Trying to change company culture is a fool’s errand

May 15, 2014

Read time 2 min

Culture is an end result, much like cake. A cake is an end result of the recipe. To make great cake we don’t fix the finished cake, we fix the recipe. As a result we get better cake. Similarly, there’s a recipe for company culture and that recipe will, given enough time, overwrite all other attempts to change culture.

So what is our company’s recipe for culture? It’s the system conditions we uphold. Most of them are so obvious it’s hard to see them. We are constantly within their influence and we need to take a step back to break the spell. But once you start seeing them, they can no longer be unseen. You’ll start seeing them everywhere.

Prisons are an excellent example on how system conditions affect people. In solitary confinement people start losing their minds without anyone directly doing anything harmful to them. It’s the system conditions that make solitary confinement unbearable.

A simple example of a system condition is lighting. Permanently turning off the lights has drastic effects in any human system, be it a prison or an office. Another equally obvious one is food, which is why healthy snacks at the office are so much more than just a cost.

Assuming we have access to food and lighting at the office, there’s workspace structure. Isolated personal offices enhance concentration, but decrease communication. Open offices enhance communication, but decrease concentration. It’s a choice we have to make and hopefully we do it while cognizant of its effects on company culture.

Bonus systems are a strong culture generator. Rewarding individual performance will definitely generate a competitive culture and hinder team work. Rewarding for closed deals will create a culture focused on short-term benefits.

All company policies and organizational structures are system conditions that act as culture generators. They are the recipe. To change company culture, we must change the system conditions.

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