Why Types of Culture Don't Exist.
Three people are each handed the same box of LEGO pieces. They are given no instructions other than to build something… What will each person make? Will the three structures be identical or vastly different? The chances of them being identical are almost impossible, right?
The joy of LEGO is that it allows us to build whatever our minds create. Even though each person has been given the exact same pieces, the outcomes are likely to be wildly different due to the individualistic nature of a person’s vision, personality, values, experience and needs.
It may sound strange, but this example can be applied to organisational culture. Here’s how:
Each organisation is supplied with the same pieces with which they can build their culture.
Someone may choose to build a boat, while someone else may build a truck.
These pieces include how leaders manage and lead their people, how the organisation is structured, how the systems, policies and processes direct staff in completing their work, how messages are communicated within the organisation, what behaviour is measured and rewarded, and the symbols and rituals that embody what is valued and important.
Even though all organisations have access to the same elements- or pieces if you will- what is built with them should be unique to your organisation and based around the desired outcomes.
Organisational Culture Types
Our culture discussions are always teeming with prefixes – risk culture, safety culture, wellbeing culture, agile culture, innovation culture, customer service culture. The list could go on and on. It’s almost overwhelming, isn’t it? Depending on who you ask, you may be swayed to think that you need to choose a specific one.
Too many choices!
For example, if we met with a workplace health and safety consultant, they would undoubtedly push the need for a safety culture.
But if we met with a wellbeing consultant on the other hand, they would say that an organisation needs to focus solely on creating a culture of wellbeing.
Of course we want to have a safe working environment, everybody does…but what if your organisation also needs to innovate in order to stay competitive. Then there’s the dilemma of regulatory requirements… we want to focus on that too! So, do we pick a safety culture… an innovation culture or a risk culture?
The simple answer to that is… none. You can have them all.
Purpose Driving Organisational Culture
Let’s go back to the beginning. Back to the organisation’s reason for existing – its purpose if you will.
An organisation’s purpose will always (or should always) inform its strategy. A part of a businesses strategy could be managing risk, operating safely, innovating, being customer-centric, etc. These are the outcomes that the organisation is striving to realise, rather than types of culture.
So, the real question here is not about which type of culture to pick, but rather what outcomes you are looking for as an organisation.
This is where the culture comes into play. The culture should be defined and crafted to enable the execution of the strategy, not the other way around. It needs to foster and encourage behaviours that support what the organisation aims to achieve.
Now by pigeonholing yourself and choosing to develop a singularly focused culture, other areas will become underdeveloped, drastically reducing the chances of achieving the organisations additional strategic goals.
No two organisations are the same. Each one is multifaceted, requiring a custom build- not one from a pre-printed set of instructions.
What does this look like in practice?
So, let’s say your strategy includes innovation and safety…. What kind of culture would you try to cultivate? They seem quite contradictory, yeah?
Innovation requires employees to experiment, think creatively and take risks. Whilst safety requires employees to operate within clear guidelines and processes. What is core to both innovation and safety is employees challenging the status quo and having the confidence to speak up.
If you had chosen to adopt a ‘safety culture’ then the innovative part of your strategy would become neglected.
The bottom line is, there is no such thing as different types of culture. Culture is culture. But it’s how you use it that will help to realise the desired outcomes.
If you’re not sure where to begin, take a magnifying glass to your organisation’s purpose and build from there.
Now, I’m off to build some Lego.