In my previous post, I discussed the importance of proactively leading the organisational culture, rather than letting it evolve to whichever direction it takes. In this post, I would like to explain this “fluffy” concept and why it is so important for any organisation, let alone for start-ups.

what is culture?

There are many definitions of organisational culture; all are based on the same notion that the organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that “glues” (integrates) people and dictates their behaviours. In specific:

  • Culture is how things are done in the organisation.
  • Culture influences both the individual’s thinking and behaviours- it promotes what is “right” in the organisation and sanctions what is “wrong”.
  • Culture is a process of “sense-making” that helps employees interpret what’s going on in the organisation and provides the basis for alignment of purpose and actions.
  • The organizational culture is influenced by the national culture it operates within.
  • The role of culture is to protect the organisation (like the immune system of the human body). As such, it sometimes can take the wrong direction and work against the company.
  • Culture is a dynamic concept; it can and should change throughout the organisational lifecycle. Management can proactively lead and shape the culture as the organisation evolves.

So, whether you are aware of your company’s culture or not, this “fluffy” concept really makes the difference between success and failure. It can support or hinder the implementation of new initiatives, the achievement of company goals and hence its growth.

Why is culture important?

Organisations often like to conduct SWOT analysis. They analyse the internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. Applying this same concept to culture provides an understanding of why culture is so important and shouldn’t be left unmanaged. While the organisational culture cannot directly influence external opportunities and threats, it does impact how the team reacts to and manages interactions with the external environment as well as how it operates internally.

Organisational culture shapes interactions with the external environment:

  • The culture influences the brand image of the organization.
  • The culture affects the ability of the company to compete in the market.
  • Attitudes and behaviors towards stakeholders- what employees consider being appropriate behaviors and how they interact with clients, suppliers, investors and other stakeholders stem from the organisational culture.
  • The capacity and receptiveness to change and adapt to the external environment are determined by the culture.

The way things are done internally influence performance and productivity:

  • A healthy culture encourages employees to stay motivated, engaged and be loyal. It inspires initiatives, innovation, collaboration and sets everyone to work towards the same goals.
  • The culture guides decision making and people performance across all the organisational levels.
  • How people interact with each other is an important part of the culture.
  • How individuals and teams deal with deadlines, mistakes, challenges and the day to day work is set by the culture.
  • The speed and efficiency with which tasks get done are also influenced by the culture.

In other words, culture can be seen as the internal threats and opportunities of organisations.

Once you get the right culture, it drives great results. If start-ups get it wrong, the culture can hinder success and risk sustainability, as the window of opportunities is short.

There is no perfect culture, but there are cultural characteristics that can support or hinder success. In the next post, I will focus on cultural threats in start-ups and provide practical examples of what is “bad” or “wrong” culture? What could it lead to? What are the signs to watch for?

Following in this series of post I will focus on the opportunities cultures provide and how to positively build your culture and constantly change it to enable growth and success.

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Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.