Your Culture Under a Microscope: Diagnose

Editor's Note: Today we welcome our guest, Mollie Lombardi. This is the first in a 3 part series about workplace culture under a microscope. Next, check out part 2, Your Culuture Under A Microscope: Align

The word “culture” when it comes to workplace communities can have many different expectations and definitions.  But while it’s a concept that’s hard to define, it’s very easy to feel. Whether or not we have the words to describe it, every society, group or workplace has a culture that deeply influences the behaviors and outcomes of everything that each entity tries to accomplish. So, what do we do to harness the power of culture, while we simultaneously struggle to define it?

That’s the core question for this blog series. To answer it, we’re going to: (1) look at how you can diagnose the health of your culture; (2) discuss aligning your technology solutions with your culture; and (3) talk about the role of leaders in maintaining and communicating culture.

Diagnosing Your Culture

I am asked all the time, how do you shape, change, or build a culture? I don’t think it’s something that can be created by one individual; it’s something that exists in the context of relationships. I think an organizational culture is more like a bacterial culture that you’d find in a petri dish. It’s up to us as leaders to put that culture under a microscope and make a diagnosis. It’s either something beneficial that you need to feed and amplify to create more of it to power your organization. Or it’s toxic and requires intervention that will starve it of light and air so that it can do no more harm. Although you can change behaviors or set expectations, it’s very hard to waive a magic wand and create a whole new culture.

So, if a culture needs to be diagnosed, how do we go about that? There are 3 key questions I encourage you to think about (and then answer) before diagnosing your culture.

1. Does it support your business strategy?

We have all heard the expression that “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and it’s true, because strategy without execution will fail, and the secret to sustained execution is alignment and communication. This type of alignment and communication cannot exist in a toxic culture. Culture must always be strong enough not merely to allow people to execute, but to actively encourage them to do so--in the right ways.

2. Does it set clear expectations?

Aptitude Research Partners defines culture as the collective set of behaviors we exhibit in the workplace. As leaders, we often believe that we’ve communicated norms and expectations clearly, but the data actually shows we’re unlikely to be doing as good a job as we think. Recent Aptitude Research data found that just 38% of organizations feel that their employees and leaders would describe their organizational culture in the same way. This is a wide gap, and in order to close it, leaders must define the formal processes and ensure that the informal processes do not undermine expectations.

3. Is it strong enough to self-correct?

You might ask, what is a strong culture? A strong culture doesn’t let people get away with violating its norms. Remember, a culture is about both the formal processes and the daily interactions of an organization. A strong culture rarely needs to reference the formal processes because the day-to-day behavior will not tolerate deviance from expectations. This kind of culture creates both expectations and consequences for people who violate norms. It teaches people what to expect of each other, and makes it easier to hold each other to that standard.

So, ask yourself these three questions, and diagnose whether your culture is one that requires more amplification, or if parts of it should be denied oxygen. And then return to read the next two articles in this blog series to learn how you can align your organization around your culture and what role leaders need to play in maintaining a strong culture.

Mollie Lombardi is a researcher, writer, and speaker focused on the intersection of human capital strategies, technologies, and processes. Her work has appeared in such publications as Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Inc. and other industry trade publications. Her main focus is primary research aimed at helping individuals and organizations blend efficiency, engagement, inclusion, and performance through the use of technology. She Is Co-founder of Aptitude Research Partners, and has held a number of leadership roles at industry analyst firms. 

Follow Mollie on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Be sure to check out her website