What can you expect here?

I am passionate about making a difference to people and organisations- and I guess there are many who would like to do the same. I hope this could be a platform to share views and experiences so that we can all grow together and make a difference.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Culture- how do we define it?

Continuing my explorations on culture......
Its obvious that the first step in creating the culture we need in an organisation is to articulate it. How often do we consciously do this with clarity and rigour? Even if we manage to articulate the culture we need, it could sometimes end up being quite generic and not very distinguishing. Which right thinking organisation wouldn't want a performance-oriented, agile, innovative, customer-centric, collaborative culture!

So what comes in the way of organisations defining exactly what they need? I guess the first filter is what we define as culture. Different companies may use different terminologies (see Gerry's comments on my earlier post), but what we want has to be closely linked to our business strategy, and should be the key to our recipe for success. We should try to define it in very specific terms, and make it unique for the organisation. Only one, or sometimes 2 elements of culture would be distinguishable in any organisation- we cant be distinctive on many counts. If an organisation chooses to be distinctive on more than a couple, more often than not, it ends up being a mish-mash of everything.

However, the one critical challenge in articulating the culture needed in an organisation is the ability to live with paradoxes. Rather, balance the opposites. 'Where there is light, there is always a shadow.'  I guess it is this ability of some organisations to understand this and make the right choices.

But there is one debate on culture that I am still struggling with. How much is the culture of a company dependent on its maturity and market context. While a start-up may need elements of speed etc., as the company grows and is well established, it would probably look to develop other elements, like a collaborative culture. However, the counter logic to this is that culture of a company is timeless - irrespective of the maturity or growth of the company, it needs to have its unique DNA. I guess both arguments hold water. What are your thoughts?

Any examples of how organisations have defined culture which has made it easy for them to focus and create it? Would be really interesting to hear from you..... look forward.


  1. Well put on. Its obvious how the organisation wants to perceive and work upon it :)


  2. Cant agree more - about paradoxes (e.g. efficiency .vs. effectiveness) and picking the 1 or 2 elements that are clearly distinctive...

    In terms of articulating the desired culture, the gap between "what is" and "what we would like it to be" is also worth thinking about. The greater the gap, the less is perceived realisability and questions on whether the elements in question can ever be "distinctive" aspects of the organisations culture..

  3. Yes, organization needs to have a unique DNA but I think culture is an “evolutionary” process that evolves over time. Culture of the company also depends on senior leadership in the organization, and I think culture is function of maturity, market context, and senior leadership. All three factors define and shape up the organization culture.

  4. I believe that culture is a growth or evolutionary process as well. It has to be; a culture that suits a small startup with 50 employees or fewer is almost certainly going to be radically different than what the same organization needs in a culture with 1000 or more employees. I think organizations that plan for this process also find it less painful... I see it happening in my organization all the time.

    I would say, a company needs both its unique cultural DNA and the ability for that DNA to mutate to suit a changing environment. Very much evolutionary.


  5. Thank you all for your very insightful comments. I guess culture needs to evolve both with the internal maturity of the organisation, as well to keep pace with external changes. The core values of an organisation or the core purpose may be timeless, but some elements of culture need to change, I presume.

  6. Nice One as i know there are quite a few things that easily define a culture: Music, sports, visual arts and crafts, dance... and there are things that define a culture, but are more difficult to pinpoint: Expectations, pursuit of excellence, improvisational abilities, positive or negative outlook on life, confidence.

  7. Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.