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Why Organizational Culture Matters

By Johan Bester

The first book that officially addressed organizational culture, was The Changing Culture of a Factory, by Elliott Jacques, in 1950. It seemed that the need to assess organizational, albeit factory cultures, were a hot potato back in the day. I have not personally read the book, and I doubt that I ever will. However, since the early 1920’s the topic has been revisited, researched, and covered in dozens of books, articles, and white papers. Why then the need to discuss the topic any further? Haven’t we done enough to fix our companies’ culture? Must we continually tweak our corporate rites, rituals, and symbols? The fact that we are making money should be testament to a healthy organizational culture.


The quick answer to these questions should simply be ‘yes’! Some companies might even argue that they have gone to great lengths to improve their organization’s culture with those team building exercises, family braai days, or the odd Casual Friday, being fundamental to their bustling success. In short, these diversions may help the cause, but cannot ensure it.

There’s no longevity to it. In most cases, the fun day organizers will get a pat on the back, and someone in HR will post a picture or two of happy, smiley people all getting along, while up-to-date evidence and research states otherwise.


Currently we are in one of the most interesting times we ever encountered. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed some cracks in the way we work, but even more so, it aided us in making some unusual work decisions. With the great reset came the great resignation. Never have employees upped and left jobs like they have been right now. Suddenly the prospect of working remotely makes sense and is not frowned upon either. The future of companies now lay within the hands of employees who sit behind their computers and do sales, close deals, and manage their teams, all from the comfort of their homes.


Technology made this possible, and notably, employees became aware that their stress-, anxiety-, and burnout levels dropped substantially. They do not have to concern themselves with office politics anymore. Most can carry on doing their jobs, and some even report working longer hours than usual! Work satisfaction has increased.


It is generally taught that to survive in the modern business world, you must have a good product, speak to a tangible need, provide a real solution, and have a clear idea as to why and what you are in business for. Experts are right in saying this, and all the above mentioned are fundamental to the success of a business, but it also made me think: what if you have it all locked down, and are still dealing with high staff turnover, petty and often brutal office politics, absent or those pretending-to-be-present-but-not-really-employees, office gangs, information silo’s, high levels of distrust, suspicion, and fear?

These words speak volumes when it comes to assessing a toxic work culture. When they are in play, the free lunches, car washes, and drop-off services do not matter anymore. Good employees run for the hills, and you get stuck with the stragglers holding on for dear life. Bad news spreads quickly, and hiring new, better talent becomes a tedious process, as they generally tend to avoid toxic organizations. The way we do business needs to undergo swift changes.


There is a wonderful passage in Proverbs 24:3-5 that reads: “Any enterprise built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts”. Organizational culture, in fact, requires just that – wise planning, common sense, and keeping abreast of the facts. Once leaders overcome the initial inertia to change will the process become somewhat easier.


I’ll leave you with this question: When do you know you are in a healthy organizational culture? No, it’s not the free lunches, high wages, or the perks everybody talks about. When you discover the answer, you will also know why organizational culture matters.

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