“If a leader can’t describe the culture, the organization will never achieve it”
As leaders, we are aware of the importance of culture. Leaders are continually looking for ways to evaluate the culture in their organizations. There are many effective methods of assessing culture using formal information gathering in the form of interviews or surveys. These methods are very good and provide insight. During an interview with a new officer who just arrived at my unit, recently, I discovered a quick and effective way to assess the culture in an organization that requires no surveys, no data, and no cost.
In the military, we have sections that assist with assessing the culture in a military unit. At my Wing, it is the Equal Opportunity (EO) section. Immediately upon taking command, they came to see me so that I could set up my first culture survey. I was able to select different topics to focus on. This office compiled the information and used their software to generate the survey. All unit members received the survey. At the conclusion of the survey, the EO office came to see me and we discussed strengths,challenges, and areas for improvement. I found this to be a very good process. I was able to gain insight into the culture of my unit.
I recently discovered that there may be a much easier way to evaluate the culture in an organization. I make it a point to meet with all new members that come to our unit during their first drill (military lingo for training weekend as a reservist). The purpose of this meeting is two-fold. The first goal is to let them know who I am and how the unit is organized. The second goal is to find out about the individual. I choose to be very transparent with the new member. I let them know that they can share as much or as little as they would like. I am interested in their current employment situation, their family and family support, and their short term and long term goals. This information is intended to make them feel comfortable with me and the basics of the unit. It also helps me direct them in an initial direction to become involved in our projects. At this point, I discuss the different projects we have going on and how we organize to accomplish these tasks. It was during this explanation, this winter, that I discovered that what I was describing, maybe even defining, was the culture of the unit. As I reflected on the interview and was considering what to say to the unit to open our holiday party that evening, I felt as if I had just completed a quick, effective culture assessment of the unit.
You may say, how can you call this an assessment when you didn’t interview or gather information from unit members? I am a believer, both through reading and through experience, that the leader defines the culture of an organization. The first and most important assessment is that I can describe our culture in a clear and succinct way. This indicates to me that the unit has a defined culture. If a leader can’t describe the culture, the organization will never achieve it. Upon reflection, I felt good about the evidence I could produce that valued cultural elements were on display and represented in the way we completed our projects and tasks. There were some areas that were tough to define. This deficiency presented the opportunity to assess ways to improve the organization through this process as well.
Want a quick an easy way to assess the culture in your organization? Try explaining to a new organization member the values that matter and how things are done in your organization. Are they defined? Can you explain them clearly and succinctly? Is there evidence to support your definitions? And, lastly, what is missing or not very well defined? Let me know how it works for you.