Organizational Culture – You Must Understand it for Career Success!

Organizational Culture – You Must Understand it for Career Success!

As your career expands you may well play a role in developing the orgnaizational culture of your employer or perhaps a subset (division, department, etc) of it. If you are an entrepreneur, you ARE the determining factor of your venture’s orgainizational culture. If your job title starts with a “C”, then you have a responsibility to orgcultmaintain and mold the existing organnizational culture. Any way you look at it, organizational culture (or OC for this discussion)  is a deteremining factor for success of all organizations whether they be corporations, law firms, educational institutions, etc.

Lest you doubt that, hear the thoughts of Isadore Sharp, CEO of the Four Seasons Hotel chain: “If you don’t understand the culture of the company, even your most brilliant strategies will fail. Your vision will be resisited, plans won’t get executed properly, and all kinds of things will start going wrong.”

A study by the Econimist Intelligence Unit found: “56% or U.S. executives felt the single greatest obstacle to growth was corporate culture”.

Given its imporatnce to success, let’s examine just what OC is and its impact. The conclusions of those who have studied it are:

1. OC is the basic pattern of shared assumptions, values and beliefs considered to be the correct way of thinking about and acting on problems and opportunities facing the organization. OC is the philosophy that guides the organization’s policies towards employees and customers.

2. OC represents certain predefined policies that guide employees and give them a sense of direction in the workplace. It determines how employees interact in the workplace; it puts them on a common platform of thinking and decision-making.

3. An organization’s culture is the “lens” through which its employees view the world; the “logic” which defines roles and actions; the “grammar” which brings order and makes sense of things. In other words, OC is central to what people see , how they make sense of what they see and how they in turn express themselves.

4. Organizations will ultimately get only as far as their OC will take them

David A. Thomas from the Harvard Business School and Robin J. Ely from Columbia University have extensively studied OC and found the following components to be present in most of the successful organizations they studied:

  • The OC creates expectations of high standards of performance from everyone.
  • The OC encourages debate and constructive conflict.
  • The OC is such that training and education programs nurture personal development.
  • Employees feel valued and are encouraged to apply their background and skills in creative ways to improve the work of the organization.
  • The mission and goals of the organization are well articulated and widely understood, which keeps discussions about differences focused on the organization’s work.
  • The OC and structure are such that people are encouraged to be themselves,      unencumbered by unnecessary bureaucratic systems that control and limit the activities of people within the organization.

Some indicators that the OC requires more than just passing attention would be:

  • Higher than normal turnover and/or unexpected turnover.
  • Such simple indicators as unhappy, unmotivated  and/or disgruntled staff.
  • Projects and plans that sound good initially just don’t progress; people are not taking ownership of them and seeing them through to completion.
  • Staff can’t articulate the organization’s mission and values.
  • Staff senses conflicting messages from senior management.

Very few organizations can’t use a little tune-up to improve their Organizational Culture to; it is of benefit to all if the common values, assumptions and beliefs are shared by all and used as a bias for action. Constant attention is always needed to fine tune and maintain an organization’s culture.

As you evaluate prospective employers, do your best to determine what their OC is and how healthy is it. Successful organizations have healthy OC; those that are not one of the leaders in their segment probably have an unhealthy OC and are to be avoided as a career choice.

And regardless of what your job is today, analyze the OC of your organization and do what you can to strengthen it.

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