Can Organisational Culture Be Prescribed?

Is culture an organic development or is it something that can be prescribed?

I read an article today that talked about how to build an exceptional culture.  The first tip was to ‘Create a Cultural Blueprint’.  The focus was purely on the leadership prescribing the culture they wanted and then telling everyone what it was going to be.  It even included the requirement for KPIs to be set in order to determine whether each member of the team was meeting the imposed cultural values.

Not sure I completely agree with the author of that article…

It got me thinking about how much a culture can be planned and how much of a culture is evolutionary.  It also got me thinking about the often forgotten, but equally important brother of culture: climate.

To me, there are three elements or steps towards the creation of a high-performance culture construct.

The first step comes from the leadership.  The leadership will create a vision for the business and as part of that, their ideal culture should start to form.  

The next step is for that proposed culture to be offered out to the team.

Ideally, at this stage it is in ‘draft’ as part of a wider discussion (and possibly not even written down); in other words, it is not something that is being unilaterally imposed on the team but being fed by a two-way conversation.  Not only might this save leadership embarrassment but it is the start of a mutually respectful relationship.

Step three is for the team to then review the proffered culture – and this is where the importance of climate comes in.  The team will compare the proposed culture against the climate that the leadership are emitting; in other words, are the leadership ‘walking the walk as well as talking the talk’?  If the two align then, I think, there is a strong chance that the proposed culture will expand and grow. 

However, even in this instance, the leadership need to be aware and accept that not all elements of their ideal culture might blossom, or that other unexpected elements might emerge.  The reason being, culture is a living thing and a strong element of cultural ownership remains with the team at all times.

If the team sense dissonance between the proposed culture and the exhibited climate, then the two elements are likely to grow further apart. Unfortunately, the more the leadership ignore the feedback from the team and continue to try and force the preferred culture though a negative climate then the quicker the gap grows.

Even if their culture is accepted, the leadership always need to keep the feedback loop in mind.  They should accept this as a good thing as it will ensure they stay accountable.


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