What is Culture?

culture2Continuing with our theme on “culture,” and how it drives continuous improvement, let’s take a closer look at defining the term.

Among a sea of individuals doing very different things every day and every year, culture is a thread of commonality. Culture is both everywhere yet nowhere in particular. We cannot see it when we zoom in to an individual or a specific action, but we know it is there.

Here are a few definitions from our Partners Forum as well as from published sources:

  • Culture is “the way we’ve always done it”
  • It is our behavior
  • A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization [Webster’s Dictionary]
  • Culture is self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing. [Booz & Company]
  • Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. [Shawn Parr in Fast Company]

It is not easy to measure, but our Partner organizations have measured indicators of culture.

One organization focuses on strengthening and maintaining a culture of helpfulness. The CEO has explained that “helpfulness is who we are” and they have trained people in what behaviors a helpful culture provides.

Others have described their organizations as having “a culture of innovation,” or “a culture of caring.”

Alternatively, some employ annual surveys of both customers and employees to evaluate the strength of their culture of treating everyone — customers, co-workers, and business partners — with care and respect.

Connecting the dots, however it is that an organization defines its culture, it is important to align that culture with their business strategies and continuous improvement effort.