Company culture is incredibly complex. There are a huge number of different factors which can influence what a company’s culture will be like. These factors can interact with each other in unpredictable ways, so that every culture can seem to be the product of a unique combination of poorly understood and abstract concepts. Even expert definitions of what company culture actually is vary widely.
It’s no wonder that many people feel the culture of the company they work for is big, complicated, and something over which they have no influence. But what if they’re forgetting something?
The Forgotten Factor
If someone asked you what factors influence the culture of a company, there are probably a few things that would spring to mind. For example, you might think of the vision of the company’s founder, the amount of time the company devotes on employee development, or the structure of the company. All influential factors!
But there’s one very influential factor that it can be all too easy to forget about.
Every single person in an organisation influences the organisation’s culture.
Why is this so important to remember? Because forgetting, or under-estimating, the influence you have on the culture of the company in which you work can lead you to behave in a way that causes that culture to suffer.
You might experience an aspect of your company’s culture that isn’t quite to your liking. But because you under-estimate your influence, you might not attempt to change it. You may not even voice your opinion. You’re likely to conform to this part of the culture, thereby maintaining it.
Or you might experience an aspect of your company’s culture that you really value. But because you under-estimate your influence, you might not make an effort to maintain it. After all, everyone else will, right? Wrong. If these initiatives aren’t actively maintained by individuals putting in 5 minutes here or there, they can’t survive. The great aspects of a culture, which so many individuals say they value, can die out.
The fact that you directly and indirectly maintain and shape your company’s culture through your day-to-day behaviour, whilst potentially giving you a hefty sense of personal responsibility, should also be pretty empowering!
Culture is big, and it is complicated, but it is something over which you absolutely do have influence.
6 Tips: How to Do Your Bit For Your Company’s Culture
1) Realise Your Circle of Influence
Your circle of influence is, quite simply, the ‘things you can do something about’. In his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey suggests that you focus your efforts only on your circle of influence, rather than wasting effort on things you can’t do anything about. Sounds sensible, right? Yes! But, the first step is to honestly challenge what you feel is outside of your circle of influence.
Which cultural barriers are actually only in your mind? What would you do if the culture allowed you to? What would happen if you did it anyway? Why not ask for forgiveness, not permission?!
If you feel helpless in changing or maintaining you company’s culture, it’s time to re-assess. Your circle of influence is probably much bigger than you think.
2) Recruit Others
The chances are that if there’s an aspect of your culture you care about, you can find someone else who cares too. You might not always feel you can tackle something on your own, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help! Why not ask a colleague if they want to help you organise that social event? Use your influence to corral others. You don’t have to act alone.
3) Do Sweat the Small Stuff
Small things can make a big difference. When my current company surveyed employees on what they loved about the culture, the big theme in the answers was that it was the ‘little things’ that mattered. Think of some of the small things in your working day that matter to you, and how you could in turn make a difference to your culture with very little effort. This could be anything from celebrating colleague’s birthdays, to organising a short knowledge sharing session, to just saying hello to someone!
4) Remember the 2-Way Street
If there’s something you wish your colleagues did or didn’t do, think about your part in this. It could be that you need to lead by example, or it could be that there is also an onus on you to act.
A good example is the culture of feedback. My current company values feedback highly – it provides the information we use to improve our performance every day. I had a conversation recently with a manager who said, as he has progressed up the career ladder, he’s received less and less constructive feedback. He highlighted the need for those he managed to still provide him with feedback even though he was more senior. Completely valid! However I also suggested that perhaps he needed to remind them this ‘upwards feedback’ was a part of our culture, by asking for it.
Every time you feel you want or expect something from your colleagues or your company, ask yourself what it is you need to be doing to make it happen.
5) Be Brave and Have Fun
When I started out my career, I felt timid about challenging the culture. Who was I to make a difference? But one day I got a real bee in my bonnet about my fellow employees not feeling valued, because I really believed they were! So I walked into the Managing Director’s office, unannounced, and convinced him to hand out Easter Eggs to everyone in the company.
Initially he thought that people would think it was childish, and perhaps would even make fun of him. I told him it was something small he could do to show them they were valued (number 3 on this list!). I won’t lie. I left the office with my hands shaking and wondering what had come over me.
But as, on the day, he nervously wheeled a trolley up and down the office aisles and handed people a Cadbury’s egg, it brought smiles to people’s faces. Not jeering smiles as he expected, smiles of surprise and pleasure. One lady looked at him wide-eyed with excitement and squealed ‘WOW, thanks!!!!’. This single act shifted the expectations of his employees as well as his own. That big, complicated thing called culture shifted accordingly.
6) Connect to your values
There are so many different ways you can make a difference to your company’s culture. But if you’re ever having trouble doing your bit, remind yourself why it’s important to you. Keep asking ‘why?’ until you get to the real root of why you believe it matters.
You’ll find that tapping into these values you hold at the root of it all can provide you with enough passion to override any worries or apathy you may have.
Links and Further Reading
- The 7 Habits of Effective People – Stephen Covey. A good read for some key principles for enhancing your personal effectiveness. If you’re not set on buying the book, Stephen’s website gives a great summary of the 7 habits to get you thinking.
- Organizational Culture and Leadership – Edgar Schein. A mammoth textbook by one of the key academics in this field. Perhaps not worth investing in unless you’re really committed to learning more about company culture, but I definitely recommend dipping into his key concepts by reading/watching this interview.