Every organization has a culture by default, but few have a culture by design.  Even when an organization has integrated its culture as part of its strategy, business growth naturally forces the culture to disintegrate.  I describe growth-related changes in my post Growing Bigger and Better:  Managing the Top 10 Risk Factors for Growing Companies.

As businesses grow, they often want to keep their cultures the same; however, growth requires them to change what they do to sustain the very same culture.  It’s a culture paradox.

Organizational culture can seem like a nebulous and complex concept.  I agree with Warren Buffet who said, “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”

I think is boils down to a simple equation:


So, the question is, “Which behaviors?”

Start by designing your organizational systems to reinforce behaviors needed to meet your business objectives. For example, do you need to see more innovation, collaboration, analysis, deep customer relationships, cost savings, etc.?  Cultures are created and reinforced by these nine systems (and the behaviors they reinforce):

  1. Rules and policies
  2. Goals and measures
  3. Rewards and recognition
  4. Staffing and selection
  5. Training and development
  6. Ceremonies and events
  7. Communications
  8. Physical environment
  9. Organizational structure

To ensure your culture is fully integrated and reinforces the behaviors your business needs to succeed, these nine systems must be aligned in two way.

First, vertical alignment with your business objectives to reinforce behaviors required to achieve your goals.

Second, horizontal alignment between the nine cultural systems to ensure they are consistent with each other and do not reinforce contradicting behaviors.  For example, if your  service department’s goal is to “high call quality” but you primarily reward “call speed” then your goal and reward systems are misaligned.