If I were to ask you to explain your organization’s culture, how would you do so? I have often asked the same question to groups of individuals, and in return, I get either a blank stare, a confused look, or a simple answer of “it’s great” or “it’s bad” with little in-depth explanation.

Defining organizational culture is probably one of the most challenging and complex things an employee can do. If you do a Google search on “organizational culture,” you will be faced with over 450 million “pieces” of content trying to explain the complexity of the subject. You can find everything from “Great Examples of Great Cultures” to “Reasons for Toxic Cultures” to “10 Simple Ways to Improve Culture” and yes, even “I Can’t Understand Why Organizational Culture is So Important.”

It would be nice if there were a simple single definition to explain organizational culture. In fact, if I could develop a “magic pill” that would immediately provide a positive organizational culture, I would probably be joining the financial ranks of Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson. Unfortunately, it is much more complicated than that—or is it?

I am not going to provide all the possible tools and strategies necessary to develop a more positive organizational culture within an organization in this short blog. There are a variety of things organizations can do to make their culture more positive.

Alternatively, I would like to convey just one aspect that, I believe, defines an organizational culture. If I asked your employees how they feel when waking up Monday morning to work in your organization, what would they say? Are they sitting there Sunday night, dreading getting up and going to work on Monday? Do they pull up to the building and sit in their car, staring at the entrance, feeling stressed, anxious, and unhappy? Do they roll out of bed and walk to their home office feeling unenergized and unmotivated?

Or do they go to bed on Sunday night, looking forward to what they will accomplish on Monday? Do they pull up to the building and feel energized, worthwhile, and happy to be involved in a family-oriented environment? Do they wake up, grab that cup of coffee, and feel enlightened and thankful that they work for a great organization that permits them to work from home?

I’m trying to say that organizational culture is an individualized feeling. As we all know, feelings are tough to define, just like how organizational culture is sometimes impossible to define. The factors that make up how we feel as human beings vary significantly from one person to another. What circumstances make one person happy can cause another person to hate their job daily!

Consider this interesting fact: it took Tom Scholz of the famous 70s group Boston five years to write the song “More than a Feeling”—a 3-minute song attempting to explain human emotions and feelings. I may be showing my age a bit, but throughout my 35-year experience in more than 12 different organizations, I have witnessed what I would consider positive and negative organizational cultures. Essentially, my valuation was just that–my evaluation. There were times when I thought the organizational culture was toxic and unprofessional; however, some of my coworkers believed that the culture accommodated their lifestyle and beliefs and were satisfied each day working there. I felt one way, and some of my coworkers felt another way. It comes down to our personal feelings.

Now, I don’t want you to walk away thinking that I have simplified the overall complexity of organizational culture. There are most certainly several aspects that make up whether organizational culture has more of a probability of being positive than negative. Probability is the key word! Organizations must rely on the available tools to increase the odds of having a positive organizational culture—with no guarantees, of course.

Even those organizations defined as offering all the wonderful components of an exemplary organizational culture will still experience unhappy employees and employee attrition. Remember, we are all complex and distinct human beings. The most an organization can do is create the best environment possible where employees “feel” great. So, let’s go back to my first question: if I were to ask you to explain your organization’s culture, how would you do so? Could you now expand a bit and say any of the following?

The organizational culture FEELS:

  • Like I am working with family.
  • As though everyone cares about each other.
  • Like we are doing some good.
  • That we all have a purpose.
  • That I have opportunities for growth and development.
  • That we (employees) are appreciated and respected.
  • We know where the organization is going and what we do.
  • The leadership knows what they are doing, and I trust them.
  • ….and so on. I think you get the picture!

If you answered yes to feeling this way about your organizational culture, then more than likely, the culture is positive! As leaders, you are responsible for creating and preserving a positive organizational culture. I understand this can be frustrating, and it frequently feels like you are swimming upstream. However, the next time your employees say they feel good about the culture, you are well on your way to conquering what some organizational leaders think is impossible: a positive organizational culture!