A measure of culture

A measure of culture

A measure of culture

When humans first thought to commit themselves to something, they adopted a culture in the form of a sign, later a signature, to endorse their agreement. The symbol, sometimes a crest, denoted the culture. It often had a motto linked to it. It became the endorsement of the person, family or organisation to which it was related. The culture of a business is today as important as any aspect of its commercial cycle. It is visible through many means. Its logo is the modern crest.

Culture is behaviour that pervades an organisation and propels the individuals working in it. Good cultures enhance the lives of those who are part of them. Bad cultures do the opposite, in the process rotting the organisation to which they are related. No culture is perfect, none irredeemable. Ask anyone and they will say they want a good culture for their organisation.

When culture is truly recognised as an advantage, it works. When paid only lip service to, it fails. Employees, investors, customers, suppliers, followers are sensitive enough to know the genuine from the phony. The odd thing is that the top people often don’t. Why is that? How can people outside see what someone in control cannot? What is the true measure of culture?

Unfortunately there is no one measure, no quick scoresheet that will reveal the culture of an organisation. That is because culture is a complex and subtle asset, a soft-skill, not an easily-defined hard and fast feature. It is, if you like, a somewhat modern painting where your own input is as important as the artist’s output. Recognising and identifying culture needs training.

This is especially true when the issue is one of belief rather than of scientific proof. The culture of a pen is its size, length, ability to write and ease of handling. There is much science behind the construction of a pen. But there is also a culture – design, name, presentation, cost, associations with success and greatness. How a pen ‘dresses’ matters a lot. If the culture of a pen is integrated more consumers will buy. If a pen’s ‘integrity’ is destroyed, its sales will decline.

The measure of any organisation is the people in it. How they are seen by outsiders is one of the biggest contributions to its culture. If they appear superior, bombastic, arrogant and aloof the organisation’s culture will be regarded as dirt. Whether their behaviour is actually good or bad, such display will destroy the culture however hard those within try to put it right.

If the outward appearance is modest, listening, humble and sensitive, even though there are a few rotten apples in the organisation, it will be seen as trying to correct itself, making a bona fide attempt to reform. Whether Facebook or Faith, poor cultures are seen for what they are, attempts at exploitation for short-term gratification at the expense of long-term reliability. A rotten apple here or there is human nature. A cider-vat stinks.

Here are a few questions a boss should ask herself or himself from time to time:

# Have I abused my power to harm others?
# Have I abused my authority to make others do what they don’t think is right?
# Have I professed my innocence when I have been guilty?
# Have I made every reasonable attempt at reparation for any failings towards others?
# Am I living the truth now even if I wasn’t before?
# Am I committed to helping anyone I may have harmed to recover from the damage I did?
# Am I committed to developing a culture of excellent behaviour, compassion and care?

You may be confused. Am I talking about the culture of a business or of some other, more ethereal, sort of organisation? The answer is ‘yes’ – which may be not quite what you expected.

Because organisations of all sorts have cultures. Wickedness in any of them is unacceptable.

A culture of good behaviour is the only acceptable one.