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Culture – Defining and Identifying

by Shain David
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Culture - Defining and Identifying

All 4 of the above companies were acting out some facet of their “culture”.

The first company was gun slinging hiring, despite their debt woes from several years prior. The second company was expecting all employees to drop everything and do exactly what the president expected them to do whether Monday, Saturday, midnight or holiday. The third just rode their contractual wave, without wasting a day carrying employees through any dry spell of work. Finally the fourth had an atmosphere that allowed employees to do whatever they felt, whenever they thought, any way they pleased, without adhering to some common standard practise or process.

 

From the above, it is obvious that culture is not from a far away land or a distant past. It is right in front of you – today – now. You may not think about it much or think it only comes out at festivals and international events. The best example is your workplace due to the huge amount of daily repetitive hours you spend there. Even the excessively high amount of hours you spend, itself becomes a defining trait of culture. You may hear, “Company ABC, yes, that’s where employees work 70 hour weeks”. Certainly most any organization or time investment, even a volunteer effort we do, has a culture. But because we may spend much less time at a volunteer role, recognizing their cultural traits, may not be so obvious. It may even go completely unnoticed, due mainly to the irregularity of the time spent in that environment. But most every workplace has a culture. Some environments have obvious cultural traits. These are the ones they boast about in their propaganda, company literature, tagline, and public advertisements. Then there are the traits that are buried, hidden, unwritten and difficult to identify. This is where the negative traits are found that employees seldom talk about. “Come work here, spend 10 years like I did and you will discover you cannot be promoted beyond supervisor, unless you know someone at senior level” you may hear. Other environments carry characteristics which are more subtle and may take time for you to notice and see patterns. It can easily take several years before you recognize a trait or facet you can identify as culture.

Now, there is good culture and there is bad culture.

Good Culture – ” continuous learning and development regardless of our roles, is part of our culture”. This is how many companies clearly advertise their good culture. It’s usually in their company statement, branding and public advertisements. But what about their “bad culture”? Well, you as an employee will slowly have to observe, sense, witness and confirm their “bad culture”. No company will ever list that for you. That is what you as an employee will chalk up to “experience”. Some companies will be so stubborn, defending their bad culture, to the point that they allow the bad culture to persist while the company continues to lose employees, lose money, fail to evolve their products, overlook new opportunities or re-invent itself as market conditions change. You as an employee have to decide whether you can accept and work with culture you do not agree with. It may not be difficult, but when you do feel the negative culture trait is impeding your growth, your learning, your advancement, countering your morals, ethics or personal excellence, then you may decide to leave. The cost of that negative culture to you is too much for you to accept.

Bad culture has been the culprit in many a company demise.

Effort that should have gone into making changes for the long term survival and prosperity of a company or organization, has instead been consumed justifying the culture, defending the status quo, denying there is a problem, looking the other way, ignoring and not dealing with the bad facets of the culture. Many companies may not even acknowledge the bad culture, because if they do, they now have to do something about it. And that is not easy. Culture can be very hard to change. Negative traits and practises may creep into their culture from how they manage their day to day operations and employees. Perhaps there is a fear that if the negative traits of culture are treated and eliminated, the cost may be some good traits also disappearing. If the good traits are stronger and more in number than the negative traits, then that is good. Just add more good traits to compensate for the bad traits. The term “culture” can even become a “safe haven” that some companies hide behind. All traits and attributes, good and bad, get swept under that unifying umbrella called “culture”. Negative traits now become a “hands off” topic. While in that “safe haven”, companies do not have to do anything about it. There is no need to spearhead and drive any change. Change involves risk and risk is bad, some may say. Every company has a culture, right? And culture is a good thing, right? So we don’t have to do anything about it, because, “it’s our culture”. It is just accepted because having a culture is good; end of story.

 

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