.

Change management is no longer a mysterious process involving only outside consultants and top management, but something that needs to be clear and logical to all staff. Australian mining company Alcoa had to tackle an ‘us and them’ culture at their Kwinana (WA) facility to implement change, but it resulted in annual production savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The WA branch of Industrial Galvanizers challenged its employees to reduce production costs, and they achieved over $15,000 in savings in the first six months.

Culture is often at the forefront of change management – but how does an organisation identify its current culture and decide on (if applicable) a preferred one?

The Competing Values Framework is based on extensive research and is used by organisations worldwide. From this, the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) analytical tool was developed and is an effective tool for assessing both current and preferred organisational culture.

Research using the Framework has determined that most organisations have developed a dominant culture - based on specific values - which can be a mix of four distinct and different types:

  • Clan culture – a friendly working environment
  • Adhocracy culture - a dynamic and creative working environment
  • Market culture - a results-based organisation

  • However, these values and cultures compete:

  • Internal focus and integration or External focus and differentiation
  • Stability and control or Flexibility and discretion.

  • Further research indicates that the most effective and successful organisations can manage the competition within the Framework well and use all four value sets when necessary. The importance of culture in the workplace cannot be overstated, and it remains at the forefront of dynamic, future-proof organisations.

    ...Read more on the Competing Values Framework.