Who owns culture?

Someone I know is just starting up his ninth company. I asked him if he made any conscious decisions when he was in these early stages about the company culture and who 'owned' it. "No-one and everyone owns it" he replied. "And I don't really think about it a planful way. It's more that I recruit people that I think will do a good job and get on with each other, and then I let them do both things without interfering unless I see things going wrong. I'm as much a part of the culture as they are. I think it would be a mistake to try and own or control it."

So my next question was, "As company CEO/owner how would you describe your role in relation to the culture?" He came up with a variety of words: mediator, nurturer, shaper, encourager, supporter. None of them were controlling and he rejected the idea that he 'created' the culture of his organizations.

I liked this response. It squares with my observations that culture is far too subtle, complex, dynamic, and pervasive to be 'owned' as a car or a house might be. Similarly it can't be 'created' in a systematic way. People join a company already acculturated, not to that company, but to their national culture, and other local cultures. Culture creation is a community activity which may or may not be conscious. People bring to any organization their own cultural biases, histories, experiences and practices. They both shape and are shaped by the culture of the organization they are joining.

Aspects of the organization design – systems, processes, policies, and control mechanisms can keep the culture on track or take it off track but only assuming that the characteristics and value add of that organization's culture are known and shared across the whole employee base.

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