The Basic Vocabulary of Culture Design

May 4, 2021

I was recently invited by my friends at OpenSquare to speak to a network of Architecture and Design firm leaders about the future of culture at work. As a result of evolving the role of the workplace, workplace designers and planners find themselves interacting increasingly with people who are planning the organization’s cultural priorities and the employee experience. As I bring together workplace designers and culture creators, I find the best starting point is shaping a shared vocabulary of the basics of culture design.

Here are a few core elements to understand if you too find yourself joining a culture planning conversation:

How do you define culture?

#Culture can be thought of as the collective beliefs of people expressed through their shared behavior over time.

How do I better understand an organization’s culture?

It’s often best understood by observing and analyzing the #rituals that a group of people practice.

Who leads or owns culture?

A culture leader can be anyone in a position of influence over the collective beliefs and behaviors of a group of people. Ownership is traditionally, in larger organizations, the responsibility of HR professionals, while in smaller organizations, a marketing lead may be at the helm. Sponsorship is the ultimate responsibility of the senior most leaders (e.g. C-Suite). But the organizations with the strongest, most palatable cultures are those who inspire broad championship and leadership of cultural norms.

Is it okay that micro-cultures emerge in companies?

Of course! Because culture is led based on a variety of individual’s influence, you’ll never find one culture leader influencing in exactly the same way. It is critical, however, that all culture leaders ascribe to the same core beliefs and commit to modeling the shared behaviors that move their people forward in the right direction. Competing micro-cultures inhibit organizations from collective momentum. Complementary micro-cultures enable people to move quickly together and toward a common cause.

About the Author:

Laura Eley is a trusted culture and employee experience advisor to organizational leaders across the globe. She is a life-long student of methods for how organization’s successfully amplify their beliefs by influencing the collective behavior of people through both formal and informal practice. In her consulting, she applies principles from organizational psychology as well as real world practical experience to guide the culture-building journey of large enterprises as well as start-up businesses.