Culture has burst onto the scene as one of the most important ingredients in the recipe for business success, as we try to optimise our employee experience to ensure we get people working hard, not just because they are paid to, but because they want to - because in doing so, they fulfil a personal need as well as a professional one.
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Culture can be a nefarious beast however, and how do you start to understand what it is in your company, and whether it is helping or hindering your success.
In short culture is "how we do things around here". It is most often unspoken - people may tell you what they THINK the culture is, however if you want to know what it REALLY is, then observe - how do people : communicate, work together, make decisions, problem solve, set strategy, celebrate, deal with crises. And especially observe the leaders. What they do, others will follow.
But what about the values on the wall? Values can be both helpful or unhelpful - depending on a bunch of factors, with at its core, how they come about.
Because, as you will instinctively understand, your employees will first look to "social proof" - i.e. how others in the organisation are behaving, before they take their cue from stated core values.
In short culture is "how we do things around here"
So, what then, if any, impact do core values have on culture? Core values at their best are a representation of what is ALREADY important to people within your company. Core values can be a mix of descriptive (i.e. what is already important) and aspirational (i.e. what you aspire to). However aspirational core values should be representative of something that everyone in the company (and in particular the leaders) are willing to hurt for.
A great way to "uncover" these core values is to ask your employees and leaders, what is important to them, i.e. what are their personal values, and then find the commonalities there. It needn't be difficult. You can find this information either through a series of conversations or a survey, this is a great way to start the conversation.
From here you can start to synthesise like values, weed out the ones that seem less important in your context, identify the ones that are absolutely non-negotiable for your leaders and staff. This is best done with a group of people to ensure the process is representative of your people throughout.
Then tally this short list of values with what you observe - do they make sense? What do you see in your company that demonstrates that these values are "lived"...... or not.
Values can be a mix of descriptive and aspirational
This covers off the all important "social proof" element discussed above - for these core values to have any meaning at all, they must be representative of what actually happens in your company.
Values are one only part of culture. Culture as mentioned above is the sum total of "how we do things around here". Leadership, development, progression, communication, reward & recognition, decision making, are also vital to consider when seeking to understand or optimise your culture for success.