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How culture supports purpose

When you understand the collective values and belief systems of your people, you uncover the unique *way* your organisation can make a positive impact in fulfilling your purpose promise.

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Organisational culture is more than a ping pong table in the staff room and burritos brought in on a Friday afternoon.

That might seem like a random analogy, but I’ll never forget a webinar I was on and this was how a business owner boastfully described the ‘amazing’ culture they had cultivated.

To me, culture is more complex but has the potential to bring more satisfaction than any burrito. It’s the collection of unwritten rules that a group of people follow, which allows them to get along, work together and produce together.

Because culture encapsulates how people interact, communicate and work as a group, culture has a huge impact on how quickly, effectively, and constructively an organisation can deliver on its purpose.

When you understand the collective values and belief systems of your people, you uncover the unique *way* your organisation can make a positive impact in fulfilling your purpose promise.

If purpose is “the beacon that attracts loyal customers, like-minded partners and suppliers, enthusiastic employees, and dedicated leaders,” then culture is the electricity that makes that beacon shine.

Culture can be measured. It can be managed. It can be led. It can even be changed.

Unfortunately, like so many valuable business concepts, the word *culture* has lost some meaning through overuse and misuse. We’ve been reduced to describing business cultures in binary terms – good or bad.

Or worse, when we try to describe the complex energy of interaction and productivity with a single word: innovative or risk-averse or inclusive.

In fact, culture is the whole collection of values, attitudes, approaches, and belief systems held by a group of people. It’s ‘the way we do things around here’. It’s how we behave with each other and with our customers, which means an organisation’s culture spills over into external communications, marketing and customer service. Culture is the amalgam of inherent and deeply ingrained behaviours and habits.

Culture is not invented, managed, changed or led by the HR department. It exists whether you name it or not. It exists whether you like it or not. And it can change, evolve and improve, to become a strategic lever that reflects consensus and unification around a unique way of delivering on the organisation’s purpose.

Culture which encompasses an organisation’s values, beliefs, and norms is another key CEO lever for reinforcing strategy and influencing how the organisation as a whole goes about doing its work.

Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria, How CEOs Manage their Time, Harvard Business Review

Shared patterns with a shared language

Understanding an organisation’s culture opens doors to a more conscious and positive way of interacting and communicating, and can direct if and how an organisation will deliver on its purpose.

A culture can be many things, for example:

  • Hard working and dedicated
  • Deeply kind and caring
  • Structured and driven by process

Culture is a way of working, but is not fully captured by an organisation’s rules, symptoms and processes. Processes and operating procedures are documented, written down. Culture by definition is a collection of *unwritten* rules of engagement.

So how do you identify, much less measure, something as nebulous as a company’s culture?

Well, the good news is, you can.

I use a tool from CultureTalk which provides a system to measure the collective values and belief systems. It is then explained and articulated using the language of Archetypes, the origins of which can be traced back to Greek mythology.

Carl Jung gets the credit for Archetypes as we know them today, but actually their origins can be traced back as far as Greek mythology. Archetypes personify unconscious patterns common to all people across culture and time, brought to life through human stories and characters. Archetypes have universal meanings – across cultures and ages – and show up in dreams, literature, art, and religion. These deep and abiding patterns guide us – they are a gateway between our sub-conscious and conscious mind. Jung described Archetypes as “dry riverbeds” – general patterns common to all people, the details of which develop from each person’s life, culture, and experiences.

Archetypes provide the deep structure for human motivation and meaning. When we encounter them in art, literature, sacred texts, advertising – or in individuals or groups – they evoke deep feeling within us.

Carol Pearson, The Hero Within

The 12 CultureTalk Archetypes

CultureTalk has defined 12 Archetypes that represent the most common patterns in individuals and organisations. We all have the capacity to think, react and behave as all 12. But our dominant and latent Archetypes typically stay constant.

12 CultureTalk Archetypes

When we come together in an organisation, the culture of that organisation is the sum and interplay of many personalities thrown into one mix. The CultureTalk organisational survey measures which Archetypes bubble up from that mix and best represent the culture as a whole. It identifies the dominant and latent Archetypes in the organisation, which are then validated through interviews.

CultureTalk is the bridge between the individual and the organisation.

It builds organisational continuity.

It helps to align the core values and culture of a company with the way we hire, pay, promote and promise.

Peter Boucher, Formerly Chief HR Officer, First Data

The CultureTalk survey allows me to run various diagnostics for larger organisations and cut the data in different ways, such as comparing storylines across departments. By doing so, we can begin to understand why there might be friction across the organisation and, crucially, what needs to happen to manage and lead to best effect.

We can also run a diagnostic by tenure, to see why people who've been in the organisation for, say, less than five years are far more innovative or go-getting or purpose-driven than people who've been with the organisation for much longer.

CultureTalk goes far beyond just understanding profiles at an individual level, but rather provides a human framework for diving deeply into the organisation and uncovering how it works. Archetypes give us a common language through which we understand and articulate what meaningful work looks and feels like, and the unique way the organisation’s purpose will be delivered.

What is measured can be managed

You can't manage something that you just ‘feel’ isn’t working, without analysing it and understanding what’s going on under the surface. It’s not helpful to just say “oh they don’t understand,” and “the culture around here has gotten worse.”

Knowing what Archetypes are dominating an organisation will reveal WHY something ‘feels’ wrong, doesn’t work or keeps pitting certain departments against others.

Hero cultures are brave and determined to right a wrong for their customers and clients.

Revolutionary cultures are willing to give up quickly on things that aren’t working and find a better way.

Sage cultures gather data and want answers before they commit to a course of action.

Innocent cultures look for clean, simple solutions, always trusting that things will work out well.

These aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ways of working. But you can see that if you’re a Revolutionary-type individual working in a Sage organisation, it will feel like decisions are never made fast enough for you.

When you know what’s going on – and what patterns of behaviour are getting in the way of working together – and you can talk about it as a group through a shared language and framework, then you can take active steps to shift the culture in the direction you need.

Let’s all pull in the same direction

Your organisation’s central purpose, when it’s clearly articulated and understood, inspires everyone to come to work and get things done. Ideally, it is clear to everyone – employees, customers, and stakeholders alike – why the organisation exists, what it’s there to do, whom it serves, what positive social impact it will make and how it will ultimately change the world.

Your organisation’s culture makes it clear how best to get it done.

When purpose and culture align, your people all pull in the same direction. People understand their role within the organisation, the value they bring, the part they play, why and how their strengths are needed, and the impact they make. They’re all pulling in the same direction, towards an agreed-upon end goal. And that’s when you start making real progress as a purpose-driven organisation.


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