"Organizational culture" is a popular buzzword, but what does it really mean? What does it take to develop a corporate culture that keeps both management and employees satisfied and productive? A few recent online articles elucidate this topic and provide an excellent starting point for exploring this concept.

Inner Conformist vs. Inner Activist

Most corporate cultures develop naturally, simply through theorganizational culture evolving dynamics between management and employees and among employees themselves. It seems like there's not much to consider—until something goes wrong. Maybe worker morale is low, causing productivity to sink. Maybe the gossip mill is working overtime, distracting employees and creating a negative atmosphere.

This raises the question: How does one change a culture?

UrgentVC notes in a recent article:

"The inner conformist is stronger than the inner activist," said Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the role of culture in decision-making.

Basically, most people don't want to engage in behavior that makes them stand out from the crowd. They want to respect the cultural norms and do what everyone else is doing.

For example, if everyone in the office believes that respectful communication between colleagues and efficient work habits are the corporate cultural norm, new and old employees will follow along. Those who don't will be considered "non-conforming" and treated accordingly.

What happens if you, as an HR manager, have noticed some bad organizational habits taking root in your workplace? What can you do to elicit effective change, rather than just an endless round of memos, meetings and workshops that don't really make any positive differences?

John Kotter in Forbes considers this question and notes:

How does culture change? A powerful person at the top, or a large enough group from anywhere in the organization, decides the old ways are not working, figures out a change vision, starts acting differently, and enlists others to act differently. If the new actions produce better results, if the results are communicated and celebrated, and if they are not killed off by the old culture fighting its rear-guard action, new norms will form and new shared values will grow.

The key takeaway is "enlisting others to act differently." Organizational change can't take place without convincing enough people to shift the norm. Dictating change from above and expecting it to stick will probably lead to limited results.

The Importance of a Strong Corporate Culture

How important is a corporate culture? John Coleman, writing for the Harvard Business Review, reports that "According to James L. Heskett, culture 'can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with "culturally unremarkable" competitors.'" He goes on to describe the six components which foster and support a strong corporate culture. They are as follows:

  1. Vision
  2. Values
  3. Practices
  4. People
  5. Narrative
  6. Place

Coleman analyzes each component in detail and provides excellent examples, so read the article in full.

Focusing on corporate organizational culture is worth the time and effort. Taking steps to change norms, rather than the specific behavior of specific people, can go a long way to creating a healthy and productive corporate culture.

Visit our section on Motivating Employees for helpful tips on fostering a positive work environment.

And don't forget to download our FREE Federal Labor Laws by Company Size Guide, an excellent resource for understanding the laws that apply to your company based on the number of employees you have.

Topics: Human Resources, Employee Health and Wellness

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