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What is culture?

In my 18+ years of strategic advising, I’ve seen so many variations of how people interpret the word. My conclusion? The word culture means everything and nothing. It’s a flexible word we can use as we wish. It is used by senior management and communicators to inspire people. HR specialists use the concept to help guide hiring decisions. Advisors and consultants say they can help you shape your culture.

In my own Foundational Framework for Organizations in the Digital Age, I defined nine dimensions which I used to interpret the self-assessments of survey participants. Culture was one of them. I broke Culture into three parts: overall organizational culture, work practices and trust. Here are the details:

Culture: Attitudes, behaviors, styles and expectations.

Overall organizational culture based on 6 criteria:

  • Team-oriented vs. individually competitive work styles and behavior
  • Primarily open vs. primarily closed information systems
  • Entrepreneurial vs. follow absolute compliance to rules
  • Strong, shared vs. inconsistent, unclear sense of organizational purpose and identity
  • Open, reactive to influence of external world vs. closed environment, little interest in external world
  • Willingness to take risks vs risk averse

Work practices

  • Business goals and plans are communicated throughout the organization.
  • People feel free to give input to business goals and plans.
  • People freely challenge ideas including our business model and work practices.

Trust

  • Organizational trust: peers, people elsewhere in the organizations, local management, global/corporate management