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Which Came First: Employee or Culture?

When you do a Google search for the phrase Organizational Culture, you get 184 million results!

I tell clients that it’s a ‘YouTube Twitterverse.’  I’m referring to the ability for anyone to have their actions recorded and uploaded to a social media platform for the whole world to see — and judge. I warn them that due to this phenomena, they should behave as if there is a camera or recording device that has them in its’ focus when at work.

When I ask clients to describe their organizational culture, I’m asking about how people behave when nobody is looking. Workplace culture is difficult to pin down and is complex. It’s the values and rituals of the organization. It’s often the energy and enthusiasm people have for their employer.

When someone visits your organization, what do they see?

  • Are people busy?
  • Are people working together or alone?
  • Is it quiet or noisy?
  • Do people arrive early?
  • Is the parking lot empty at 4:30 pm?
  • Is the workplace light or dark?
  • Can laughter be heard?


To build the culture you want instead of ending up with an unintentional culture, you want to align your values with your hiring.  The outcome to aim for is a good alignment between the values that are important to you, the people you hire, and the culture you want to create (or reinforce). Issues that are critical to consider include the type of culture you have, how strong a culture it is, and how consistent the culture is. Culture is slow to create, pervasive, and hard to change. Most studies strongly urge leaders to understand that culture change can take anywhere from 7 to 11 years – and that is with a consistent full court press.

When leaders talk about the culture and honor it, everyone knows what to expect. If responsiveness is part of the cultural bedrock, the leader gets back to people the same day. If community involvement is a core value, the leader is seen spending time volunteering their time in community causes.

As organizations grow, whether organically or through acquisition, the culture can shift and change. To avoid unintentional culture shifts there needs to be a very strong focus on making sure that core values and cultural norms are articulated, modeled, and observed.

HR departments are often tasked with driving an organizational culture, but it’s more accurate to say that HR can support an existing culture. They can create initiatives that encompass and support the entire organizational experience from the onboarding program to the quality of management to the snacks offered in the break room. Culture is the work environment that is supplied to employees.

Even when a particular culture exists that has been developed by the leaders and employees, every new hire adds their unique diversity to the work culture. An intentional organizational culture is strongly influenced by the organization’s founder, executives, and other leadership/managerial staff because of their role in decision making,

How Can New Employees Become Part of the Culture?
Enculturation is a socialization process by which new workers adjust to, and become part of, the corporate culture of their new organization, office, or department.

Human Resources can provide an orientation or onboarding program that helps new hires learn the core values and culture of the workplace.

Departments can provide a warm welcome for new members with a well outlined plan that will help the new person learn their job, meet key people in the organization, provide an overview of the mission, vision, and core values as well programs and initiatives that bring these things to life.

Managers can conduct 30, 60, and 90 day follow-up meetings to oversee how the new hire is adapting as well as provide a well-informed ‘big-brother/sister/mentor to provide support and respond to questions or concerns as well as introduce the new-hire to others.

Organizational Culture brings the word ETHOS to mind – a Greek word meaning character, referring to the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community. Oprah might call it ‘your best selves.’

So when it comes to culture and people, which comes first? The answer is ‘yes!’ Without ideals, there is no direction to follow. Without the right people, no one will be doing any of the essential following!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at 1:02 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.