Article

Creating The Culture You Want To See In Your Company

By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners

Originally published by Forbes.com.

When Melissa Daimler, Chief Learning Officer at Udemy, and an expert on developing positive and productive company cultures, sat down to write a book on the topic, she had already reviewed every book, article, and research paper she could get her hands on dedicated to the subject. One thing that stood out to her was a growing frustration building as she read the many definitions of “organizational culture.” Too many treated it as a nebulous, undefined thing that sat solely in HR’s domain.

In her view, there was not enough that existed on the topic of intentionally designing culture in a workplace—and, as if to mirror that desire for intentionality, she went out and wrote that book herself. The result is ReCulturing: Design Your Company Culture to Connect with Strategy and Purpose for Lasting Success.

Daimler uses systems thinking as a backdrop to managing culture in an organization, positing that culture isn’t just a one-off initiative but is deeply and intrinsically linked with an organization’s operational system and greater purpose. (In layman’s terms: it’s what drives a business forward.)

In her book, Daimler shares some practical know-how on taking a systems approach to designing company culture at organizations large and small.

What IS culture, anyway?

While culture can be a hard-to-grasp concept when it comes to the day-to-day, Daimler breaks it down pretty cleanly: “Strategy is what we’re working on. Culture is how we’re working. And purpose is why we’re working.”

Designing culture from the top-down with careful attention to what you’re trying to achieve is something she’s seen directly at work great cultures like Twitter and Adobe. At the same time, that lack of focus and intention is a missing piece at places like WeWork, where she previously served as SVP of Talent.

“I would often sit down with a business leader and talk about where we were going strategically,” she said. “But that conversation would naturally link to organizational design and structure, what skills its people needed, and how these would help the company achieve its purpose. All the pieces are interconnected.”

How company cultures go awry

Of course, for all the examples of positive workplace cultures out there, there is no lack of examples of cultures that are less than ideal. Daimler sees this, in part, as a reflection of the lack of understanding of what a culture really is.

“I think people tend to define culture as just a list of values written on a wall or website. That it’s a project to define those values, and once it’s done it’s never reviewed again, and simply relegated to HR.”

The path toward a healthy company culture starts with linking their values to an active set of behaviors, which is an important step that many organizations fail to take.

“Culture is more of a verb than a noun,” she explains. “The development of culture goes beyond defining your values—it’s codifying them in behaviors and how you make them show up in processes and practices.” Companies with cultures that are lacking often don’t take this next step, which can be instilled across the organization, from hiring and onboarding to promoting and giving feedback.

It’s never too late for a company to right the ship, Daimler points out (using sailing metaphors in her book to help describe systems thinking). Awareness is often the first step—we all make mistakes, and leaders identifying that they were made goes a long way toward laying down a new foundation.

How company cultures go awry

Of course, for all the examples of positive workplace cultures out there, there is no lack of examples of cultures that are less than ideal. Daimler sees this, in part, as a reflection of the lack of understanding of what a culture really is.

“I think people tend to define culture as just a list of values written on a wall or website. That it’s a project to define those values, and once it’s done it’s never reviewed again, and simply relegated to HR.”

The path toward a healthy company culture starts with linking their values to an active set of behaviors, which is an important step that many organizations fail to take.

“Culture is more of a verb than a noun,” she explains. “The development of culture goes beyond defining your values—it’s codifying them in behaviors and how you make them show up in processes and practices.” Companies with cultures that are lacking often don’t take this next step, which can be instilled across the organization, from hiring and onboarding to promoting and giving feedback.

It’s never too late for a company to right the ship, Daimler points out (using sailing metaphors in her book to help describe systems thinking). Awareness is often the first step—we all make mistakes, and leaders identifying that they were made goes a long way toward laying down a new foundation.

Share

Previous:

Career Stewardship: Five Ways to Invest in Your Career Right Now

Next:

Cultivate Resilience: How to Get Back on the Horse

Subscribe for
Leadership Updates