Back to Basics: What Is Organizational Culture?

October 21, 2021 Mike Lovett

five coworkers looking at a laptopOrganizational culture is the omni-present drumbeat to a company. It is its beliefs and values, the philosophy of its leaders, and the experiences of its employees. It is a general feeling of the environment. You could even call it “the vibe” of the company.

At its best, an organization’s culture should help its employees succeed. That is a very general definition, but as we will see, organizational culture comes in all shapes and sizes. No matter what kind of organizational culture you have, improving it won’t be done by accident or with time.You can only cultivate a culture of inclusion, empathy, and connection with purpose. And in this edition of Back to Basics, we’re going to learn how to do it.

Why is organizational culture important?

Company culture has been an important factor for prospective employees for years. Following the aftermath of COVID-19; frank discussions about race, biases, and equity; and millennials and Generation Z beginning to overtake the workforce, you can be certain that sentiment isn’t going anywhere. If you want to lead a company that people want to work for, a strong organizational culture is table stakes.

Organizational culture will reach every aspect of your business. It will influence employee engagement and productivity and have a massive bearing on retention and turnover. If employees feel like the office environment has their back, giving them the tools and resources they need to do their job to the best of their ability, they will do just that.

The collective effect is equally powerful. Your organizational culture can strengthen your brand identity. For new hires, it will be one of the first and most important impressions they get. If you have a strong organizational culture, employees are more likely to begin their tenure on the right foot, easing into what can be a stressful transition.

Organizational culture is important because, at its peak, you’re instilling confidence in your employees; you’re giving them a purpose; and you’re getting the best out of them. As a company, that is about as much as you can hope for.

What are the types of organizational culture?

The cop out answer is that there are infinite types of organizational culture. Every company will have its own. But broadly, there are a few categories that many organizational cultures fall into. Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron from the University of Michigan researched the types of company cultures that emerged when organizational culture became a serious area of focus in the early 80s.

The four organizational cultures Cameron and Quinn identified are:

1. Clan culture – the people-oriented, friendly Collaborate Culture. A clan culture emphasizes development and puts a premium on building relationships and morale. In a clan culture, leaders are looked to as mentors, and teamwork and participation are vital to its success.

2. Hierarchy culture – the process-oriented, structured Control Culture. A hierarchal culture is formalized and structured. Pride is taken in organization and frictionless efficiency. Reliability, planning, and on eye on stability and results are what drive success in this type of environment.

3. Market culture – the results-oriented, competitive Compete Culture. Competition is the name of the game in this type of organization. Success is determined by competitive pricing, market share, and market leadership. Measurable targets and goals aren’t unique to this type of culture, but they are a way of life here.

4. Adhocracy culture – the dynamic, entrepreneurial Create Culture. Perhaps the most fluid culture, an adhocracy culture is dynamic and creative. It promotes initiative and freedom. Employees are encouraged to take risks and think boldly, and seek to be pioneers in their field. Releasing new products or services and setting new trends are what define success here.

How do you improve company culture?

Improving company culture is an endless task. Every company can always stand to get better. If you’re a company in the thick of your own Great Resignation, maybe you’re looking to get back to square one. Or maybe you just want a refresher of the fundamentals to see where you could improve.

In essence, it all comes down to communication. Ask yourself these questions: Are you being transparent in how you communicate to your employees? Are you listening to the concerns and ideas they are communicating to you? Are you communicating feedback in a respectful and constructive way? Are you consistent in this communication?

It’s not enough to chalk up the entirety of organizational culture to a handful of questions, but when you ask yourself these questions over and over, they will help push company decisions, policies, and, yes, the entire organizational culture in a more productive direction.


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About the Author

Mike Lovett

Mike is a senior content marketing specialist at Workhuman where he writes about the next era of the workplace. Outside the workplace, he’s an avid gardener, a frequent biker, a steadily improving chef, and a fantasy sports fanatic.