Culture is everything and it starts at the top

What is meant by culture? For me, the culture of an organization is the way its people and its products behave when they come in contact with the external world.

During my college days, an investment bank came to give their hiring pitch. They said that they worked for 25 hours a day. I did not apply to that company because that statement defined their culture and I was sure I would be a cultural misfit in such an organization. It is another fact that I would not have gotten through, but I never want to accept that. But many people joined that company and still are part of that company. People are OK with that culture.

The consulting company I worked after my college focused on hard (and sometimes overnight) work and perfection which was understandable because their clients were paying big money. It defined the culture of that consulting company.

None of the above culture is right or wrong. They may not be perfect, but they were unique and reflected the nature of the people at the top of these organizations and the way they wanted to achieve results.

I do not know whether culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but I know that the most important thing that will define the success of an organization is its culture. Period.

Take organizations which have been successful over the last several years. Amazon, Google, Alibaba, Facebook, Netflix. All different and all wildly successful. Yet, their cultures differ. There is no recipe for cultural success. It is like successful humans. There are no 21 things to do to be successful when it comes to culture. The only thing that matters is to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Ask Enron what happened when they did not do the right thing in the right way. Ask Blackberry what happened when they did not the right thing at the right time.

The key for organizations is to not make their culture perfect, but to make it simple so that the people in the organization can understand them and the products they make can reflect the same.

The key for organizations is also not to make the people fit into their culture, but to make sure people are not offended by their culture.  I suggest not to look for a cultural fit when you hire. See if a new hire would be offended your culture. Think of the term cultural diversity when you hire.

They key for organizations is also to not think of culture as an initiative but being aware that it reflects the actions they take and the decisions they make. It is also how their leaders react to different situations.

They key for organizations is also to make the external world including their customers understand and appreciate their culture.

Culture is a key. Treat it as a key and not as a wall. Use culture to set expectations, not boundaries. Make culture a way of life, and not the way of life.

If you do not know your organization’s culture, listen, observe, ask, and write down in simple words for. If you know what your organization’s culture is, do not make it sacrosanct. Let it evolve. Because evolution is the way the world progresses.

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