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6 More Characteristics of Culture

Your Environment for Employees at Work


Man smiling with his chin on his fist

Motivated, Happy, Productive Employees Exist in Positive Work Cultures

©iStockphoto.com / Rasmus Rasmussen
  • People Shape the Culture. Personalities and experiences of employees create the culture of an organization. For example, if most of the people in an organization are very outgoing, the culture is likely to be open and sociable. If many artifacts depicting the company’s history and values are in evidence throughout the company, people value their history and culture.

    If doors are open, and few closed door meetings are held, the culture is unguarded. If negativity about supervision and the company is widespread and complained about by employees, a culture of negativity, that is difficult to overcome, will take hold.

    New employees need to meet the appropriate people who are setting the expectations for the company's culture. Through stories and discussion, each new employee needs to learn the company history, the mission and vision, the desired culture, and the types of actions that are expected and that will be rewarded and recognized. If these critical components of the organization's culture are not communicated, the new employee forms his or her own version of the culture. This may or may not be congruent with the culture you desire.

  • Culture is Negotiated. One person cannot create a culture alone. Employees must try to change the direction, the work environment, the way work is performed, or the manner in which decisions are made within the general norms of the workplace. Culture change is a process of give and take by all members of an organization. Formalizing strategic direction, systems development, and establishing measurements must be owned by the group responsible for them. Otherwise, employees will not own them.

  • Culture is Difficult to Change. Culture change requires people to change their behaviors. It is often difficult for people to unlearn their old way of doing things, and to start performing the new behaviors consistently. Persistence, discipline, employee involvement, kindness and understanding, organization development work, and training can assist you to change a culture.

More Characteristics of Culture

Your work culture is often interpreted differently by diverse employees. Other events in people’s lives affect how they act and interact at work too. Although an organization has a common culture, each person may see that culture from a different perspective. Additionally, your employees’ individual work experiences, departments, and teams may view the culture differently.

You can mitigate the natural tendency of employees to optimize the components of the culture that serve their needs by teaching the culture you desire. Frequent reinforcement of the desired culture communicates the aspects of your work environment you most want to see repeated and rewarded.

Trust me, employees don't just get it. They will get part of it or a skewed version of it that suits their needs. To reinforce what you'd like to see, culture must be carefully taught and modeled.

Your culture may be strong or weak. When your work culture is strong, most people in the group agree on the culture. When your work culture is weak, people do not agree on the culture. Sometimes a weak organizational culture can be the result of many subcultures, or the shared values, assumptions, and behaviors of a subset of the organization.

For example, the culture of your company as a whole might be weak and very difficult to characterize because there are so many subcultures. Each department or work cell may have its own culture. Within departments, the staff and managers may each have their own culture.

Ideally, organizational culture supports a positive, productive, environment. Happy employees are not necessarily productive employees. Productive employees are not necessarily happy employees. It is important to find aspects of the culture that will support each of these qualities for your employees.

Now that you are familiar with this visualization of organizational culture, you will want to explore additional aspects of organizational culture and cultural change. In this way, the concept of culture will become useful to the success and profitability of your organization.

Find more information about organizational culture and its key characteristics.

More About Organizational Culture and Culture Change

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