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What’s Your Focus? Organisational Culture or Climate

28th April 2017

Culture or Climate

Organisational Culture & Climate: Why is this important to consider?

As organisational culture consultants we regularly get asked how measuring culture is different to measuring employee engagement. Many organisations have processes to measure and monitor employee engagement, so why look at culture? This is a great question. To answer it fully, we need to look at the difference in Organisational Culture and Organisational Climate.

Organisational culture

Culture is defined as:

“the patterns of behaviours that are encouraged and discouraged by people and systems over time”

Ned Morse et al.

The culture of an organisation provides the boundaries and guidelines that help employees know the desired way to perform their roles.

It is ingrained in many aspects of the company, for example;

  • Through the behaviour of the leaders, managers and employees
  • Through the reporting hierarchy structures
  • Through policies (e.g. travel policies) and procedures (e.g. recruitment)
  • Through systems such as IT systems (e.g. ease of use) or operational systems (e.g. attitudes to safety)
  • Through symbols in the organisation (e.g. the look and feel of the buildings)
  • Historical legacies (e.g. excessive property portfolios, poor IT systems)

For this reason, culture can be thought of as the ‘personality’ of the organisation. It is both visible and invisible, but is mainly driven by the invisible culture drivers. These are the learnt ways of working and thinking, assumptions, habits, traditions, and norms that over time have become engrained into the culture – ‘the way we do things around here’. As culture is so engrained, it is a long-term phenomenon.

These invisible culture drivers are difficult to measure and hard for people to articulate. This is why at NDC, we use Culture Groups to understand the full detail of these dynamics.

The culture of an organisation creates a unique atmosphere that is felt by employees. This is known as the climate of an organisation

Organisational climate 

Climate is defined as how members of an organisation experience the culture of an organisation. If culture represents the personality of the organization, climate is the organisation’s mood. The climate of an organisation is subject to change frequently and can be shaped by leadership, organisational change (e.g. redundancies), the loss of a key client, excess change etc.

Organisational climate is much easier to experience and measure than organisational culture. Employee engagement surveys have mainly focused on measuring organisational climate, management behaviour, employee motivation, collaboration etc. Traditional employee engagement processes tend not to capture the impact of systems and structures and focus more on behaviour.

The executive also needs to assess the influence of the external environment on the organisational climate. An organisation may be buffeted by adverse business conditions/market, and so may have low scores on aspects of “climate”. However, organisations with strong cultural attributes can weather those storms better than others.

Case Study

Nedbank in South Africa has built a strong corporate culture. Nedbank proactively strengthened the company values which promote accountability, focusing on meeting the client needs and building a positive brand image. As a result of strengthening their culture Nedbank bounced back stronger than many of their competitors, despite being impacted by the global financial collapse in 2008/09. Nedbank’s consistent efforts led the bank receiving a range of awards including The Financial Times and Banker Magazine’s South African Bank of the Year 2011.

Your role as a Leader

Leadership behaviour is important as it impacts both ‘mood’ in the short term and through culture change initiatives, they may have a considerable impact on the culture. Leaders need to focus on both culture and climate.

While introducing long-term culture management there will be resistance, reflected in the employees ‘mood’ but if they are included in the cultural change and the cultural mindsets and ‘can-do-attitudes’ are addressed, the company can build a stronger, resilient, adaptable culture for the future.

This article was written by Martin Egan of NDC experts in culture change and alignment.

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