Culture Is Not Neutral

Let's talk about the oft-used but rarely understood concept of organizational culture preferences. Why did I have to add the word "preferences" in there? Because culture is a thing you can't control. It's an amalgamation of the shared values and preferences of the individuals that make up the organization. It's a moving target, and changing at the rate of people's opinions and choices. That's not a bad thing. In fact, I believe there's no such thing as a "bad" culture. (note: of course there are evil things, but I'm making the case that even if the mission of the organization is heinous, their culture may not be.) Cultural "preferences" are synonymous with "directions." If you are marching through the jungle, you are always ever only heading in a single direction at a time. Of course you can change direction as you wish, but then you abandon your previous direction and choose a new one. When you're hacking your way through that same brush with a group of people, it's better to all be going in the same direction at the same time.

Let me stop here and say that it's not always important for every single person to desire to go in the same direction as everyone else. People can be part of a culture they don't align with, but everyone will find out pretty fast that it's not ideal. Also, it's worth mentioning that I'm not talking about skills, strengths, or personality. Those things can contribute to other misalignment with a group, and should absolutely be considered when seeking your ideal fit. But no matter the role or the job, cultural preferences affect everyone within the organization.

Does your organization go in the direction of competition, or in the direction of collaboration? Does your team rely on the process, or do they rely on innovation? Is your company flexible or controlling? Approachable, or guarded? None of those directions are bad directions. They are just opposing directions. Chances are, when you're reading this, you're choosing the directions you would prefer. And that's the point.

Just because a culture is good for some people doesn't mean it's good for everyone. You can't say, "we have a good culture." or "our culture is the best." You don't, and it's not. It's just what it is. And for some people it's good. For others, it can be tragic and hazardous.

If the majority of your people are driven by collaboration, then the few people inside your organization that are driven by competition will feel dragged along a path through the jungle that they aren't content with. It's nearly impossible to lead a group of people if that group of people are facing opposing directions.

Know what your personal cultural preferences are, and know how you fit within the team of people you're associated with. And remember, things change and people change. It's important to constantly be taking inventory of the direction you're all heading, and asking if it's the direction you would choose.