Darryl Connor (1993) defines cultures as "the beliefs, behaviours, and assumptions of an organization [that] serve as a guide to what are considered appropriate or inappropriate actions" for individuals and groups to engage in. Culture operates at two levels: 1) overly, as apparent in policies and procedures and 2) covertly, reflected in "the way things are done".
Culture in an organization usually evolves over time. The personalities of the leaders often determine the beliefs, behaviours, and assumptions that eventually become firmly established, although they may not be especially visible. This results in what Connor (1993) calls a default culture.
It is much less common for leaders to consciously and deliberately establish the type of organizational culture that serves their needs. As a result, new leaders often inherit a culture that doesn't support changes they want to make in the organization. And they find out quickly that a non-supportive culture can be very inhospitable to a change initiative.
If you are a leader of a new organization or project, you have the opportunity to build the type of culture you believe works best. If you take over an existing entity, you have the harder task of assessing and changing the culture - a difficult but not impossible task.
Regardless of which position you are in, here are some things to consider about your culture:
- Are the values and principles explicit so that everyone understands what is valued?
- What is the trust level in the organization? Do people at different levels trust one another? What do you do to make it safe for people to take risks and trust one another?
- Are people valued as individuals, or are they thought of primarily as assets or resources?
- Are people's hands, heads, and hearts wanted - or just their hands?
- Is the atmosphere informal and comfortable, or is it formal and tense?
- Are people treated equitably, or is there evidence of preferential treatment?
- Is the environment positive, with people encouraged and recognized, or is it negative, with little or no recognition and a lot of blaming?
- Does the organization freely share information, or is the flow of information tightly controlled?
- Is learning from mistakes valued, or are people more likely to be fired, blamed, or reprimanded for errors or failure?
- Is learning valued, or is it seen as a deterrent to getting the work done?
- Is the organization committed to continuous improvement, or does it change only when there is a major problem?
From: Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press