Essential terms used by HR and their meanings.

Organisational culture

Organisational culture is a set of consistent and authentic behaviours that inform the way a company operates at both the macro (company-wide) and micro (the team or individual) level.

A good culture encourages and builds on desirable qualities that will boost productivity. A poor or dysfunctional culture will damage the performance of even the most successful organisation.

What is organisational culture?

Culture is not to be confused with clear organisational goals, visions or mission statements – while these can help support and direct the culture of the organisation – these are not, in and of themselves, the organisational culture.

Organisational culture is more than the sum of its parts, not distilled down to a single policy or press release but embodied by the way leadership responds to a crisis, how teams adapt to new opportunities to service customers, or how mentors support and correct employees who make errors.

It is perhaps better to think of it in terms of a selection of positive traits which can be continuously identify throughout an organisation’s structure, activities, and the individual employees.

Culture in organisations

Due to somewhat intangible nature of organisational culture, understanding it and how it manifests from organisation to organisation can be difficult. However, there are several core traits that should be considered when assessing the maturity and quality of culture:

  • Alignment –In good cultures employee motivations to organisational objectives are closely aligned and so all efforts are pulling in a shared direction. Very mature organisations will be continuously reviewing this alignment and proactively seeking to improve it in consultation with employees.

  • Appreciation – While it can take on many different forms - from a note of thanks to a colleague, public recognition or earned promotion and advancement – a positive culture of appreciation will encourage regular praise and thanks for all employees from one another.

  • Trust – One of the most important traits for any organisation. Employees who feel trusted will be much more willing and able to try new things and express ideas openly. Poor levels of trust in organisational culture may result in stagnation and a lack of innovation.

  • Integrity – An essential partner to trust, integrity is vital in allowing teams to rely on each others decision making, interpretation of results and form collaborative relationships. Mature cultures of integrity will often champion transparent and honest communication, nurturing constructive challenging of ideas and open discourses about why failures have happened.

  • Performance – In business, performance is key. In cultures that encourage great performance, employees will motivate and challenge each other to try and excel. Generally, this is measured in productivity and profitability, but through a structure where the contributions of all are able to be recognised and applauded.

  • Resilience – Change is always challenging, cultures that encourage resilience will help create structures that are adaptable and equip leaders with the skills they need to navigate dynamic business environments.

  • Teamwork – Encouraging respect and collaboration between members within a team and between teams is a core part of delivering major projects successfully. Fostering good relations and empathy will improve communication and the ability to adapt and implement new and improved processes with consideration of the impact on others.

  • Innovation – The art of championing new approaches to technology, resource management and the markets you operate in. In an innovative culture, creative thinking will inform how processes are developed and implemented, new products that are brought to market, and to the ways culture is embedded throughout the organisation.

  • Wellbeing – Providing support for employees to ensure their physical and mental wellbeing, and creating a culture that champions wellbeing as a core piece of the productivity puzzle, will benefit long-term performance. Facilitating internal and external wellbeing initiatives and ensuring employees and managers feel empowered to raise and address wellbeing concerns creates a culture of mutual support.

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How to change organisational culture

Culture building and cultural transformation are some of the most complex and difficult activities an organisation will undertake. A high number of organisations fail in fully realising the potential of these projects.

It is important to remember that building a culture is not easily quantifiable, it requires time, determination, and continuous effort to be successful. Using the core traits above and carefully considering how these can be positively encouraged at all levels in your organisation will allow you to create a framework that will inform future strategy.

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