What is this thing called workplace culture? And how can it help you?

The term workplace culture seems to be talked about a lot – and often not for good reasons!

But how many of us truly understand what workplace culture really is? 

One way to think about workplace culture is that it’s “… how organisations ‘do things’.” *.  It’s not, how we say we do things.   

Culture makes an organisation unique; it creates the environment that you and your team work in. 

If you’re working on your own, how you work affects how your customers and suppliers experience you and your business. If you’re the owner of a small business, how you do things will determine the day-to-day experience of work for your team as well. And if you’re a leader in a larger organisation, how you work is likely to have more of an impact on the culture of your team than any statement of values developed by the organisation as a whole. 

Many organisations attempt to define the culture they think they should have. But if this isn’t reflected in how things really work day-to-day, these statements can do more harm than good as people may lose trust in the business. 

What goes into making up the how? 

From working with my clients, it’s:

  • the goals you set for your business and what they say about what’s important to you,
  • what products and services you provide and how well these meet your customers’ needs,
  • how you organise your team to get things done,
  • whether you show people you trust and support them to get on with their jobs,
  • how well everyone is rewarded and recognised for their efforts,
  • the type of processes and systems you use to create your products and services,
  • your stance on health and safety in the broadest sense,
  • how well you and your business adapt to change,
  • the physical surroundings in your workplace,
  • how you behave and what that says about what’s appropriate behaviour for everyone, and
  • the reputation and brand of your business in your community, with your customers and within your team.

The more all these pieces line up to reinforce one consistent message about how your organisation works, the stronger the culture of your workplace will be – for better, or for worse.

And how can workplace culture help you?

Your organisation has a culture no matter whether you pay attention to it or not. It develops all on its own – it may turn out to be a helpful one or unhelpful one.

If you are clear about what type of culture you want to foster and do what it takes to make that a reality – yet again, do it, not just say it – then you have the opportunity to attract and hold onto talented people (not just staff, but contractors, suppliers and customers as well) who are as passionate about your organisation and their work as you are. 

Once you have the workplace culture you want and the right people working with you in the right way, as your business grows it will be easier to keep that culture in place. It won’t get watered down or changed unintentionally when you are no longer managing everyone and everything directly.

Your workplace culture probably won’t appeal to everyone. It doesn’t need to. It only needs to fit with the type of people you want working with you and your customers.

It’s up to you what workplace culture you create.

*Robbie Katanga, as cited in “What is organizational culture?  And why should we care?”, HBR, May 2013.

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Anastasia Hildred

Anastasia Hildred

Principal Consultant at PuzzlePeace Consulting