By Oliver Mills
The issue of culture seems to be a big thing today. We often hear of the culture of the country, which is traditionally described as the way of life of the majority of its inhabitants, including all aspects of it. But many times, we tend to just accept what someone else says, without questioning it, but when we look more closely at what is said, we find that it might lack substance or clarity. And we want to have more information, because the concept does not represent fully what it is alleged to. This is because everyone does not think the same way, or do the same set of things, even though overall we tend to make a general statement which we think represents the way people are. And the word culture fits this issue.
Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
It is the same with workplace, or organizational culture, which is the way things are done around, and within the organization. Organizational culture is also a set of values and behaviours that the workplace subscribes to, and anyone who breaches these rules could experience various consequences, since the organization thrives as a result of its culture. The culture also dictates the vision, purpose, and point of the organization, and is present in a very subtle way in everything that is thought, suggested, and implemented.
This issue concerning organizational culture, is taken on by Dinesh Saparamadu, the founder, and CEO of Peoples HR, in an article captioned, “Getting your culture right: Cultivating a high performance organization.” In it, he describes corporate organizations as having their own DNA, which are the characteristics that define them. This is their culture. He says that culture is a dynamic, intangible, subconscious element of a company that governs its actions, and that the organization is built around how good the culture is. He notes that culture is the only aspect of an organization that cannot be copied or replicated.
The CEO then goes on to state that merely acknowledging the existence of organizational culture, cannot do much good, since it has to be analysed, made to work, and so drive corporate strategy, and not be an obstacle to it. He adds that this requires diagnosing the culture through focus groups and questionnaires to get a first- hand view of what it is. Most importantly, he stresses that the culture should be included in employee induction programmes, so they would have a good idea of how to act, and what is expected.
In my view, it is quite telling to describe an organization as having a DNA, which is actually its culture. The DNA, or culture directs the organization, and determines its policies and programmes. The culture also shapes the personalities and activities of employees, and this is evident in their attitude when dealing with each other, and in their interactions with external customers.
It is reflected in feeling welcome, wanted and appreciated, and shown in the dispositions of employees when they offer to help. It can be observed in the way the organisation is internally organised, the prompt nature of the service given, and by the efficiency with which things are done. There is no feeling of being inhibited when a customer walks about the various areas of the organisation. The culture therefore exhibits warmth, and appreciation towards its customers.
I certainly share the view of the CEO that organizational culture cannot be copied or replicated. The culture is the soul and engine of the organization. From it the organization derives its strength, and energy, as well as its will to accomplish its mission. Because it is unique to every organization, it cannot be copied. This is why, when some organizations see the success of others, they try to implement, without analysis, what they have taken from these successful organizations. But it often does not work, because ways of doing things are unique to each organization, based on their special circumstances. One size does not fit all.
Again, I’m at one with the writer when he says that the organization is built around how good the culture is, and that the culture has to be diagnosed, analysed, made to work, and included in the onboarding programmes of new employees. For me, the organization is really its culture, and the culture is the organization. From the culture all of the possibilities for change and development emerge. This is what makes it successful. On the other hand if an organization operates without any direction, it means the best of its culture has not been explored, and therefore, its ends will not be served. And in discovering the best of the culture, it has to be assessed, and refined to ensure it is in sync with the ingredients that promote its success.
Some organizations tend to operate without any clearly defined culture. Although they may have certain regulations, these are usually written in a negative way. And the blame game is played constantly. When new employees join them, there is hardly anything of substance to guide them with, so everyone simply muddles through. This is not culture. This is why we often hear of organizational reform, where persons are brought in to diagnose what is going on, and suggest strategies for transformation. And we do have a situation where, irrespective of how much training is given, people later revert to what they were accustomed to doing. This happens because of the need for a strong, vibrant organizational culture from which employees get their cues as to what is accepted, and how things are done around the organization.
But if an organization is to achieve its objectives, then it has to set about framing an effective culture that delivers its mission. There must be clear ways of operating, and these should be reflected in its policies. Even the existing culture could have some positive elements which should be included in the general cultural framework. The point is to have the knowledge to analyse what is going on, extract the helpful elements, add best practice strategies, and incorporate and reframe these into an effective culture that not only works, but delivers as well.