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You get that your culture has a big impact on your people's performance and that it deserves more of your attention. And yet, as important as it is, you're at a loss about what to do. It just seems so vague and soft and it somehow doesn't lend itself to real action. Sound familiar?

Having spoken to and worked with hundreds of companies across the country, our observation is that the single, biggest roadblock to taking action about your culture is the very definition of culture! That's right. How we define it can either handcuff us or it can equip us with a full complement of tools for taking effective action.

When you ask people to define the word culture as it relates to organizations, here are the kinds of things you'll typically hear:

  • It's the feeling you get.
  • It's the attitudes in the organization.
  • It's the mostly unwritten set of guiding principles.
  • It's the underlying belief systems.
  • It's the core values.
  • It's the way people relate to each other and the outside world.
  • It's the environment in which people operate.

And while, to an extent, all of these definitions are true, they're really hard to do anything with. Try working on the "feeling you get" or the "belief systems" or the "environment." These kinds of definitions leave us with our hands tied behind our back, unable to do much.

In contrast, at HPC, we like to define culture in terms of behavior. In fact, we say that your company's culture is simply the behavior of your people. It's not the signs on your walls or the mission statement you put out or the things you wrote on your website. It's simply what your people actually do every day. That's the real culture.

The reason that's so important is that this simple shift in paradigm - seeing culture as behavior - opens up an entire world of actions you can take to create and drive the culture you want. If culture is really just behavior, then changing culture is nothing more than creating behavior change. And that's not overly difficult. In fact, people have been studying and teaching behavior change for hundreds of years. There are lots of validated techniques for accomplishing it, including the ones we use at HPC.

As soon as we let go of the vague, nebulous, esoteric definitions of culture and begin to see culture as behavior, the keys to the kingdom become ours.


Larry Hart

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