Understanding Organizational Culture

What do we mean when we talk about organizational culture? Is it employee morale or engagement? Is it level of satisfaction or job fulfillment? Perhaps it refers to strategy and direction? Or even capable and trusting leadership?

All of the above are critical aspects of organizational culture, but are not its essence. Definitions of culture abound. Webster’s dictionary defines culture as “The integrated pattern of human behaviour that includes thought, speech, action and artifacts and depends on one’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”

Marvin Bower, founder of McKinsey + Company, a global management consulting firm, defines organizational culture in his book The Will to Manage, as “Culture is the way we do things around here.” My own favourite is from the French writer and politician Edouard Herriot who states that “Culture is what remains when we have forgotten everything else.”

And yet, despite the vagueness or uncertainty about how to define organizational culture, we don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing it when we see it. We seem to intuitively grasp when we are thriving as part of “great culture” or withering in the throes of a “toxic culture”.

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