What makes certain actions and words acceptable to some but offensive to others? There are a few answers to this question! One answer is the culture in which the person who is speaking or taking the action is operating in. Culture is one of three c-words that will be discussed in this post.
Often when culture is mentioned, the following definitions come to mind (source: Dictionary.com):
1. quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period.
However, there are different types of culture. As examples, the Urban Dictionary points out that material culture refers to physical objects, such as dwellings, clothing, tools and crafts. There is also culture that includes arts, beliefs, knowledge, and technology.
The definition of culture that most likely answers the question in the first paragraph is described along these lines:
– Socially transmitted patterns of action and expression. [Urban Dictionary]
– Learned patterns of actions and behavior. [Urban Dictionary]
– Behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: e.g. the youth culture; the drug culture. [Dictionary.com]
More specifically, organizational culture is the type of culture that promotes certain customs, rituals, and values that are shared by the members of a group or organization. Strategy + Business defines organizational culture as the self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing that determine how things are done within a company. This is where one finds behavior for specific words (or dog whistles), statements and/or actions and any new members to the group are expected to embrace these as acceptable going forward. In fact, these customs, rituals, and values must be embraced by a new member. If not, he/she won’t be a member for long or is bound to meet strong resistance from others in the group.
Once you gain a better understanding of the culture of a workplace, sorority, professional association, educational institutional, and even a religious institution, you will better understand why members within these groups say and do what they say and do. In most cases, it is because the culture expects it and/or allows it.
In her HBR post, Culture Trumps Strategy, Everytime, Nilofer Merchant reminds us the relationship between culture and strategy: It is the stuff that gets things done! It is also the stuff that makes sure that things don’t get done!
She goes on to say, “After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner. The “how” matters in how we get performance. Yes, it does.”
Up until now, I’ve primarily talked about culture. Here are two more c-words that one may hear in a conversation about an organization’s culture:
- Complicit (adjective): choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.
- Collusion (noun): a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy: e.g. Some of his employees were acting in collusion to rob him.
These two words have been used often over the past two years in discussions about U.S. political figures, however, complicit behavior and collusion are not restricted to politics, elected officials and/or their staff. What you should not miss are the elements of an organization’s culture that may create opportunities for complicit behavior and collusion to occur.
Many Americans spend more time at work than they do with family members. Most employees are not faulted for wanting that next promotion, a special bonus, salary increase, or some other workplace perk(s). The issue is not that we want these things, but how the organization rewards or grants them. Is the reward system based on fairness and unquestionable movement of the bottom line? Is hard work or friendships rewarded? Another thing to look for is how employees of the company, which also includes supervisors and managers, go about achieving the organization’s as well as their own personal and professional goals and objectives. Are business communications frequent and clear to all employees? Is there transparency between what is said and done?
I plan to discuss one or more of these three c-words in future posts. In the meantime, keep this question in mind: In the spirit of being a good employee or friend, how far would you be willing to go to help your buddy or boss?
This post was updated on 09.07.2018 at 5:00 a.m. EDT.