The question(s) of culture

The question(s) of culture

The question of how we measure culture, or even put our finger on the culture of an organisation isn’t a simple one. For many years organisations have mistakenly believed that measuring engagement was measuring culture, but I don’t believe these two metrics are the same.

Engagement might tell us how engaged or connected we are to elements of organisational culture, but it doesn’t tell us what that culture actually is, or how successful that culture is in helping organisations and the people in them reach their goals.

How to understand and measure culture is not a simple topic, for at least the last decade proactive organisations have been considering their culture, how people are experiencing their workplace and how they can maintain whatever they’ve identified their culture to be. 

But, do we actually know what it is we’re trying to maintain? Since founding Ignite Culture Consulting almost three years ago I’ve spoken to countless leaders across the Hunter and beyond all concerned about culture. The questions I’ve heard range from;

  • ‘How do we maintain our culture now that we’re working remotely?’ 
  • ‘How do we help people to feel connected to our culture now that we’ve shifted to hybrid work?’ 
  • ‘How do people experience culture when they don’t want to come back to the office?’
  • ‘How do we keep our culture when we’re growing really rapidly?’, 
  • ‘How do we keep our culture when we’re cutting back on staffing?’

Questions of culture are ones I love to answer, and over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with leaders and organisations to build, refocus or refine cultures in a range of industries. How I do this has evolved over time, but it’s fair to say that nothing has influenced me more than the culture questions posted by Brené Brown.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene talks extensively about culture, what it actually is and how people experience the culture of a workplace. 

Brene recommends that organisations ask 10 questions to help identify the culture and how it’s experienced. The questions are;

💫 What behaviours are rewarded or punished?

💫 Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?

💫 What rules and expectations are followed, forced, and ignored?

💫 Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?

💫 What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?

💫 What stories are legend and what values do they convey?

💫 What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?

💫 How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?

💫 How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?

💫 What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalised, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

Start by answering one or two, the ones that feel most relate to where you’re at as an organisation.

It might be uncomfortable, but remember, that’s usually where growth happens!  Identifying what your culture actually is is a vital part of knowing how to maintain it, scale it and have it experienced in the day to day of your people and teams. 

And, if culture is on your to-do list but you’re not sure where to start, there are lots of great Hunter based businesses (including my own!) ready to help guide you on your journey!

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