Updated: Nov 9, 2022
Think Again: Why You Need to Invest in the Right Organizational Culture (Part 1)
Is Your Office Culture a Precise Reflection and Guide of Your Organization's Value and Vision?
In ambiguity, we falter. In clarity, we thrive.
As easy as it may sound, installing clarity is in fact arduous. When encountering this challenge either in personal or professional life, we get easily tempted to leave ambiguity as it is. And truth be told, a lot of us fall into it.
When it comes to organizational culture, ambiguity is like a silent killer. It is neither visible nor tangible, but always in force under the surface. Executives may keep their noses to the grindstone in creating remarkable, fool-proof mission statements and a set of strategies. No matter how stunning they sound in words, if not backed up by the internal corporate culture, it is just as good as meaningless rambling.
For example, you may want to advocate new perspectives and insights being actively shared within the team. You want your employees to be filled with excitement and passion for new ideas and action plans, and to enthusiastically throw themselves on them. If your corporate culture is highly on the stable side emphasizing protocol and the status quo, however, unless you make a clear and intentional effort to change that first, your shining vision will instantly lose its power. Likewise, it is practically impossible to highlight teamwork when the workstation of your employees is set to work independently, alone.
Organizational culture works as an upspoken rule that powerfully and persuasively controls, shapes, guides, and manipulates how your employees within its circle should think, act, and behave. When a discrepancy happens between what's advertised and what's cued nonverbally, it is human nature to the latter. In other words, what matters is now what's written on the plank but what's being said in the air in your organization.
What is Organizational/Corporate Culture?
Although we have a fairly good sense of what it is, it is still challenging to put what organizational/corporate culture is down in a single word or a sentence. In addition, depending on your personal experience, your perspective can be widely different from others'.
To tackle this challenge, we would like to borrow the idea from an article in Harvard Business Review published in 2018. The authors identified four generally accepted attributes:
In the aforementioned article, the authors identified two primary dimensions that apply regardless of organization type, size, industry, or location. In order to acquire a better understanding of where a company's culture stands and what it requires, it is good to analyze it from two dimensions.
People Interaction Highly independent (autonomy, individual action, and competition) vs Highly interdependent (integration, teamwork, and coordinating group effort)
Response to Change Stability (consistency, predictability, and keeping the status quo in place, use of control structures, reinforcement of hierarchy) vs. Flexibility (receptiveness to change, innovation, diversity, openness).
8 Corporate Culture Styles: Which One is Yours?
How can we evaluate and assess different styles of organizational culture using these two dimensions? Draw a quadrant using each dimension as an axis, we come up with this:
Each style has distinctive characteristics. As per their position, each style has a different set of priorities and initiatives.
Purpose Idealism and altruism are the two main characteristics of this style. There is a lot of tolerance and compassion present in the work environment when employees aim for good, long-term success. Employees are encouraged to focus on sharing ideas with the global communities and contributing to a greater cause.
Caring This style puts a high emphasis on relationships. Work environments are highly warm and collaborative in which employees are to support each other. Teamwork is highly advocated.
Order There are structures and shared norms. Workplaces are methodical in which people in general play by the rules and try to fit in. Leaders put a huge emphasis on shared procedures and time-honoured customs.
Safety People are highly risk-conscious, therefore, put a lot of time and effort into planning and preparedness. Work environments are accordingly highly predictable. Employees share the common desire to feel protected at all times; leaders strive to be realistic with lots of planning in advance of time.
Authority Competitiveness is in the air. This type of style is characterized by strength and decisiveness. Employees strive to gain personal advantage. They are united by strong control and their leaders put a high emphasis on dominance and confidence.
Results For this type of work environment, achievement and winning are extremely important. It is highly outcome-oriented and merit-based. Employees, driven by the desire for success, strive to achieve their top performances. Leaders emphasize meeting the set goals.
Enjoyment It is a light-hearted place to work. People are gently encouraged to do what makes them genuinely happy. They are united by playfulness and stimulation in the work environment where there is a high emphasis on spontaneity and a sense of humor posed by their leaders.
Can You Have More Than One Style?
These eight styles have fundamental trade-offs. While each style carries its strong benefits, different constraints, and demands bring up difficult choices to make on which values are to be more emphasized and how people are expected to act and behave.
Can you have more than one style? Definitely. In fact, a number of companies try to implement two different styles of the culture of business to negate the weaknesses. Combining two different types of corporate cultural styles can be highly effective, however, only when they are not contradictory to each other.
For example, many organizations try to implement results and caring in their work environments. However, due to their inherently differential aspects, this combination may leave the employees puzzled. For example, are the employees supposed to strive for optimized outcomes at all costs or should they work as a team with a high emphasis on collaboration and shared values? In a case like this, leaders need to redefine and extremely clearly specify the order of priorities or most sought-out values as an organization to prevent employees from going astray and only getting frustrated.
On the other hand, when chosen carefully, having two organizational cultures can be highly reinforcing. A good example is caring with order. Because both values encourage teamwork, trust, and respect, together, they enforce strong loyalty, lack of conflicts, retention of talent, and high levels of engagement. There is no combination that is exempt from challenges. A leader can introduce the best of both worlds when he/she has an extremely clear vision to strive for as an organization by intentionally choosing, implementing, activating, encouraging, and adjusting cultures.
To be continued to Part 2
This post is written based on the article The Leader's Guide to Corporate Culture (by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J.Yo-Jud Cheng) from Harvard Business Review published in January-February, 2018.