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  • Matt Raskin

Decoding & Defining "Culture"

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

Mock Culture 

Think about how many times we've heard or said these statements:

"Our culture makes us special." 

"They are a great culture fit."

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast." 

"Our culture is unique." 

"Our culture is our secret weapon."

We often observe or make these statements with blind acceptance, strong bias, and minimal definition - yet we accept them as a foundation. We leverage culture as an evaluation tool for hiring, promoting, or terminating employees. The scary part is, most of us don't fully understand what we are discussing.

For example, "They are a great culture fit!"

  • What does culture fit mean? Why?

  • What does good vs. bad fit look like? Why? 

  • How do we define the word fit? Why?

  • How does our culture impact customers/employees/company? Why?

  • What behaviors contribute to our culture? Why? 

  • What behaviors distract from our culture? Why? 

  • How do our values direct employee behaviors? Why? 

  • How does fitting our culture impact the performance of our company?  

Unpacking and understanding the culture of our organization can be tricky work. The following sections help us clarify and articulate our culture and the behaviors that help it grow.  

Culture: What are the behaviors? 

Our behaviors are everything within an organization. Our behaviors shape company performance, customer experiences, and an organization's health. Everything comes down to behaviors - yet we often don't identify the behaviors we expect or need within our company. 

Let's think about three behaviors we need to facilitate the culture we want within our organization? 

Key Behavior One

  • What is the behavior? 

  • Why does it matter? 

  • How does it contribute to the companies performance? Why?

  • How does it build the companies culture? Why 

Key Behavior Two

  • What is the behavior? 

  • Why does it matter? 

  • How does it contribute to the companies performance? Why?

  • How does it build the companies culture? Why?

Key Behavior Three

  • What is the behavior? 

  • Why does it matter? 

  • How does it contribute to the companies performance? Why?

  • How does it build the companies culture? Why?

Defining key behaviors helps us clarify expectations to select, promote, coach, or potentially terminate employees according to the organization's behavioral expectations. To build unique cultures & performance, we need to ensure that everyone understands and experiences the key behaviors expected within our organization. 

Culture: What it isn't...

Organizational culture is not defined by things; our behaviors define our culture. Free soda, snacks, or table tennis are simply objects that represent the physical space where an organization might work. How employees engage with these items (or don't) becomes a better definition for an organization's culture. Our culture is a reflection of our behaviors, not the accumulation of things in an office. This truth will continue to expand as more organizations shift to remote & distributed teams where physical rituals become less normalized. 

Cultural Contribution vs. Cultural Fit

We found that cultural fit was often associated with social rituals and not key behaviors that help grow organizations. We also found that cultural fit was more often associated with substantial bias levels in people who often feel comfortable with individuals like them or who share similar interests or hobbies. 

We started asking hiring managers for behaviors that contributed to the organization's growth. We heard less about happy hours and more about intellectual curiosity, the ability to research solutions, and proactive communication. These behaviors became critical to building stronger teams and selecting talent, which better contributed to a companies performance and culture.  

Let's take a moment to think about our organization and the difference between cultural fit and cultural contribution. 

  • Cultural Fit: What do you think of?

  • Cultural Contribution: What do you think of?

Defining the right contributions helps create clarity surrounding the behaviors that matter most to our organization's culture. Understanding our cultural contribution is a great place to slow down, provide time for reflection, and identify the right behaviors. 

Culture: Preservation vs Growth 

Preserving an organization's culture can seem like the right thing to do, but it can prove much more damaging than individuals think. Maintaining a culture focuses on keeping established norms and limits growth. Maintenance can reduce the value surrounding innovation, growth, and development. By preserving our culture, we assume we have met our organization's apex, and this is the best we can do as a company. In all things, there is only progression or regression - maintenance is generally a comfortable status of regression. We can't say we want to grow our organization but are only interested in preserving our culture (behaviors).  

Growing our culture doesn't mean that we abandon behaviors that are foundational to the organization. Growing our culture focuses on evaluating behaviors to ensure they are needed for our next phase. Growing our culture helps us focus on behaviors that got the organization to its current status, but may prove to be less effective in driving the organization forward in the future.  

Thinking about our organization... 

  • What behaviors got us to this point? Why? 

  • What behaviors will help us grow? Why? 

  • What behaviors will negatively impact our growth? Why? 

Growing culture isn't about abandonment, it is about intentionality, focus, and alignment.   

Moving Forward 

Remember, it is all about our behaviors and our willingness to grow and evolve as an organization. The more we choose to define, articulate, share, and grow our culture, the more people we can include in our organization's journey. 


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