Clarifying the Elusive Concepts of Culture and Climate

Rob Cooke on culture

Culture experts and enthusiasts recently gathered in San Francisco for the 2nd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference. A theme of the day was that most leaders recognize culture as a critical factor for success, but it remains an elusive concept and has become an overused word. To kick off the conference, Tim Kuppler interviewed Rob Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics, to explore culture along with some related constructs (like climate) that are sometimes confused or used interchangeably with it.  Some of Rob’s answers to Tim’s questions are summarized here.

How Culture Really Works: Levers for Change

Businessman hand drawing with chalk gears mechanism as teamwork concept

Given that organization development consultants are fundamentally agents of change, it’s no surprise that many of the questions they ask us about our culture and climate surveys focus on levers for change.  Most recently, an attendee at the 1st Annual Ultimate Culture Conference submitted a note card asking, in reference to the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI) and my presentation on How Culture Really Works, “If you were to focus on one category of causal factors (structures, systems, etc.), which would you choose?”

An Updated Perspective on Engagement and Performance: Culture as the Centerpiece

Culture as the Centerpiece

Employee engagement remains a hot topic among organizational leaders and consultants, and is often regarded as an upstream indicator of organizational performance. Gallup’s nationwide survey of employee engagement found the percentage of U.S. employees engaged in their jobs averaged 31.5% in May 2015—about the same as for the year 2014. This result is of concern because it’s assumed that engaged employees are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work” and are “strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement”1.

With an estimated $720 million being spent annually on engagement2, why are these numbers so low? And why have some organizations found that, even when they have at least temporarily increased engagement, performance has not improved? More generally, what can leaders and consultants do to effect sustainable improvements in engagement and performance?

Create Constructive Cultures and Impact the World

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Over 30 years of research across thousands of organizations using the Organizational Culture Inventory® has shown positive relationships between Constructive cultural norms (that is, expectations for members to behave constructively in order to “fit in”) and motivation, engagement, teamwork, quality, external adaptability and, ultimately, profitability.

Constructive cultures are those in which members are encouraged to interact with people and approach tasks in ways that will help them meet their higher order satisfaction needs.  Constructive “norms” measured by the culture survey include:

  • Achievement—Members are expected to set challenging goals, establish plans to reach those goals, and pursue them with enthusiasm.
  • Self-Actualizing—Members are expected to enjoy their work, develop themselves, and take on new and interesting activities.
  • Humanistic-Encouraging—Members are expected to be supportive, helpful, and open to influence in their dealings with one another.
  • Affiliative—Members are expected to be friendly, cooperative, and sensitive to the satisfaction of their work group.