The most common question I get asked in workshops, interviews or in Q & A sessions at conferences is; "What is culture?" or "How do you define culture?"
I completely understand the people’s interest in finding a definition or explanation of culture, as of course it is such an intangible phenomenon it is difficult to pin down. Even we anthropologists can't seem to agree on a definition. Yet this maybe a good thing because often it can be more helpful in an organisation to understand not so much what culture is, but rather what culture does.
When we understand what culture does we are more likely to be able to understand its contribution and impact on a daily basis in our business.
For instance consider some of the following examples of what culture does;
Builds a sense of group energy and understanding that enables a group of individuals to lift their collective performance and commitment to outperform their individual efforts.
Enables people to tell from a variety of subtle and influential signals that occur across a group of people that inform us, whether as individuals we belong, or not, in this environment.
Delivers or sabotages a customer experience and therefore reinforces or weakens our business brand.
Tells people what the standard of performance is that’s really acceptable around here.
None of these descriptions pinpoint definitively what culture is, yet I'm sure you would agree that in understanding just these few examples of what culture does, you can begin to appreciate the power and influence of culture, and the importance of ensuring your culture is fit for purpose in the context of your business.
Whereas even when we understand a well worded definition of culture, it doesn't necessarily motivate us to begin work immediately on creating a culture that fits the needs of our employees, customers and business owners.
Consider asking not what culture is in your organisation but what culture does and see what your answers provide you in terms of understanding and motivation about your culture.