Culture Chat

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It’s Not a Contest: Why Other Organizations’ Cultures Don’t Matter

It’s Not a Contest: Why Other Organizations’ Cultures Don’t Matter

February 16, 2018
Charlie Judy

Business is all about competition: for resources, for talent, for market share. But that emphasis on competition can prompt us to focus on other companies too much, particularly when it comes to culture. My advice for company leaders when it comes to culture? Keep your eyes on your own paper, because using another company’s culture as a benchmark isn’t going to help you create a strong one at your company.

Here’s why you should ditch your concern about other companies’ cultures.

Think Beyond the Trappings of Culture

When we talk about employee culture, people tend to think about fun or employee sentiment or beer Fridays. But those aren’t actually the true elements of a culture. Before you decide the grass is greener at the company across the street, think about what culture really means.

Culture encompasses all the factors — actions, behaviors, words, employee experience — that reinforce what’s truly valued at your business. It’s the authentic story of how your company gets work done, told clearly so people understand what it’s really like to work there.

Foosball tables have nothing to do with the actual experience of working at an organization. Don’t get distracted by the trappings of “culture,” since they probably don’t have much to do with employees’ overall experience.

What Works for Them Might Not Work for You

Culture is a reflection of your organization’s values. So when you compare your culture to other organization’s cultures, you assume that your values are also comparable. Culture is what drives an organization’s success, and since your definition of success is unique to your company, your culture should probably be uniquely yours, too.

It’s a sign of maturity for your organization to focus on your own culture rather than others’. Start by understanding what you value and what you need to reinforce that value. Clarify what behaviors align with your values (and beware of those that conflict directly with them), what you expect from employees, and what they can expect from their colleagues and leaders.

Your Definitions Might Be Different

There are a lot of buzzwords around company culture. It seems like every startup is aiming for transparency, risk-taking and innovation. But it’s important to define what those words mean to your organization.

For example, transparency at one company might mean everyone has access to all information, including how much their coworkers make. At another company, transparency might mean that everyone gets the information they need to do their specific job.

“Risk-taking” for a bank will be different than for a tech startup, and innovation in a laboratory doesn’t look like innovation at a service-oriented firm.

Be clear about what you value and how it drives your work, and don’t let what you value turn into mere buzzwords. Identify how these concepts bring business success, then look for ways to support and foster them.

Face Your Fears

Many leaders focus on other companies’ cultures because they’re afraid to focus on their own. They resist introspection, because who knows what they might find if they start digging into what their employees value and what motivates them? But culture is an operating system for your business, just as your manufacturing process, customer service system and financials are operating systems, and you can measure, manage and change your culture, just like anything else in your business.

Let’s all stop thinking in such black and white terms about culture. A culture isn’t “good” or “bad,” and employees aren’t “engaged” or “disengaged.” Everything’s on a continuum, and every organization is unique. Instead, measure what you have at your organization and determine what you’d like to change. You can start with data, analyze it and act — but only if you’re laser-focused on your own company.

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