What’s Your Culture?

Author’s note: this is part of a long blog series on corporate culture.  Feel free to look back on previous blogs to explore previous material on evaluating, changing and establishing your corporate culture within the business context.

Every organization has a culture. Your culture, good or bad, seen or unseen, is what keeps your organization together and functioning.

For a business, the original culture reflected the entrepreneurial owners and their personal views. Regardless of the industry they were in, these company founders’ preferences were the culture they created.  It was this culture that drove the employees to work for the owners and produce the product they were selling.  This culture was exemplified in the name of the business, the look of the logo, the location of the first office, and the feel of their stationery.  For many businesses, this original culture has never changed despite the original ownership being long gone.

Additionally, various business segments have their own traditional culture.

Think of the attitude created by a law firm or bank, and how it is to promote ethics, high reputation, sophistication, community leadership, confidence and accountability (these are generalities of course). Immediately you think of an elegant office, all men in coat and tie, and the traditional solemn atmosphere.

For the other extreme, think of a website designer’s office. The last one I was in had loud music, computers scattered across various desks, idea spaces haphazardly spread out where their creative ideas were born.  Your sense is of a place were innovation comes from, ideas are born and you expect the unexpected.

Each place of business has a culture whether they like it or not, and that culture has a direct impact on their employees, their clients, and their viability as a business.

As a business leader, I was slow to appreciate that this “culture” is a bigger factor in a business’s success than I originally thought. Originally, I felt, as many do I’m sure, that the organization’s culture is what it is and should be of little concern.  But in reality, this “culture” causes people to want to work for your business, causes clients to trust you, and allows you to be profitable.  If I want to keep my business successful, I need to be aware of that culture and how I influence that culture.

Before going into how to know and understand your culture, I want to look at Deuteronomy 24:14:

 “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.”

Moses just freed the Israelites from the Egyptian oppression. This is a culture of people who have not been free for 400 years.  Their culture was of slavery, bondage, oppression.  All decisions were made for them by their masters.  They had no understanding what life was like when you had the ability to choose, to agree or not, or to treat people the way they deserved to be treated.

Moses had a lot of training to do to get these newly freed Israelites to change from a culture of bondage to that of freedom. This verse is one of his rules teaching these people how to rightly treat employees.

For our purpose, Moses is telling the Israelites to understand the culture of their employees. They may be fellow Israelites with a culture similar to their own or they may be foreigners with a completely different culture.  But, despite their culture, they are to be treated with respect and that is to be incorporated into the new culture of the Israelites. We can make the same changes in our businesses.