7 Organizational Culture Myths That Just Won’t go Away
What is your company culture?
I am not talking about the ethos illustrated in your employee handbook or the values entwined in a snappy acronym.
I am talking about the culture you live and breathe every day at work. The way people act, work, interact, share knowledge and picture themselves. Their infectious behaviors, definitions of failure and measures of success.
Simply thinking about the tangible side of organizational culture opens our eyes to not just its importance but also complexity. And whenever we try to oversimplify complex ideas, we inadvertently end up propagating myths.
Let’s explore some of the popular myths about organizational culture:
1. Personal values should be 100% aligned with the organization’s culture
Every organization has values that it propagates and expects its team to embrace. For example values such as trust, transparency, and humility are an important part of Taskworld’s culture. Zendesk is big on inclusivity and Apple on diversity. When companies hire and they screen for culture fit, they look for candidates that show traces of the company values.
It’s impractical however to assume that your company culture will resonate completely with all the employees. There would be aspects of organizational culture that might not inherently be part of your personality, and that’s completely normal. As long as you’re aware where the gap exists and work towards bridging it at work, it won’t be a problem. For example, someone might not be a very candid person in their personal life, but if being candid is a value that the company propagates, they can acknowledge the discrepancy and work towards adopting a more candid approach at work. They don’t have to change how they are in their private life.
Because instances of cultural misalignment at work are normal, employees should be encouraged to give feedback to each other if they notice opportunities for alignment. Similarly, employees should also not take such feedback personally because it’s not a reflection of who they are as a person but simply a specific behavior at work.
2. Culture is the management’s responsibility
If only managers talk about culture in your organization, it’s a red flag.
Culture isn’t a top-down phenomenon. It’s not something that can be written in a rule book and enforced at will. It has to evolve organically and emerge from within the organization. Every single team member is an equal custodian. The management’s role should be to communicate the company culture and then empower the team to own it, rather than acting as culture police.
Darrin Murriner in his blog post writes that culture isn’t created at the top – rather can be dictated by the aggregation of individual cultural preferences of the people that work every day in your culture.
To do that successfully, managers should encourage a safe environment where employees don’t feel scared to even call the CEO out if their behavior is inconsistent with the company culture.
At Taskworld, when we were working on creating a culture code, every single team member was involved in the process. This led to employees discarding some of the existing values and pitching in new ones. The process ensured that eventually the code was unanimously backed by the team.
3. Perks and incentives don’t play a big role
It’s often said that organizational culture is more than just perks and incentives. Incentives shouldn’t form the backbone of cultural change. They don’t play a vital role in driving massive cultural transformation.
While it’s true that organizational culture is more than just perks and incentives, they still play a critical role in its adoption.
The power of perks is that they’re tangible and their effect is easy to witness. That’s why if the perks and incentives aren’t aligned with your culture, people will be quick to notice that.
For example, trust is one of the defining values at Taskworld. We trust our team wholly, without any questions. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t question each others’ opinions. It means we don’t question each others’ intentions.
To create such a radical environment of uncompromising trust, our incentives need to be consistent. We can’t say we trust our team and then ask for a medical certificate if someone takes a sick leave. That’s why our policies around vacation days, remote work and travel reimbursements have one assumption in common – we trust our team 100%.
4. Culture is etched in stone
Culture by definition is a dynamic concept. It’s based around human behavior which changes with experience. Similarly, organizational culture is also not etched in stone. It will change as new ideas and people enter the company, whether intended or not.
That’s why it’s important to be proactive about cultural change than to wait for inconsistencies to arise. Hiring people with cultural fit minimizes the chances of major cultural changes, but some degree of change is inevitable.
Culture change can also be conscious and intended, as a reaction to market forces or internal emotional dissatisfaction. Continuously questioning the status quo and embracing new ideas is a sign of healthy company culture.
5. Culture alignment is uniform throughout the company
Culture alignment means how close the reality is to aspired organizational culture. Often when it comes to culture alignment, we start evaluating the organization as a whole. However, in most cases, the organization is a group of sub-cultures, that are aligned to the organizational culture in varying degrees.
For example, in a given month the sales team might be extremely motivated because they’re closing big deals. This intrinsic motivation fuels their appreciation and desire for upholding company values. At the same time, the engineering team might be going through a crunch phase and on the verge of burnout.
It’s important to understand each team’s subculture and see how aligned it is to the organizational culture. After this process is done for all the teams in the organization, more actionable ways to bridge the alignment gap will be revealed. This, in turn, would help the entire organization move towards its ideal culture.
6. Cultural change takes time
It’s often said that cultural change takes time, but it’s more of a blanket statement. It’s true that some cultural changes take a long time, many critical changes can happen overnight as well.
Certain important events such as new investors on board, change in management, industry slowdown can trigger cultural changes at a rapid rate. Although it’s mostly unplanned cultural changes that occur like wildfire, it doesn’t mean that all intended cultural changes would always take longer. It depends on how prepared the organization is for it.
It’s important to first build a general consensus about the change at the ground level, so it doesn’t feel like dictum. In today’s age, people, in general, are more comfortable with change than their predecessors.
7. Conflict harms culture
Ideal organizational culture is viewed by many to be a utopian zen-like state, devoid of failures, mistakes and above all conflicts.
Conflicts are a natural part of work. They often play an important role in introducing new ideas and upon resolution strengthening relationships at work. Not all conflicts are inherently unhealthy. It’s important to ensure that the subject of conflicts remains ideas and not people.