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Organizational Culture: Vital But Difficult to Mandate

“Corporate culture” is a familiar term that says little about how such an ideal is initiated or achieved.

For one, culture can’t be manufactured, and organizations that try to force leaders and employees to embrace and embody a specific mindset are doomed to fail.

Organizational culture, as defined by Jim Whitehurst, chief executive officer of tech giant Red Hat, comes down to learned behavior defined by how an organization’s executives and workers interact internally.

It is birthed by actions, cultivated through a shared system of values and tested through reaction to internal and external stimuli. Corporate cultures can take root immediately or develop haphazardly, depending on the beliefs and experiences of a collective team, according to a report in Forbes magazine.

Culture, though, is critical to an organization’s sustained viability and success, especially during periods of change.

Companies staring down a competitive marketplace, and feeling pressure to take steps such as reducing costs, developing new products or improving efficiency must understand that such actions and new approaches go hand-in-hand with a change in how its leaders think. That’s where many organizational initiatives falter.

To successfully navigate change, leaders must rely on the cornerstones that helped shape the company in the first place – its vision, values and ideals, the reasons the organization exists.

Defining those values, and reinforcing a long-range vision, can help effect a cultural shift to the new reality. Such values-based leadership depends on communication to reinforce those paradigms – whether it’s recognizing an accomplishment or discussing a mistake.

The same holds true for bringing new people into the fold. According to Forbes, values-based recruiting means companies look beyond technical expertise to choose the right people to hire to ensure the continuity of a specific corporate culture.

Maintaining or changing organizational culture depends on more than just employees. The responsibility falls on leaders to instill confidence, garner trust and forge the direction, whether straight ahead or exploring a different path.

According to CultureIQ, a leader’s behavior can set an acceptable tone for everyone else to follow. Leaders become the architects of the culture – they help define it, they educate others about it, they imbue it daily and they reward its success by acknowledging and championing performance.

For example, if a leader wants to adopt an open-door policy, a way to engender employees to believe in that ideal is for the leader to put it into action by providing regular opportunities for open discourse with no fear of reprisal or recourse.

Leaders also are charged with understanding that trying to do too much too soon can overwhelm the effort. Therefore, they recalibrate and focus on initiating systemic change one goal at a time.

Leaders alone cannot preserve or shift organizational culture to meet a corporate directive. However, through their behavior and the example they set, they can empower an office full of employees to adopt a shared mindset and work together as a group to embrace and exemplify the kind of culture they want.

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