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What is and What isn’t Culture

Culture of work


The word has been a buzzword in different industries, with the phrase ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ by Peter Drucker, also laying heavy emphasis on culture.

But why does it matter?

Culture is one of the single most important contributors to a company’s performance. Companies are beginning to realise that it gives a competitive advantage as the right culture improves employer branding, fosters productivity and increases retention of the right people.

Good company culture sets companies apart from their competitors, and puts them ahead in the talent war, and improves their brand. In the reverse, the wrong culture is toxic and can send signals to teams, leading to people exiting companies in high numbers.

In the early stages of a startup’s life, the founders dictate the culture. In most cases, nearly every employee has some direct contact with the founders and emulates their behaviour. However, as startups expand, the culture starts to evolve past the founders. At this point, it is crucial to create a foundation that supports desirable behaviours and choices.

So What Is and What Isn’t Culture?

These days, a lot of companies have great perks to sweeten the deal - free lunches, fitness memberships, power nap areas, game rooms, and lots more. While these are ‘awesome-to-haves’, and can help in shaping culture; they are not culture in itself. Also, great pay isn’t culture too. Instead, they are byproducts of a well designed (or not) culture plan.

Culture is often referred to as the way a company reveals itself through values, social behaviours, rituals, actions, ideas, and beliefs. It is a mix of tangible and intangible things, that people within an organisation ‘just know’ and ‘just do’, that determine what’s encouraged, what’s rejected, what’s in, what’s out, and sets the environment for work. In layman’s terms, ‘how we do things here’.

An uncommon definition of culture, which is appropriate and serves as a check, is that culture is what you reward and punish. Pause and do a quick assessment. Who are those that are successful in your company? What about their behaviour and competence makes them successful? How would people, individually, describe the culture in the company? Do they feel included? Can they express themselves? Culture, what?

There is always a disparity between what Founders and the people think the culture is, for those who haven’t defined and designed theirs.

What’s Culture Got To Do With It?

There is a difference between knowing what culture is and knowing what to do about it. Once you know your culture, you can deliberately influence every ‘people’ area - from recruiting and onboarding, learning, policy, performance and reward. This way, when people within your company say they feel and experience the culture, you (along with everyone) know exactly what they mean.

A key focus for us at The People Practice in 2021 is prioritizing culture in the African workplace. This means educating companies and employees on what culture is and is not, helping them co-create and design their culture, and working through how to improve workplace conditions.

We foresee many culture clinics with African organisations in our future!


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