Defining Your True Culture

By: Michael Grant

Your company culture defines the way in which your organization interacts with one another and how the team interacts with the outside world. It’s the formula that guides the team, as well as inspires and motivates employees. It is also responsible for attracting and retaining great talent, as well as creating a fun, happy and exciting work environment.

Many organizations have culture statements or values that are nice-sounding and look good on a wall or webpage.  Too often, these statements have little connection with the true culture of the team. When this occurs, you run the risk of a myriad of human resources issues, which can monopolize your time and energy.

Several years ago, the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science began a journey to define and articulate our organizational culture – our true culture.  We now have 6 culture principles that we have integrated into our HR processes, including hiring, onboarding, and performance assessment. This year, we just awarded our first staff member the culture award for exemplifying these principles.

To help us identify our true culture, these are some of the questions we found it valuable to ask ourselves:

  1. What behaviours do we promote people based on? It was helpful to play Monday morning quarterback on past staffing decisions.  We looked at staff members who had been promoted within the organization and we asked ourselves why we saw them as high performers.  Keep asking the question “why?” until you get down to very specific behaviours and traits.
  1. What behaviours would we terminate an employee for? With this question, we were really trying to drill down to see what type of behaviours are so against our culture that we would feel compelled to move to the end of the discipline spectrum.  Luckily, we didn’t have a lot of real-life cases to use for this exercise and we had to try and create scenarios.  The mental exercise helps identify those hills worth dying on.
  1. When we are at our best, what do we see? The culture we sought to define needed to be reflective of our current state, but also needed an element of being aspirational.  So we chose to frame questions around us at our best.  We wanted to identify the behaviours we saw when we were high functioning so the resulting principles would keep us in that space more often.  Staying with a positive line of questioning also helped us avoid the trap of discussing problems with individuals’ behaviours.

Culture conversations started with leadership but didn’t stop there.  The entire staff were involved in this project and had the ability to participate in facilitated conversations or provide anonymous feedback online.  We feel the result are principles everyone in the organization understands and is invested in keeping us all accountable to living.

If your staff are truly your organization’s biggest asset, then investing in creating a culture that maximizes that asset is a wise investment.

Michael Grant is the director of marketing and communications at the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Sciences in Hamilton, Ontario. He has worked in marketing and communications in the healthcare and education industries for the past 15 years.