All organizations have a culture whether or not it is purposefully developed. Workplace culture shapes the values, beliefs, and actions of employees at all levels of an organization. It has the power to drive success and recruit talent, or it can create a toxic environment that leads to failure. Given the impact of culture on an organization’s wellbeing, leaders must be purposeful in cultivating an authentic workplace culture that addresses its unique needs and goals. The following will discuss the features of an authentic workplace culture and how it can be developed and sustained to drive your organization in the right direction.
Workplace culture is a broad concept with a variety of applications that depend on the specificities of each unique organization. What is important is that it shapes how all organizations function. The SHRM article, “Understanding and Developing Organizational Culture,” states, “An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization,” adding, “When an organization has a strong culture, three things happen: Employees know how top management wants them to respond to any situation, employees believe that the expected response is the proper one, and employees know that they will be rewarded for demonstrating the organization’s values.” In other words, a strong workplace culture unites each member of an organization under common values and goals and leads to a clear understanding of expectations. Importantly, the strongest workplace cultures are authentic to the true values and goals of its people. This is why a workplace’s culture should not be left to develop by chance.
So, how does one go about purposefully developing an authentic workplace culture? For answers, we turn to the Forbes article, “Cultivating an Authentic Workplace Culture,” by Debbie Ince. In this article, Ince defines what she refers to as the “cornerstone,” “keystone,” and “capstone” of authentic workplace culture. These key features are discussed below:
The “cornerstone” of authentic workplace culture is the core values of the organization and its people. This can include their purpose, vision, goals, and ethical principles. Ince states that leaders must clearly define the core values of the organization and create objectives that align with these values. She also states that “The CEO and executive leadership team must embody the corporate culture and model the core values,” because, “Employees don’t care what you say, they watch how you behave.” It is impossible for organizations to have an authentic culture when those at the top fail to practice what they preach.
The “keystone” of authentic workplace culture has to do with hiring the right people for the right positions. Ince states, “Leadership changes, shifts in strategy, as well as recruitment of new talent, and the inevitable movement of employees into different departments can impact your company’s culture over time.” This is why it is crucial to make such decisions with the organizations core values and culture top of mind. Ince suggests a methodical recruitment and selection process that involves meeting with candidates in various settings, using behavioral interviews and assessment tools, and inviting them to social engagements to determine whether they naturally align with the organization’s culture. That said, it is important to hire for “culture adds,” not “culture fits,” meaning that new hires should share the organization’s core vision and values while offering fresh and unique perspective that will allow the organization to thrive in an ever changing world. An authentic workplace culture does not eliminate diversity of thought. Instead, it promotes a diverse workforce that employs many talents, perspectives, and ideas to accomplish a unified goal.
Finally, the “capstone” of authentic workplace culture is “communicating and celebrating traditions and milestones.” Ince recommends creating opportunities for employees to display cultural unity. This can include celebrating organizational achievements, recognizing outstanding performance, and hosting fun events for employees and their families. This allows employees to both feel like and be valued, heard, and included members of their organization and its vision.
To summarize, all organizations have a culture that shapes the way it functions. Given the power of an organization’s culture to bring about great success or catastrophic failure, it is imperative that organizational leaders deliberately cultivate a culture that embodies their core values and goals. An authentic workplace culture allows all members of an organization to use their unique skills and perspectives to promote values and achieve goals. It leads to a genuine sense of belonging, commitment, and satisfaction among employees and pushes an organization towards the realization of a shared vision.