Defining Organizational Culture

Adverto Insights

If we take the definition of organizational culture and break it down, we’re left with two key components: (1) shared beliefs and values that come from leadership at the organizational level, and (2) the employee experience in terms of perceptions, behaviors and understanding. In this blog, we explore the two themes while explaining how organizations can create programs, policies and practices to support a cohesive culture.

Brooke White, Sr. Employer Brand Specialist Written by Brooke White, Sr. Employer Brand Specialist

Defining Organizational Culture

“For some, culture is considered the “glue” that 
holds an organization together and for others, the 
“compass” that provides directions.” 
Bruce M. Tharp 


NO UNIVERSAL DEFINITION, BUT TWO COMMON THEMES

We can all agree on the following three things about culture: that it exists, is extremely important, and is a difficult concept to universally define. With many elements, symptoms, and consequences, it can be challenging to pinpoint exactly what culture is and what organizations can do to influence it. This in turn makes it tough to diagnose, analyze, measure, benchmark, and influence.

The Society for Human Resource Management shares one of the more common interpretations of culture, defining it as the proper way to behave within a particular organization. In their definition, culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders that are then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding.

If we take this definition and break it down, we’re left with two key components:

  1. Shared beliefs and values that come from leadership at the organizational level
  2. The employee experience in terms of perceptions, behaviors and understanding

Once we’ve divided the concept of culture into components, we can start to effectively manage, measure and influence it.


THE ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGY - SHARED BELIEFS AND VALUES

Shared beliefs and values - or in Adverto terms, Core Values and Shared Commitments - are critical aspects of your organization’s employer brand. Defined by leadership at the organizational level, these values and beliefs act as a set of guidelines to govern the way your organization and its employees should do business.

Core Values
These are the fundamental beliefs of the organization that define what you stand for. Your core values act as a guide to help employees understand corporate objectives and the difference between the right and wrong way to represent your brand.

Shared Commitments
These commitments serve as a code of conduct and a set of expected behaviors that unify the objectives of the organization and with the employee’s role. These shared commitments also act as a guide to help candidates understand what type of employees you’re looking for.

Once you’ve outlined these beliefs, values and expectations, they must be communicated to employees and brought to life through programs, policies and practices across the organization. From here, the execution is then experienced and interpreted by employees, leading us to the second component of culture – employee experience!


EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE

Employee experience summarises what people encounter, observe or feel over the course of their employee journey at an organization. In terms of culture, it focuses on how employees experience shared commitments and values, as well as the outcome of those perceptions - their behavior.

When building organizational programs, policies and practices there needs to be an intentional focus on how employees will experience them. You can have a great set of shared beliefs and values, but if your employee experience doesn’t align, none of it matters. To be effective, this exercise must focus on strategic planning, effective communication, and consistently soliciting feedback.

Strategic Planning and Alignment
When building organizational programs, policies and practices, you need to begin with a focus on your core values and shared commitments. If a program/policy/practice doesn’t to help you achieve or satisfy a value or commitment, it will create cultural confusion for the employee experience. Everything that the organization does, must explicitly link back to the organization’s mission, core values and shared commitments.

Effective Communication
Once you have a strong program, policy or practice that resonates with your values and beliefs, it needs to be communicated effectively. For the activity to resonate, employers must position the effort so employees can explicitly see its connection to the values/beliefs and clearly understand its purpose.

Soliciting Employee Feedback
Once you’ve communicated and delivered the program, policy or practice, you can solicit employee feedback. In this stage you need to get a pulse on how employees are experiencing the effort. Create a focus group or small survey that can understand how employees perceive and engage with the activity. If you’re not getting the reaction you hoped for, review and revise your approach.


MANAGING YOUR ORGANIZATION’S CULTURE

Now that we’ve defined culture and its components, we can begin to understand how to impact and manage it. To start, focus on building a strong employer brand with core values and shared commitments that feel authentic to your employee experience. From here, you can begin to embed these themes and values into the programs, policies and practices that govern your organization. Lastly, you will need to ensure that employees are experiencing these activities in a way that aligns to the originally intended values and beliefs.