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Shaping your organisation's culture

Shaping your organisation’s culture

The role of the leader in shaping an organisation’s culture is key to achieving a shared vision. An organisation needs the kind of working culture that will help its people deliver its purpose.

Reviewing your organisation’s culture
Culture is not a static thing, but one that’s continuously evolving, and that benefits from frequent health checks and constant nourishment. But you may need to take a more urgent look if your organisation:

  • has become slow to act
  • resists or undermines new ideas and strategies
  • is wasting energy in internal conflict
  • is losing good people.

Assessing your organisation’s culture
There are many theories about culture, and many ways to analyse it. You may like to consider these simple questions:

  • are we more positive than negative?
  • are we more enquiring than advocating?
  • are we focused on others, as well as on ourselves?

Culture change
The whole topic of ‘culture change’ is complex and vexed. Thousands of organisations have wasted untold time and money on ambitious culture change programmes. These programmes tend not to work, because culture is not an object that can be readily manipulated — it’s a more organic thing that emerges from thousands of small management actions.

There are things you can do to nourish your culture, to nudge people in a positive direction:

Light fires
Instigate many practical and visible examples of the kind of culture you want, like a new pattern of team meetings, or a new office layout, or a new way of greeting audiences when they arrive.

Let it spread
Encourage new behaviours to spread laterally, perhaps through a group of culture champions, chosen for their attitude more than their seniority.

— Wire it in
Reinforce the kind of behaviours you want through structures and systems, like your organisation chart, job titles, recruitment criteria or the appraisal system.

Getting started
Culture change is not a linear process, but an iterative one of building and learning. Although every organisation is different, the following bullet points provide a useful starting point:

  • make the case for change by mapping out current strengths and weaknesses
  • engage your people in defining what the culture should look like, (include behaviours or actions rather than values or beliefs)
  • develop a plan to start the journey of change, turning your collective ideas into reality
  • brief teams so they are on board and ready to deliver the plan, taking on responsibility for different parts where possible
  • review progress every three months or so, and adjust your approach in the light of that review.

It covers:

  • Reviewing your organisation’s culture.
  • Assessing your organisation’s culture.
  • Thinking about culture change and getting started.

Published December 2018

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Teams, Management & Culture