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  • Writer's pictureJon Mechan

Defining Organizational Culture

Culture is defined by the people.

But it is strongly influenced by leadership.

This is because leadership defines the norms and behaviours that are acceptable and encouraged in an organization, which includes hiring people that fit (and ideally enhance) the culture.

So how do you, as a leader, define the culture that you want in your organization?

Defining Your Principles

One approach I have used with a couple of clients is to define your organizational principles or values. What is important to you? What do you stand for?

Think about what is important to you personally - if your organizational principles aren't congruent with your personal ones, you will find your work context uncomfortable at best and intolerable at worst. A free tool that I have found useful here is Find My Why. Through a series of questions it helps you think about what is most important to you.

If you're struggling to define what your principles are, you can think about what they aren't. If you had someone in your team that was exhibiting all the qualities you wouldn't want to see, what would that look like? Make a list - the opposite of those qualities is what you are looking for.


One thing I would encourage is to avoid being generic - a lot of organisations have meaningless value statements that don't actually say anything, or anything unique about the business. Things like "honesty" and "integrity" are table stakes - you would never have "dishonesty" or "lack of integrity" as values, would you...?


A Team-Based Approach

The above-mentioned approach is how to approach it from a leadership-driven perspective. You can also approach it by collaborating with your team.

A leader I worked with was concerned about maintaining the implicit culture that had developed at their small company as it grew. So they discussed it with their team. Everyone contributed to a shared document that defined what they appreciated about the ways of working in the business at that point.

Using this information, and importantly, using their values to guide the final result, the leader made the culture explicit, and shared it back to the team.

They could then use these organizational principles to inform hiring, onboarding, and to ensure that the company's decisions were made in alignment with these values.


What do you think? Which of these approaches would work best for you? Is your organizational culture currently explicit or implicit?

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