Whenever people are joined by common circumstances, they find they have common concerns– like how to survive in the world they all share. At first, they band together for safety’s sake; later they expand their collective consciousness to search for rewards, especially emotional ones, because once survival is assured, these are most important.
A culture is the shared beliefs about the rules of survival and emotional prosperity.
Because the conditions that affect survival and emotional prosperity are pretty much the same for everyone the culture constantly shares information amongst itself; it exists to share information. This information forms the culture’s common beliefs about how to behave and how not to.
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you are part of your employee culture. You may be working for the same company, in the same industry, with the same customers, on the same projects in the same office but you are standing outside of the employee culture trying to sell it something. You are management — a different culture.
A culture is an information-gathering organism designed to assure its own survival. This means its antennae are constantly working, its perceptions are alarmingly accurate, its credibility detector is infallible and its memory is elephantine. Management can’t bluff, bribe or bully an employee culture. You can’t stop your employee culture from existing and you can’t tell it what to believe.
There isn’t much that goes on that the culture doesn’t know about; it’s always watching, always gathering and sifting information, always looking at you. It knows when you’ve been naughty. It knows when you’ve been nice. It knows where your kids go to school. It knows everything. It knows that you’re reading this sentence.
It won’t ever tell you what it believes — and don’t think you can send a spy into the employee culture with orders to infiltrate and report. The culture will send you back body parts in the mail. But it will show you what it believes by its actions or its hesitancy to act.
How do you manage an employee culture? The more you know about how it works, the more it may seem unmanageable from the outside. But a culture is actually the simplest operating system in the world; it’s solely concerned with survival and emotional prosperity. Unfortunately, that’s it’s own survival and prosperity, not yours, and not the company’s.
Much has been made of the special language and rituals of a culture. Forget all of that; that’s what the tourists see. You won’t ever witness the real stuff, and besides, that’s not what’s most important. You’ll never affect how the culture communicates to itself. What you must affect is what the culture communicates.
Your customers have a culture too; it operates the same way as your internal culture and you’re not part of that one either. When your customer culture doesn’t trust you it’s called a “recession.” When your customer culture trusts you it’s called “branded.”