Human Capital Management

What is Culture, Anyway?

October 14, 2021


Every organization, whether it’s a business, club, another group, has a culture.  

When you join an organization, it usually means something about it appealed to you, so therefore you chose to associate yourself with it. You personally identified with it and felt like you would fit in. Alternatively, you could have considered joining an organization but decided against it because it just didn’t feel like a good fit for you. What creates this sense of belonging or not to an organization is the organization’s culture. This is made up of three components, the organization’s rules, traditions, and personalities. 


The rules of an organization are the beliefs, values, norms, and attitudes that the organization’s leadership has systematized into policies, procedures, and expectations. These tell the members of the organization what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to act and interact. These rules can typically be found in official documents such as the employee handbook, operations manual, and statement of corporate values. It is also more than possible that some rules may be “unwritten.”  

There are other rules that encourage behavior rather than require it, such as value statements. Employees are recognized and rewarded when they exemplify these values but will not be formally disciplined if they happen to not liven up to them on a given day.  

The kind of culture you have as an employer will largely depend on the set of rules you have put into place. It's also important to make sure that your rules make sense, given the kind of culture you want to have.  


Traditions give employees a way to work together and build relationships with one another.  They are the organization's conventions, customs, rituals, ceremonies, activities, and physical workspace arrangements. Traditions of a workplace could include big events like annual retreats or award ceremonies but could also include things like everyday meetings or standardized communication methods. Through workplace traditions, people ultimately build and maintain professional relationships.  

To have an effective culture, your traditions and rules need to align. When they don’t, the culture becomes chaotic, creating confusion, uncertainty, and distrust. Workplace traditions and rules can be in direct conflict leading to problems. 


Now let's discuss the third basis of workplace culture- the individuals who actually work there! 

You would not be able to replace everyone in the company and still have it be the same place or even have the same culture—people matter. The character of a workplace is formed by who the employees are as individuals and the free choices they make. Everyone in the workplace has their own personality-their own ideas, attitudes, perspectives, and behaviors. Your employees will change the culture just by being themselves. Be sure to encourage them to keep improving your culture! 

Developing Your Culture 

Because your culture depends, in part, on the people who work for you, you will never have complete control over it. Nevertheless, culture isn’t something you should ignore. If your company has rules, traditions, and people working together, it has a culture. That culture affects your operations and strategy—as well as how employees and customers perceive your company.

The kind of culture you should strive for depends on the nature of your business. Not every culture will be or should be the same, and what works well in one workplace may work poorly in another. That said, cultures that are conducive to long-term success are typically defined in a clear manner, understood and embraced by employees, aligned with the mission of the company, and stable through times of growth and crisis.  

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