Creating Organizational Culture


I have an ongoing debate with a good friend who is also a mentor and seasoned executive who I respect quite a bit. This debate is about organizational culture.

His hypothesis is that you cannot create or build organizational culture. He maintains that it just happens organically from the makeup of the people within the organization.

According to this viewpoint, culture is an accidental result of how an organization just happens to live.

I believe, on the other hand, that you can shape organizational culture, that you can create and build a culture very deliberately. Here’s how.

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If culture is created from the people within it, then isn’t it right to assume that by hiring the types of people that you would want to make up the culture that you can then impact the culture of the organization?

And isn’t it right to assume that people whose behaviors change based on what the leader encourages, shows, demonstrates, exemplifies, and even rewards are the people who make up the culture?

I believe that by being deliberate about what you value, about the atmosphere, about the culture that exists, you can shape the behaviors of people, you can choose the types of people that you want within an organization and thus create the right type of culture for your business or organization.

Organizational culture can be crafted based on what you do and how you lead.

If you want collaboration to be part of your culture, then you need to show that you value collaboration. Actively seek input and advice and show that you respect and value that input. Even reward people for demonstrating that they have contradictory opinions and leverage their inputs to make the decision more powerful and more beneficial. You will then shape the culture in a way that it values that type of collaboration and naturally latches onto it.

If you want to value continued learning within your organization, then reward people who learn something new. Continually show how you are refining your own intellectual abilities and learning new things. Hold up people and set them up as examples when they do take on something new or learn something new. That’s how you will embed that value in your culture.

As human beings, everything is not just within our DNA. We’re not born acting in certain ways. Everything is not predestined. That’s why the carrot and the stick work in behavioral psychology. If we were rewarded for something, we tend to do more of it. If we are punished for something, we tend to do less of it.

At an organizational level, the organization will be shaped over time by how we act, by how we are able to embed processes and disciplines that encourage behaviors or aspects of a culture or ecosystem. We have to reward the things that we value when we want more of them in the culture and punish those things that we do not want more of.

There are absolutely certain aspects of organizational culture that just happen. Some cultures tend to be more fun than others. Some cultures tend to be more open than others. Don’t fool yourself, though, into thinking that you can’t adjust, shift, or massage those things. If a culture is not naturally fun, you can make it more fun by the actions that you take, and through that, you will start to attract more fun people—people will naturally begin to look for more ways to have fun.

In the same way, if your culture is not open, you can begin to make it more open by deliberately sharing and providing transparency, by rewarding people for demonstrating that transparency, and for calling people out when they protect information. In that way you can shape the culture and you begin to attract people who appreciate that type of atmosphere.

Culture can be shaped, and it’s essential that leaders learn how to shape culture.

Shaping culture is not easy. It’s something that must be done repeatedly. It’s something that must be embedded within an organization before the leader stops being intentional about it. You have to make culture a habit.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Kalpakgian says:

    Story is a key element in building culture that is often forgotten. What stories does your company tell? What heroes in the company do you hold up as models. Organizational culture can be built through judicious story telling. Engage the imagination as well as the intellect.

    1. David DeWolf says:

      Wholeheartedly agree. Whether you’re building culture, selling, or aligning objectives, storytelling is incredibly powerful.

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