culture design starts with you
Defining Culture
Let's start slowly
In one of his most renowned books 'Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind', Geert Hofstede proposed a way to differentiate between two types of culture:

Culture 1:
The 'literature, art and education of a group in its narrow sense' (Hofstede, 1991).

Culture 2:
Culture as a "mental software". This type includes feeling, thinking and mundane things in life like personal hygiene, greeting, eating, showing or not showing feelings, physical distance from others... etc.

As Hofstede (1991) puts it, "politicians and journalists confuse the two, trying to fix immigrants integration issues with a folkloric local dance." (Hofstede, 1991). In this project when we refer to culture, we will be talking about 'Culture 2', in the words of Hofstede. We will review and uncover the feelings, thoughts and mundane life things that happen within a business.

It's important to train ourselves as culture designers because globalization and mobility will shape the future of work (Morgan, 2015). Employees in the future (and some already today) will travel more and will need to have the skills to design the culture they need in a new place from scratch or with a remote team.

Those who decide to stay in a specific location will need to adapt to the new behaviours at work which include collaboration, sharing and real-time feedback (Morgan, 2015). By understanding Culture Design, professionals will be better prepared to add to the conversation about these new behaviours and adapt accordingly.

It is also important to develop culture designers because very soon the most collaborative, tech-savvy, social and passionate about values demographic (Solomon, 2014) will compose 50% of our workforce.

Those who know how to craft a culture together will be more successful in working well with others in this environment. Millenials will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025 (Morgan, 2015). Making big generalisations about a whole generation may be extreme, but even if these didn't apply, no one can deny the change in conversation around values (like the new Axe campaign), the advances in technology (like portable breathalyzers) and the shift to collaboration from command and control in the industry today (as can be read on this linked in article).
«Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster.»
Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind
(Hofstede, 1991)
The Fluffy Factor
Coming to terms with the ambiguity and uncertainty of culture
When asked about culture, many colleagues have described it as something 'fluffy'. In researching culture I noticed that there was no consensus on its definition. It was difficult to find one concise final description but I ran into the word "fluffy" on online articles and podcasts more than once. I was able to find a number of definitions of culture from different sources, some were more scientific than other, but they all revealed a truth about culture.
flʌfi [adjective]: lacking of meaning or substance.
Each company founder has its own definition and approach to culture. Tony Hsieh, CEO and founder of Zappos believes that to figure corporate values out one must figure out what his personal values are. Hsieh is the author of bestselling book "Delivering happiness" where he advocates for focusing on company culture as the top priority both for the sake of happiness and business success. He recommends no one should copy the values from Zappos but instead to figure out company unique core values (Hsieh, 2010).

Culture can either be defined with words or with actions. Forward thinking organisations like Airbnb recognise the importance of culture and are actioning activities to live their core values daily. Airbnb's founder team: Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk are building their culture through "belonging" and are eager to focus on it moving forward. Culture at Airbnb stands for "belonging".

Airbnb ran an independent analysis to measure honesty and engagement very recently. Independent "people geeks" as they call themselves, like Culture Amp are growing a new culture market and help innovative companies like Airbnb understand their own culture better. In 2014, results from "Airbnb's Culture Amp survey suggested that they weren't as open and honest as they'd like to be." As a response, management put in place a series of global and local measures (meetings, conferences, live streamed events, birthday party crews…etc) to enforce constant communication (Clune, 2014).

A small sample of Airbnb's new culture activities are (Clune, 2014):

• A global company meet-up called 'One Airbnb'
• Encouraging employees to host in their homes, to "understand the journey more"
• Pop-up birthday celebrations
• Creative themed events

• To address honesty, one of the founders Joe Gebbia invented "elephants, dead fish and vomit". Elephants are the big things that are happening and dead fish are things that happened years ago and haven't been dealt with. Vomit are things that people just need to get off their minds. Having fun labels like these make giving feedback and sharing otherwise uncomfortable information a less stressful process. Having one of the founders propose such unconventional language also invites others to be creative about their culture.
Every industry leader has an interpretation of culture
"If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own."
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
"There's no such thing as a good or bad culture, it's either a strong or weak culture. And a good culture for somebody else may not be a good culture for you."
Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb
"Your company doesn't have a culture. Your company is a culture."

Simon Sinek, author and speaker
"As a core leader, you own [culture], but you have to let it evolve."
Molly Graham, Former culture manager at Facebook
Harvard professor Michael Watkins in his article for the Harvard Business Review titled "What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care?" speaks for the 'airiness' of culture: "there is little consensus on what organisational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behaviour and whether it is something leaders can change".

Watkins opened a LinkedIn discussion where over 300 people gave their interpretation of what culture was (Watkins, 2013). He picked nine different interpretations of culture, all of which were different yet had strong arguments.

He found culture can be a company's "immune system", a "civilisation within a company", "the sum of values and rituals which serve as 'glue' to integrate the members of the organisation", "a product of compensation" and the "description of an organisation from within".

Michael Watkins could not coin an overarching unique definition of culture with his field research or his knowledge (Watkins, 2013). There is no reason to believe I will. Moreover, the objective of this project is not to define culture, but rather to talk about its undeniable components (which we will see on further chapters), how can professionals design them and to ultimately come to terms with the fact that culture is something everyone has a personal definition for.

What is culture made of?
The concept of culture is fluffy when not designed, defined by actions and up for every company to shape. With this ambiguity in mind, could we venture a definition at a molecular level? What is culture made of?
Based on research and my personal experience, organisational culture is a loop-shaped interpersonal framework made out of three factors:

  1. Behavioural decisions based on common or personal values
  2. Characteristics of the environment in which the interactions take place
  3. Emotional responses triggered by the above two factors
Levels of mental programming show us how unique each person's mind (and therefore behaviours) is.
Working is an action, to work involves specific behaviours. Some behaviours are learnt and others inherited (Hofstede 1991). Behaviours at work become part of the work culture and all behaviours begin with a thought.

Hofstede (1991) likes to call culture a "software" running on different sets of thoughts or "programs".

Hofstede (1991) claims that the thoughts that inform our behaviour have been there for a long time but can be reprogrammed. In the graph below we see the three types of programs Hofstede believes apply to humans making us unique. There are three levels that go from the most broad (human nature), these are programs common to us as a specie. Then we have a level of culture, which is less broad and applies differerently to us depending on where, how and with who we spend our days. Finally there is the top most unique level which is personality. This is the most narrow of levels since it makes us who we are (Hofstede, 1991).

On each level we have "universal" (common to every human) vs "inherited" (genetically obtained), "specific" (to us as individuals) vs "learned"(from our environment) programs in our minds.

Levels of mental programming show us how unique each person's mind (and therefore behaviours) is. If one of culture's molecules is behaviour, and behavioural triggers are unique to each person, we can say culture manifestations start individually and in different ways in every person.
I applied the three levels of human mental programming to myself in order to investigate it and map out what programs are specific and learned to me:
A group of people working together for some time will guide the principles for their actions on a common set of values - as Chris Moody (VP of Data Strategy at Twitter) puts it: values can hold a culture together when difficult times come at an organization. Common values bring people on the same page (Adler, C. 2015). These values can come from inherited or learned mental programs.

When common values however are not used as a guiding principle, individuals will evidently load their unique human mental programs (Hofstede, 1991) and choose behavioural responses based on specific or learned beliefs and capabilities.

Behaviours are born from values

Behaviours are born from values we hold dear from an early age. Hofstede (1991) says that our values system is learnt implicitly by the time we reach 10 years of age. Hofstede goes on to explain that since our value system was in place so early in our lives, these values remain mostly unconscious and it is hard to discuss them. This is in the case of individuals. What is the case with companies?

Chris Moody believes that values define how the company views the worlds and how it treats others – including customers. Moody is a mentor at Techstars, a Google-owned, mentorship-driven startup accelerator in cities like New York City, Boston, Seattle, San Antonio, Austin, Chicago and London. Moody has spoken to hundreds of start up founders who are concerned about maintaining their culture once they expand.
"Rapid growth can yield profit and investment wins, but in the startup world, extremely fast growth can lead to structural problems if the corporate culture does not grow at the same pace."
— (Harrison, 2015)
The tight connection between values and behaviour is important for startups because "every person [a founder] hires should have personal values that completely align with the values of your company. 95% isn't good enough" (Moody, 2011). To follow Moody's advice, a company would need to have a very clear understanding of its values, the individual would need to know what his (ingrained-at-childhood) core values are and on top of this they should both be able to talk articulately about them.

Moody adds that culture can be one of two things in a company: "value or vibe". Admitting to the fact that a company may be confusing its core values with its vibe. The bottomline is that behaviours are triggered by thoughts that we ourselves as individuals and companies have a hard time differentiating from emotional responses, vibes or value sets.

Maybe time will tell, since "vibes fade and values last" (Moody, 2011).
What core values and thoughts inform your behaviours?
Google's 'You can make money without being evil' value is something that won't change with time and will help the company when an important decision has to be made (Moody, 2011). It is guiding principles that can help a board of directors make decisions or interns decide how to approach their first work challenge (Moody, 2011). Google published their list of values (or "what they believe in") possibly to keep the company accountable for what it stands for, just like Moody (2011) recommends to keep staff accountable. Talking about values constantly (up to 5 of them) is also important, so every team member has them top of mind.

But as Collins pointed out, writing and talking about values is not enough. Executives seem to be spending more time working on new value and mission statements instead of working on aligning their organisations to the existing ones (Collins, 2000).

Jim Collins' article in 2000 describes "unchanging core" values as one of the three components of a companies vision. The other two being "aspiration for the organisations future" and "ultimate" reason for existence beyond making money (Collins, 2000). Collins highlights that understanding the jargon is good but that getting to define a company's set of "unchanging" values is more important and unfortunately is often taken lightly and done at random.

Recent studies around the effects of stress at work have revealed that the environment can shoot employees' levels of stress dramatically and consequently lead to absenteeism, productivity and employee insatisfaction (Rosengren et al, 2004; Chandola et al, 2008; Kornitzer et al, 2006). The physical characteristics of a workspace were studied and proved to have an effect in people's heart rate and levels of cortisol also known as 'the stress hormone' (Rosengren et al, 2004).
Workspace characteristics that have a direct impact on our stress levels:
• Perceived air quality
• Amount of daylight
• Access to windows with views
• Privacy
• Acoustics
• Ventilation

(Rosengreen, 2014)
Click here to see the full study
An excess of "stress in the organization makes employees question the fundamental purpose of the organization" (Kets de vries et al, 2009). This kind of anxiety brings negative thoughts and emotions to the workplace and therefore negative behaviours (Kets de vries et al, 2009). Stress is not to be avoided completely though, since it is an important part of being alive, keeping us alert under a dangerous circumstance (TED-ed, 2015). It should be controlled and employees response to it should also be proportional (TED-ed, 2015).

Considering that environmental and genetic factors can lead to high levels of stress and in some cases to disease (Mc Ewen and Stella, 1993), it's worth wondering if the people we work with can make us physically sick too since they are also part of our environment. Heaphy and Dutton (2008) think so, since they have been researching the physical response of our bodies to the social interactions ("connections" and "relationships") at work.

Positive social interactions at work cause:
(Heaphy and Dutton, 2008)

• Decrease cardiovascular reactivity at work and beyond
• Strengthen the short and long term immune system
• Contribute to healthier hormone patterns
• Contribute to "more proportional responses to stress and build long-term reserves of health."

Manfred Kets de Vries (1999) defends that organisations can be "an anchor of psychological well-being" instead of a place where the balance between working life and private life is lost and stress statistics are worrying. De Vries coined the term "Authentizotic organizations". The terminology comes from the Greek words for authentic: authenteekos and vital to life: zoteekos.

De Vries connects good places to work at with individual mental health by describing "Authentizotic" organisations as vibrant companies with well-functioning individuals in them. Psychotherapists believe healthy people operate at their full capacity and that according to his experience healthier people posess a definite set of characteristics (De Vries, 1999) - that from my point of view make healthy people fantastic colleagues.

Healthier people are
great to work with!
DeVries (1999) identified a long list of positive qualities that mentally healthy people have. Below is an extraction of the qualities most related to stress management and interpersonal relationships at work:

• They have a strong "sense of self-efficacy. They are resourceful" (De Vries, 1999)

• They resort to "mature defense mechanisms, take responsibility for their actions and refuse to blame others for setbacks" (De Vries, 1999)

• "They know how to manage anxiety" (De Vries, 1999)

• They view themselves as part of the group (De Vries, 1999)

• They don't have issues of dependency, they don't have "clinging behavior" (De Vries, 1999)

• They have the capacity for "self-observation and self-analysis", and enjoy self-reflection (De Vries, 1999)

Taken into consideration the above evidence, it can be concluded that physical environments can cause our bodies to psychologically and physiologically alter, be it through an increased heart rate or by getting clinically depressed.

Stress can be caused by more than a lack of natural light. It can also come from negative interactions with our colleagues in the work environment, triggering physiological alterations in our body and minds if we are ill prepared for it. Being surrounded by culture all the time (Schein, 1985) is not a metaphor, it is an accurate description of what happens to our bodies and our minds when we work with others in a physical or remote environment.
Emotions were banned from work since the industrial revolution where workers came from the land into factories and command and control leadership was the only way to run a company (Conaway, 2015). With the rise of factories and unskilled labour that needed the job, factory owners went unsupervised and could insist on hours of work, behavior, personal codes of conduct and even have children working in their factories. Workers had no control over their situation, sometimes having to live in the space provided by factory owners. This is the origins of work as we know it from the industrial revolution to the digital revolution – which we are experiencing now and have the freedom to shape.

Management professors Sigal Barsade (Wharton university) and Olivia A. O'Neill (George Mason University) have determined that every company today has an "emotional culture". In their interviews with executives and employees they heard people say that some organisations lack emotion completely in which case the researchers label this an "emotional culture of suppression" (Barsade and O'Neill, 2016). It's not hard to assign the first factories of the industrial revolution with "emotional cultures of abuse".

Barsade and O'Neill published an article in the Harvard Business Review magazine early in 2016 titled "Manage your emotional culture" where they differentiated between "cognitive culture"(verbal) and "emotional culture"(non verbal). They define emotional culture as: "the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing."

I believe there is a lack of research and understanding around emotional culture which makes it one of the most exciting topics to dive into as professionals and leaders. Barsade and O'Neill agree: "emotional culture is rarely managed as deliberately as cognitive culture - and often it's not managed at all." They found that from the 3,200 employees in 17 different companies, from 7 different industries: cultures with high levels of companionate love for example, show greater levels of job satisfactions, personal accountability and commitment to work. Censeo is a company committed to building a culture of companionate love and CEO Raj Sharma is succeeding at building authentic connections within and outside of the company with clients.

A company's emotional culture:
Barsade and O'Neill, 2016 found that a company's organisational emotional culture can be manifested in some of the following ways:

• The set of emotions tolerated at work and sought after (companionate love, anger, joy…)

• Facial expressions

• Body language

• Office decor

• Assumptions felt by leaders and employees alike

Why should emotions not be dismissed?
We have seen how the emotional side of a culture can be described as the "vibes" (Moody, 2011) of a company.

Moody (2011) describes emotions as "volatile, sensitive to outside influences and not sustainable in time".

The emotional quality of culture might be why it's been so hard to pin down a definition for culture and engineer a way to design it. As an industry we have been confusing vibes with values. As leaders, we have been dismissing vibes for emotions, addressing them only through "HR gimmicks" to make employees think the company cares about their emotions (Barsade and O'Neill, 2016). But just as culture affects our body and minds, we have to start recognising that we bring our emotions with us too when we work.

Switching emotions off at work might seem to help us create a new persona at work that deals with difficult decisions, remains calm under a lot of stress or even speaks a certain way. However numbing emotions is not good for us at any level.
Because leaders need to learn how to manage their emotional culture
While leaders are meant to influence people's behaviors and thoughts, they "may feel unprepared to understand and actively manage how employees feel and express their emotions at work" - what's worse, they may find this an "irrelevant" task (Barsade and O'Neill, 2016).

It seems "bully bosses" are still moving up the hierarchical ladder today (Bobinsky, 2009), but that won't be the case in the future of work where employee engagement and satisfaction become more and more important (Deloitte, 2015).
Because dismissing some emotions means dismissing all emotions
Humans cannot dismiss or numb emotions selectively, once the system shuts vulnerability down, joy goes down too.

As Brene Brown explains, numbing emotions like sadness and shame means numbing positive emotions too, like joy and gratefulness (Brown, 2010), limiting our positive experiences of life. Once we chose to numb an emotion we will be applying this restriction to life at work and outside of work.

According to alternative medicine advocate and a promoter of popular forms of spirituality, Deepak Chopra, we are only capable of comfortable and uncomfortable emotions. At this spiritual level, he is of the opinion that we need to be aware of our emotions, learn to express them in healthy ways and expand "our repertoire of responses" to achieve "wholeness, freedom and more nourishing relationships" (Chopra, 2016) at work.

The affective revolution

The good news is that Barsade and O'Neill (2016) also see an "affective revolution" happening nowadays, a "renaissance of scholarship on the ways that emotions shape people's behaviour at work". In the following graph we can see how the academic interest in emotions influencing decision-making has increased dramatically from 2004 to 2012 (Lerner et al, 2015). "Many psychological scientists now assume that emotions are the dominant driver of most meaningful decisions in life" (e.g., Ekman 2007, Frijda 1988, Gilbert 2006, Keltner et al. 2014, Keltner & Lerner 2010, Lazarus 1991, Loewenstein et al. 2001, Scherer & Ekman 1984).

Final thoughts on defining culture
Culture cannot be defined in one sentence because its definition depends on the experience and mindset of each person, as can be gathered from many successful startup founders.

Culture is composed at a molecular level by thoughts, environment and emotions. All of these factors affect our behaviour, body state, mental state and emotional state. Culture then has a holistic effect on us as humans.

Each of the molecules composing culture can quickly change and are also perceived differently by each individual. The same thought may be motivating for some and depressing for others. A bright office might be relaxing for some but oppressive for others. A person may be comfortable or used to numbing emotions at work while others cannot imagine holding their emotions back.

The bottomline seems to be that culture is in the eye of the beholder. The common denominator is culture affects all of us and that we should not prevent emotions from entering the workplace - but rather, embrace them and understand their role.
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