The Challenge of Culture

Here is an extremely simple question that is painfully difficult to answer.  What is the culture of your organization?  Could you capture it in 140 characters if you wanted to post a tweet about it?  Could you articulate it in an elevator ride if someone asked?  Most people can feel the culture of their organization but find it difficult to articulate.

Imagine you’re conducting an interview.  The candidate has excellent experience, a great reputation, and they’ve absolutely nailed every part of the screening process.  This is an A+ Candidate.  Now it’s time to wrap up the final interview and prepare the job offer – but there’s one final thing you must ask the candidate:

    “Are there any questions you have about our organization?”

Anyone who has interviewed job candidates, especially recent college graduates, knows the most common question asked by job applicants in an interview: 

   “What is the culture at your organization?”  

Now you must find a way to talk about the culture in an attractive, straightforward.  But How?

The prevalence of the question is clear evidence that, more than ever, job seekers want to work for an organization that cares about the things that they care about as an individual – “shared values” is becoming an increasingly “buzzwordy” phrase.  As most interviewers would tell you, answering the culture question well is difficult for many reasons. Culture, by nature, is somewhat conceptual and nebulous.  How do you talk about something that you feel?  How do you measure it?  Culture is more than a mission statement or a value proposition.  It is an underlying, anchoring force that is present in the way that a business operates. From executive to entry level, it’s how people consistently behave.

When discussing culture, organizational leaders often talk about how they differ from their competitors.  Or they talk about how they treat their employees or their customers.  They talk about things that are a result of their culture, but they struggle to articulate their culture.  They need a language around their culture to be able to discuss it, but most haven’t spent the time to build that language.

At MatchFIT, our culture is innovative and creative, relaxed and informal, and we value performance-based rewards and incentives.  We are open-minded about new ideas and strategies.  We don’t mandate strict schedules or promote an intense work environment. We believe in rewarding people for their wins and successes.  That is our culture.  We can talk about it.  Our business structures reflect it.  Our team shares these values.  It drives our strategy, our business relationships, and our processes.  Our culture is clear and observable every time we have a meeting or talk with our clients.

Diagnosing and being able to talk about culture is a key benefit that results from our Organizational Fitness Assessment process.  We’ve used research to help tease apart the cultural elements that make organizations distinct from one another.  We use clear, common language to help organizations understand their culture.  Armed with a better understanding, organizations create dialogue with their employees about culture (and answer the “What is the culture at your organization” question).  Once culture is clarified, it becomes much easier to identify behaviors and policies that are inconsistent with the culture of an organization.  And probably more beneficial than either of those, it makes it significantly easier to promote a culture that is unifying and sustainable rather than one that is divisive and harmful.

It’s really difficult to get everyone on the “same page” when you’re all reading a dense book without numbered pages.  If you haven’t defined your culture, that’s exactly what you’re trying to do with your organization.

What is the culture of your organization? 

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