The Meaning of Culture

I’m not proud to admit it, but if anybody were to come into my house right now, and walk into our hall they’d be faced with a scene that could have come straight from a Hieronymus Bosch picture. Chaos and destruction everywhere – bags strewn across the floor, coats and miscellaneous clothing draped over the back of chairs, a single sock stranded and alone peeking out from behind a curtain. Our visitor would be forgiven for taking one look around and asking “what kind of a place is this…?”

Unfortunately, this is the reality that I have allowed to develop in this house. My wife and I have both, (perhaps foolishly), embarked on postgraduate studies, working early morning and late nights to get through assignments and meet deadlines, while working full time and also trying to ensure that a brood of teenagers is fed, educated and happy.

Unfortunately, as a result of busy schedules and competing interests, I have dropped the ball in other areas – I have allowed myself to accept standards that I never would have before. I have allowed a culture to develop in my house where my children see me not always bending down to pick up a stray piece of paper as I pass it, and they have taken that on board as the accepted way to behave. They drop their hoodies wherever is easiest, because they have seen sometimes I don’t hang my coat up immediately when I come in. Perhaps reasonably, they would answer our visitor’s question by saying “this is the kind of place where messy and untidy behavior is accepted”, because that is the culture that has started to develop.

Every family, every business, and every organisation has a culture. It’s like the particular personality of that organisation, and like with people’s personalities, every organisational culture is unique. It’s made-up of what that organisation really values, not just what it talks about valuing. Does it really believe in doing the right thing or will it turn a blind eye to poor behavior and decisions If there are short term benefits? Does it really value customer service or does it put a premium on business profit above all? Does it really value teamwork, people and diversity or are these just buzzwords that are forgotten about when challenges are faced?

These are the kind of things that make an organisation’s culture, and they can’t be faked. Employees and customers feel the culture quickly enough. They know when they are being truly valued. They know when there is a culture of respect and integrity. They know it because they can feel how an organisation really is. They know it because they see what behaviours are allowed and encouraged. And if they don’t see a culture that feels right, many of them will leave. One piece of Irish research I saw recently suggested that 82% of professionals have worked for an organisation where they disliked the company culture and 70% have left a job because the culture felt wrong to them.

I have a job of work to do to start to change the culture that has been allowed to develop in this house. I want everyone living here to take pride in the house and in making it presentable – it doesn’t.

No matter how busy we are we can all spend a few minutes each day keeping our own area clean and tidy.

And in our organisations, we can all intentionally build the kind of culture that we want to see. It starts from the top. It starts with deciding what we value as people because our organisation’s values should reflect our own, without tension. And then we’ve got to lead by example, allowing our behavior to show others exactly what kind of place this is.

Now, I’m off to find the vacuum cleaner.

If you want to find out about your company’s culture then you can do the LIFT Culture Survey HERE. LIFT Ireland is Ireland’s most simple and efficient, yet profound and effective, way to build your organisation’s culture and develop the self-leadership capacity of your people. Join over 125 organisation and over 50,000 people across Ireland who are building values-based cultures based on trust and integrity

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