Can we actually define “company culture?”

From here:

Culture has been a real focus for many years. I think organizations are realizing that, while we describe culture a lot of different ways, it really boils down to the nature of the relationships between the people in the organization.

Let’s dive deep on this for a second or two.

Breaking down that quote

The idea that “culture has been a real focus for many years” is largely a joke. Culture is cared about by these people:

  • HR departments
  • Thought leaders
  • People who write for Forbes and regurgitate the same shit every week
  • A few semi-intelligent millennials

Here’s who DOESN’T care about culture:

  • Executives
  • Anyone with decision-making authority

Look, culture is a fluffy as fuck concept. No one knows how to define it. That’s part of the issue. You can define a profit and loss document. You can define margins. Other things executives care about exist on spreadsheets and documents that are definable. Culture does not. Plus, it’s “owned” by HR. Executives couldn’t care less. HR is a cover your ass department, plain and simple. They want to be in the room with Sales and Operations. HR? Bleh.

But what is culture, then?

Here’s how I’d define it:

  • This quote above — the full context/slate of relationships between your people
  • What you allow to be permissible (if all the execs are lying and stealing, well, that’s your culture)
  • The process of how work actually gets done
  • Whether people catch each other’s backs

Work takes up a lot of time. We are there often and thinking about it even more, in many cases. We need friends there. Relationships are crucial. That’s often what gets us through.

So I’d classify that as culture: the entire network of relationships and how those relationships intersect with how the work gets done. That’s legit your culture.

It’s not the buzzwords executives say at all-hands meeting. Those are just words plastered on a wall somewhere. No one cares. No one “lives” that.

There’s probably been 78 million articles written about “culture” in the last year alone, because supposedly it’s some differentiator now — even though if you ask any pre-existing exec about differentiators, he’ll launch into 44 financial acronyms and never once mention people.

Final thought, then: culture is what you actually live. It’s what it’s like to be in it day to day. The culture of a spot is how your life is going to feel once you’re through that ringer. It’s not buzzwords. IT’S LIFE. Relationships are the bedrock of it.

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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