If you’ve read 10 different posts on my blog, chances are you have read one on the subject of organizational culture. I have been quite focused on driving the point home that a quality culture must be intentional and consistently managed. It’s important to the success of any organization to have a plumb line that is values based and that acts as a reference point for your organizational behavior and strategy.

The interesting portion of culture is the manner in which people view it. It is much like the reproductive process in animals and humans. There is a set of “blueprints” that is attempted to be replicated for the sake of perpetuation. Procreation is a perfect example of genetic narcissism. It screams, “My blueprints are the best, so let’s pass that along.” Often times organizational culture takes on this self-centered approach and it completely destroys the entire purpose of culture.

Many leaders act as if culture becomes this sort of whipping post to “keep people in line.” If you don’t replicate, or better yet clone, yourself into how we express our culture then you have missed the cultural boat. There is a twisted expectation for people to mirror leadership to the letter in order for the culture to be “in place”.

Culture isn’t as much a thing as it is a context. Culture can’t be reduced to a list of rules and particular tasks that become nothing more than some feeble attempt at behavior management. It must be the medium in which things operate, not the process by which things operate.

Setting culture is establishing an atmosphere that encapsulates a set of values and guiding principles. It gives room to people so they are able to be authentic to themselves and still function within those boundaries. Culture is fluid and not prescriptive, or proscriptive for that matter.

When we make it about specific behavior, we box in the possibilities of what culture can produce. We place a cap based on our current understanding of culture and its expression. It leaves no room for innovation or creativity. Culture must be about values alignment and not about the manner in which someone aligns with the values. As long as all values (and values priorities) are honored, then the way in which it is done shouldn’t matter.

Everyone will have their own unique way of supporting your culture in a positive way. Let that happen. The organization gives structure to the culture, but the employees are the ones who own culture. If they don’t it’s not really culture, is it? Think of the culture of your country. There are elements that took place long before you were born and you had nothing to do with them. You still own that emotional investment in that part of your national culture in your heart. Organizations are no different.

I would love to hear your thoughts on culture being more contextual than behavior management. Are you more focused on identical reproduction or authentic expression of the talent in your organization?