Reconsidering Culture

June 3, 2021 / Culture

Culture, as a concept, is as complex as the very thing it describes. Socially, we “consume” culture in a multitude of ways. However, despite its complexity as a term, culture has become the monolithic catch-all in public discourse. Without a more discerning approach, over-extending culture risks conflating a population’s values with the behaviors of a few individuals. Doing so, obscures (and at worst, sensationalizes) the real problems and misleads the solution.

Culture is a system of beliefs and values that humans create to make sense of their environment. It shapes how we humans perceive and relate to one another and our world. So, when we describe the “culture” of an organization, we refer to the principles and values to which a community ascribes. This means that the beliefs driving the observed behaviors are often shared and supported by most of the other members. And that seemingly small distinction is where we run into some pretty significant problems. What if an organization is experiencing problems that stem from the behavior of a select few, who undermine its mission and values? Is the cultural toxic or is it the leadership? The solution shouldn’t precede the problem.

Assessments are absolutely crucial in defining the problem and designing the solution. Let’s make it personal for a moment. If someone has a persistent stomach, the individual will consult a doctor to figure out if the symptoms relate to gastritis or to something more serious. What medicines or procedures a doctor prescribes are based on the outcomes of a series of tests (which include – no joke – cultures). Organizations need to run similar diagnostic checks targeted to the specific symptoms.

Before anyone concludes that an entity has “a culture of [anything],” two parallel assessments should be conducted; an organizational one and a cultural one. The organizational assessment focuses on workplace organization. It looks at the structure of a community or company. The key objective is to understand the operational elements that aid or impede productivity and workflow. The point is to identify gaps that account for the disconnect between expected norms and institutional operational realities. The second aspect is the cultural assessment, which focuses on workplace cohesion and culture. The goal here is to focus on the human element – specifically, the behaviors, perceptions, and relationships that affect the organization’s effectiveness. The findings may intersect or they may overwhelmingly emphasize a challenge in one area.

Many organizations are reluctant to invest the time, money, and human capital in truly understanding and addressing their social and operational risks. The reluctance stems from the myth that such activities are costly and time-consuming. They are not. Period. It is precisely why companies like Sentient exist – to dispel such myths and to get diverse communities of people working productively and in harmony towards a greater cause. Let us show you how.