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What does culture even mean, anyway?

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As the enlightened next generation starts job hunting, culture could be a huge talking point in 2022. But how do we define culture, and will it look a lot different to our current perception?

There are a few ways of defining culture. The one you’ve probably heard of is ‘the way we do things around here’. This is a nice summary, but it’s the tiny tip of a gigantic iceberg. And it’s an iceberg that often floats around bumping into organisations and sending them to the bottom of the sea if they don’t understand it and leverage it.

Instead, as culture becomes critical at every stage of the candidate journey, we need to really dig into what the ‘2022’ definition of culture is, and touch on some thoughts around culture that may not be obvious right now. Let’s dig in!

Defining culture

Work culture is a set of attitudes, ideas, and actions that make up a workplace's normal setting. Healthy workplace cultures match employee habits and business standards with the organisation's overall goals whilst also taking individual wellbeing into account.

Work culture influences how effectively a person fits into a new workplace and their capacity to form professional relationships with coworkers. The culture of your organisation can influence attitudes, work-life balance, career advancement prospects, and job satisfaction.

Culture isn’t just the day to day

Did you know that 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success? What those 88% of employees may not realise is that the success they’re striving towards isn’t just important — it’s an absolute necessity.

And it isn’t just about working in a certain way, or turning up on time, or being courteous with the coffee. It’s also a big part of the long game and has a strong effect on business strategy. What happens if your culture leads to burn-out? Your well-oiled human machines won’t hit target, just because you didn’t force them to take holiday over the year or forgot to have those weekly or monthly wellness check-ins.

Yes, think about the daily culture stuff, but bear the big picture in mind too.

Culture is more than work ethic

Being a dedicated worker and going the extra mile are parts of culture. But that shouldn’t be the foundation block. If you’re not hiring people who are ‘on the bus’, that is, fully committed, then you’ve got a recruitment issue, not a culture issue.

Culture is just as much about creating the environment for good work to be done as reinforcing it. Culture is about giving the best people the space and resources to flourish. It’s also about rewarding them and recognising them. And it’s also about supporting them when things don’t go well, or if they run out of juice on a project.

Don’t fall back on ‘our culture is to keep going’. Instead, think about ‘how can I give my workers the desire to keep going?’

Culture isn’t about salary and perks

‘Our culture is to reward our staff for a job well done’, we heard recently. Oh dear.

Yep, salary is critically important, but it isn’t your culture. An environment where people can attain their salary goals is a part of culture, as is having a structure in place that recognises the point where a salary increase or reduction is needed.

Culture doesn’t have to cost a thing

The beauty of creating a great culture is that it could cost you way less than the money you’re probably spending on those employee perks that everyone forgets about.

It costs literally nothing to decide that everyone has a hard finish at 5pm on Friday. If that’s already in everyone’s contract, it should have no bearing whatsoever on financial or productivity targets. However, just recognising that everyone downs tools and goes home then is a cultural benefit — the contractual expectation is lifted and no one feels guilty about leaving on time.

And what about having an open and honest policy that allows workers to challenge their manager? Again, there’s no financial cost to implementing this, but you can suddenly reap the benefits of listening to workers and potentially improving productivity, output, creativity or whatever your organisation’s focus is.

There’s a long list of these ‘cultural benefits’ you can read about here, and potentially add to your shortlist of potential culture changes.

Culture could mean different things to different people

Not everyone will see the things you think of as ‘cultural benefits’ as a benefit. If you decide that everyone should have access to private healthcare, there’ll always be someone who thinks it’s a waste of money.

Differing opinions shouldn’t force your culture to follow one route, however. Flexing is the word we like to use. Maybe you could provide a selection of cultural benefits to one team that looks completely different to the cultural benefits in another.

This is a huge reason why culture can’t be dictated top-down. Everyone has to discover the current culture they subscribe to and recognise the positives and negatives to make change. The C-Suite simply cannot decide what culture looks like, then force everyone else to adhere to it.

It can be hard to find out what your real culture is

We’ll leave you with an obvious one: realising how to define your own culture is very, very tough. You may think you have an oversight, but there’ll always be one group or department that does things differently. You can even have individuals following different culture patterns.

Getting an oversight of organisational culture requires time, patience, understanding and lots of investigation. Remember, you’ll also need to do something about the feedback you get from this investigation; if you provide an open forum, expect actions off the back of it!

Defining your culture may take several attempts, and it could all change over a month or two anyway. Culture is flexible and never set in concrete, so realise this and react in a fluid, agile way.

Are you questioning your culture or would like to share your views? Find me on LinkedIn.

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