In my next blog in my series on Culture, Engagement and Business Objectives, I want to look at how we really start to define our culture.

The HR press have done culture no favours. It is all too frequently described as this almost ethereal concept, impossible to pin down and to objectively define. Consequently, there is a very real risk that it becomes perceived as some fluffy whim which should sit firmly – and solely – within HR’s domain.

The other risk, when it comes to culture, is that we set out in pursuit of some kind of holy grail. Again, this has been aided and abetted by the continuous media references to Google and their ilk. If we are not careful, we exert all of our efforts in attempting to replicate a culture which is never going to actually support the delivery of the objectives of our own individual organisation.

No ‘one size fits all’ approach

Because the fact is that, when it comes to culture, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Your organisational culture needs to be as unique to you as your business objectives are. And in fact, when it comes to understanding the culture we need within our business, it’s those goals and objectives which become our starting point.

Using our business objectives, we can work backwards to understand the building blocks which make up our culture. And once we have those building blocks, we can start to understand how we really drive the behaviours which will unlock them.

Putting it into practise

Let’s take an example. Suppose one of your core business objectives is to deliver market leading technology. Well, what are the behaviours which we need our employees to demonstrate in order for us to achieve that objective? We need them to innovate. If we want to lead the market, we have to consistently stay ahead of the curve.

We also need them to be technically brilliant. Again, we won’t lead the market for long if the execution of our technology isn’t first class.

So, in the case of this particular objective, the building blocks we start to see emerging of our culture are innovation and technical brilliance.

Nurturing our culture

Now, this is where it starts to get interesting. Because I’ve been clear from the start: we can’t force culture. We can’t simply stand up in front of our organisation and state that this is the culture we want, and expect it to happen. Culture doesn’t work like that.

But what we can do, and what we must do, is we must nurture our culture. Think of it like a plant. We can’t force that plant to grow. We can, however, surround it with the conditions which will give it the best possible chance of prospering and thriving. And the same is true with culture. In the example above, we can’t force people to innovate. We can’t press a button which suddenly means they are technically brilliant. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing.

If we think of the conditions under which innovation will thrive, those conditions need to provide the opportunity to experiment. The opportunity to try… and to fail, and to learn from failure. We can’t have a blame culture. We can’t have working conditions which mean we’re constantly working to the wire. We have to give people the time to innovate.

Similarly, if we want people to be technically brilliant, then we have to provide them with the opportunity to learn. This means time away from their day job to learn, to upskill, to bring back that knowledge, to share it with their colleagues, to apply it to their day to day tasks. Learning cannot be seen as an add on activity, as something which needs to be carried out in people’s spare time. It has to be embedded within our working practises for us to be able to deliver excellence every time.

Bringing it into focus

And so, as we carry out this exercise across our business objectives… we start, for the first time, to bring our culture into focus. We are able to objectively pull out the building blocks which make up our culture, and that’s when we move fully away from this ethereal vision of culture as a concept, and finally have a clear and structured framework for us to work and develop against.

In the final blog post in this series, I am going to be looking at what we, as HR practitioners and senior stakeholders, should be doing to nurture that culture, and sharing a set of suggested action points which everyone can take back for use within their own organisation.