Establishing a language to discuss culture in the workplace

Most of us somehow know that organisational culture is important – even crucial – to high performance, but being able to turn this ‘intuition’ into a tangible conversation and one that leads to considered action isn’t quite so straight forward. As much as we would like to believe that we all understand what creates a powerful organisational culture, such conversations can quickly loose some audiences and frustrate others.

We often find that, even in the board room, there can be a lack of structure in the conversation around organisational culture. When senior leaders are clear in their definitions, there can be a disconnect between those who have grown comfortable talking about culture with each other and the rest of the workforce. So how can an organisation bridge this gap and ensure the entire company is speaking the same language around high performance culture?

Creating a common code?

Organisational cultures are complex, and like most complex things, they develop their own, internal jargon. Jargon terms and phrases are highly useful, in many situations: because they have been clearly defined, they act as code for very specific ideas or shared experiences. Conversations about culture that do not translate to a language that connects for each and every person often gets heard as another ‘management code’. To avoid this, we suggest a few steps:

  • Firstly, be aware of the language you have developed to discuss these ideas among your leadership team. How do you define a high performance culture, and do you know where you are on this journey?
  • Secondly, take care when using this language outside your group to be sure your audience follows your meaning. How are your managers and supervisors discussing this with their teams?
  • Thirdly, that you measure where you are and assess the progress and impact you are making to gain ownership and commitment to the outcome.

This is not to say you should abandon internal jargon entirely. On the contrary: having key phrases that have an established meaning can help ensure that the whole workforce understand what needs to done and how it is going to happen. But in order to create this common understanding, it is essential to take the time to establish and define the meaning behind the words of your organisational culture vocabulary, making high performance culture discussions part of the daily dialogue.

By establishing an organizational culture vocabulary, you give your people a voice and a central place in the debate.

Communication goes both ways. Building a high performance culture vocabulary sends a strong message and provides the terminology required to share culture experiences and its impact at a collective level.

Many of our clients have found that the Denison Model helps facilitate just these types of conversations, providing an organisation with a shared point of reference.

One of our clients were delighted when a factory distribution worker demanded when they were to do the next culture survey. Using this model and the accompanying survey creates a tangible ‘language’ around how to create a high performance culture owned by all.

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