The Organizational Culture – What It Is Not?

In our series on Organizational Culture, we took a pip at What Organizational Culture is. Presently, we will see What it is not?

What Company Culture IS NOT?[1]

  • Secret Santa gift exchanges
  • Karaoke nights
  • Bean bag chairs
  • Nerf gun fights
  • Catered lunches
  • Cruises with your co-workers
  • Mashed potato sculpting contests judged by your auditors at Deloitte (yes, we really did this at Moz, and it was totally fun)

Those are fun things people who work together might have or do. They may be indicative of a certain type of workplace environment. They may even stem from the culture that’s been created. But, they are NOT company culture.

Presently, we will briefly see what is the subtle, but essential, difference between organizational culture and similar phrase which are colloquially used as synonyms.

Organizational Culture vs. Organizational Climate

Organisation climate reflects current atmosphere of the organisation in which the employees work. It provides opportunities to perform jobs according to the skills and a reward system which serves as motivators for employees. Organisation climate evolves according to needs of the organisation to adapt to the internal and external environment…Organisation climate focuses on current work practices of the organisation. These practices are defined within the values and norms of the organisation. However, the values and norms are defined by organisation culture…Organisation culture, on the other hand, reflects the atmosphere of the organisation which has evolved over a number of years…An organisation earns goodwill and reputation through its culture. It gives a feel of the organisation itself…A company known for its quality represents its culture and employer-employee relations in the company represents its climate.[2]

Organizational Culture vs. Organizational Environment

Organizational environments are composed of forces or institutions surrounding an organization that affect performance, operations, and resources. It includes all of the elements that exist outside of the organization’s boundaries and have the potential to affect a portion or all of the organization. Examples include government regulatory agencies, competitors, customers, suppliers, and pressure from the public. To manage the organization effectively, managers need to properly understand the environment.[3]

Organizational Culture vs. Employee Engagement.

In their minds, the term company culture is synonymous with free food, foosball tables, and other workplace perks deemed to improve the employee experience, increase satisfaction, and drive greater commitment to the company. Although there are widely recognized drivers of engagement that are independent of strategy or industry, the cultural drivers of success differ widely from company to company. The same behavior can drive success at one company while hampering success at another (see exhibit).

The key to unlocking performance via organizational culture is to align company culture to business priorities. This requires the selection of a “critical few” behaviors that enable the desired business outcomes. When these behaviors are coupled with structural and process changes that support them, the entirety of these changes have an impact on the employee experience. Using culture to drive performance thus requires emphasizing elements of the employee experience compatible with desired business outcomes and downplaying non-compatible elements. Whether the elements of the employee experience that drive performance also drive increased engagement is of secondary importance. Employee engagement should be regarded as a by-product of culture evolution efforts rather than a tangible goal of them.[4]

Organizational Culture vs. National Culture

National and organizational cultures are quite different phenomena: national cultures belong to anthropology, organizational cultures to sociology. Management can never change a national culture, it can only understand and use it. It can create and sometimes change an organizational culture. The concept of culture does not apply at the level of individuals. Individuals have personalities, only partly influenced by the culture in which they grew up…national culture differences are rooted in values learned before age 10; children learn them from parents who also acquired them before age ten, so they are quite stable and take generations to be changed….Organizational cultures are rooted in practices learned on the job, and they can change much faster.[5]

The Organizational Culture vs. Societal Culture

Whereas organizational culture refers to the norms, shared values, and expectations that determine the governing of a certain organization, societal culture defines the norms, expectations, and shared values of a society or a group of people living in a particular place governing them. For any given organization to run well, there organizational culture, societal culture and the leadership style must be in harmony.[6]

The Organizational Culture vs. Corporate Culture

In the simplest terms, corporate culture relates the for-profit organizations where ownership and executives are legally separated. Corporate cultures tend to emphasize ways of operating and functioning that lead to optimum profit. Different businesses and industries embody different cultural bents to meet strategies that work for them. For example, companies in industries like information technology and creative marketing often have cultures that emphasize employee freedom and creativity. Meanwhile, the banking industry tends toward more serious and structured cultures in part because financial institutions must keep strict controls and follow detailed protocols to comply with regulations.

As against this, non-profit corporate cultures may emphasize personal and social values more than efficiency and profitability.[7]

Organizational Culture vs. Organizational Context

The difference between Organizational culture and the organizational context is illustrated n=by using the metaphor of a house. The “roof” and the “foundation” can be understood as the organizational context. The ‘foundation’ is from where the organization has “come from” – the solid purpose for being, the mission, the core values, the key standards, value propositions and roles and rules of engagement.  The roof is where organization intends to “go to” – the vision pulling us toward the desired future, the goals, the objectives and priorities. And the middle of the house represents the organizational content – the human beings who are collaborating and communicating and coordinating with each other… and are doing so in a way that’s guided by the foundation and in service to the roof. The content is driven by the culture.[8]

[1] Let’s be clear; these things ARE NOT company culture: – Rand Fishkin

[2] Difference between Organisation Climate and Organisation Culture

[3] What is an Organizational Environment? – Definition & Theory

[4] Improving Company Culture Is Not About Providing Free Snacks

[5] National Cultures, Organizational Cultures, and the Role of Management

[6] Organizational Culture and Societal Culture

[7] Is There a Difference Between Organizational & Corporate Culture?

[8] Organizational Context = Culture