You can view organisational culture in two ways: created by the organisation and inhabited by people, or co-created by the people and framed by the organisation. I subscribe to the latter view, recognising that tribal knowledge and experience massively influences current culture. In the Social Age, when change is constant, it’s worth thinking about how cultures respond to change: either deliberate attempts by organisations to change it or the evolutionary pressure from the changing priorities and dynamics of society.
If we view culture as co-created by organisational desire and individual behaviours, we see it as evolutionary, not static: but what pressures influence it and how does it respond? Whilst these needs and desire are multiple, i want to focus on two: evolving organisational values and evolving individual needs.
Put simply, i think that two significant pressures on organisational culture exist in the Social Age. These are the need for organisations to be agile (fostering creativity and innovation) and the evolving relationship with employees as ‘work‘ changes (which leads to evolving needs: the need to build individual reputation and skills to keep you agile within what will certainly be a portfolio career).
Or, to put it even more simply: organisations have to change to survive and need to remain engaged with their teams as they do so by recognising what they need too!
Historically, organisations have created infrastructure and hierarchy to control culture and resist change, but that very structure may be anathema to change. Hierarchy can lead to toxic cultures and poor decision making. It can lead to inertia, the death of creativity and states of moral and ethical failure. They can be architects of their own downfall: process may deliver good, but it will not get you to excellent.
In the Social Age, we see that hierarchies of power and authority are under threat through reputation and agility in social channels: people build reputation in communities and use that reputation to effect change, to perform better. Ownership of personal development and future career direction is increasingly being taken away from the organisation (which can no longer fulfil any social contract and provide a job for life) to the individual (leading to the need for a new type of contract, more fluid).
There is also a degradation of organisational control of brand and image: brand value is now owned by the community, not the marketing department. Organisations need a strong ability to respond to conversations in social spaces and, to be blunt, need to live their values, not just print them.
As the needs of individuals evolve and organisational values adapt, change will only succeed if it is co-created and co-owned between the two. Change can no longer be driven from the top down, although it most certainly needs to be sponsored from the top. It’s the difference between setting direction (which an organisation can do to frame the conversation) and picking your way between icebergs on the way (which is best done by the person standing on the prow, who may not be your highest paid or most engaged team member). It’s about a conversation, in both formal and informal spaces.