What is Culture Management?

Culture Management is the process of cultivating and scaling work culture inside an organization. This includes keeping a pulse on the many aspects of the organization’s culture while measuring the impact of the culture on morale and productivity.

Culture managers, like Chief People Officers, are focused on establishing a work environment that helps people contribute and collaborate at their full potential. This means developing an organizational culture that creates a great place for people to work together. The benefit to the business in cultivating a great work culture is sustained, high performance by the people working in the organization.

Culture management takes collaboration, communication and support across people and teams to plan and implement a high performing work environment.
Culture management takes collaboration, communication and support across people and teams to plan and implement a high performing work environment.

Who manages culture inside a company?

Culture managers come by many names. Titles include Chief Culture Officer, Chief People Officer; Vice President of Culture; Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Head of Employee Experience to name a few. This is a relatively new role as companies realize that investing in culture returns significant financial impact (ROI). Often in smaller organizations this isn’t a full time role, but rather a responsibility of the Human Resource (HR) team.

Regardless of the title or role, the activity of culture management sits at the intersection of the entire organization. A great corporate culture influences (and is influenced by) the company’s leadership, company’s goals and strategy, HR, IT… even the design of the office or remote setup. This role has a huge impact on the bottom line of the business. And if a growing company isn’t being strategic about cultivating organizational behavior, it’s a huge red flag signaling risk for long term success.

What is organizational culture?

Cultivating culture begins with the building blocks of behavior.

Let’s work backward: culture comes from the Latin word cultus, which means care. To paraphrase The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, think of company culture as a shared commitment to solving hard problems.

While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do. Daniel Coyle.

Shared commitment isn’t a light switch that everyone turns on at once. Shared commitment is earned through trust. Trust is developed over time. Trust is cultivated. Culture change is cultivated. Inside an organization, this cultivation happens at macro levels and in micro-moments. It is also worth noting there are many types of organizational culture.

Trust, integrity, sincerity, empathy, transparency, and compassion are a few of the behaviors required to foster an effective work culture.
Trust, integrity, sincerity, empathy, transparency, and compassion are a few of the behaviors required to foster an effective work culture.

Some describe the essence of a personal brand as what is said about the person when she’s not in the room. The same can be said of culture: how would an ex-employee describe the work environment and his employee experience long after he left? Company culture impacts company reputation and absolutely affects recruitment.

How do you plan culture management?

An easy litmus test to gauge the true character of the company culture is to survey employees about how long it takes decision-making to occur. A workplace culture with slow decision-making, requiring many inputs and approvals, is a sign of poor management style, low risk taking, antiquated organizational structure, and a low-autonomy work environment. In other words, not a culture that will scale or endure.

The micro-moments are the interactions between employees. Every chat, every exchange, every email, every meeting: these interactions between employees establish and reinforce the overall cultural values.

Different cultures breed different employee experiences. There’s no standard set of organizational values to adopt. Yet the cultural elements and management processes should all signal the expected behavior inside each employee interaction.

Listening is one of the most important aspects for management to leverage to cultivate organizational culture because this creates empathy.
Listening is one of the most important aspects for management to leverage to cultivate organizational culture because this creates empathy.

Often cultivating organizational culture means implementing cultural change. If a company has managed to scale past 20 employees, it most certainly has a culture (whether it was cultivated or grew haphazardly). Changing the wheels on a moving car is much harder than doing so before the car has momentum. The earlier that leadership creates shared assumptions and displays leadership behaviors that reinforce the assumptions, the more likely the company’s culture will be pointed toward a healthy environment.

What is a culture operating system?

A culture operating system is a holistic approach to the key aspects of collaborative performance. Companies of a certain size must plan how they operate. This means the CEO, the COO, and other vital executives that influence operations (possibly the CPO — Chief People Officer) come together to account for each aspect listed below on the Unitonomy Culture Canvas.

The Unitonomy Culture Canvas
The Unitonomy Culture Canvas

Print our Google Doc worksheet of the Unitonomy Culture Canvas

The Unitonomy Culture Canvas has six areas for leadership to address:

  • Who: who are the right people to join us on our mission and how do we set ourselves up for success through unity?
  • What: what are the types of effort needed to solve the problems? What are our plans? How do we cultivate a shared sense of belonging to our mission and values?
  • Why: why are we motivated to extend maximum effort in pursuit of our mission? What guides us and our decision making?
  • How: how do we make decisions collectively and build autonomy? How do we develop a shared sense of accountability?
  • Where: where are people oriented in the collaborations? Where and how do communication and data flow?
  • When: When do we invest our time and money? How do we prioritize?

Within these six areas are subelements. These are more specific areas to develop as an organization. One is not more important than another.

  • Recruitment:
    • Who are the right people for our mission and values?
    • How do we ensure a diversity of minds?
    • How do we attract candidates?
  • Membership:
    • How do we help everyone develop their sense of belonging to our mission?
    • How do we cultivate collaboration? How do we keep collaboration safe?
    • How do we help individuals feel connected to each other?
  • Strategy:
    • What are our plans to follow our mission and reach our goals?
    • When and how do we consistently communicate updated plans so that teams and individuals can stay synchronized?
  • Alignment:
    • How do teams and individuals match objectives to company goals?
    • How do people keep informed of the efforts of others and understand the impact of others on their work?
    • How do we help people and teams match their effort to the company mission and goals?
  • Purpose:
    • How do we help each person map their role back to the pursuit of our mission?
    • What guides us?
    • How do we shape our decision making?
  • Meetings:
    • How and when do we gather? What should meetings accomplish?
    • What collaboration can be accomplished asynchronously?
    • How do we report meetings to make sure critical information isn’t lost?
  • Workflow:
    • What tools and systems do we use and how do they synchronize information?
    • How do we perform our work?
    • Are our workflows secure?
  • Structure:
    • How do we organize ourselves?
    • How do we define roles and responsibilities?
  • Information:
    • How do we share information and knowledge around ourselves?
    • What data do we collect and how do we organize and share it?
    • How does personal organization influence team performance?
  • Resources:
    • When and where do we invest our effort?
    • When and where do we invest our money?
  • Compensation:
    • How do we provide for each other?
    • How do we ensure people feel safe and invested in their work?

At the center of these six areas is the idea of measurement. It’s a common misunderstanding that culture can’t be measured. When you look at the elements that create the culture canvas, it should be obvious that every aspect can be measured as you drill into the specifics.

How does collaboration influence culture?

Imagine each instance of employees communicating as a building block that constructs the foundation of collaboration. And every collaboration as building the monument of culture. Yet how can a culture manager possibly manage every employee interaction?

No one can manage every employee interaction. But a culture manager should always be thinking about how she or he can teach and reward the behavior that reinforces the cultural values of the organization. There’s a lot to unpack in that suggestion. When you think about employee behavior and how employees treat each other, hopefully, these are some of the cultural elements that come to mind:

  • Safety
  • Respect
  • Body Language
  • Punctuality and Attentiveness
  • Setting Expectations
  • Demonstrating Follow-Through
  • Providing Constructive Feedback

Behavior means fostering good habits and breaking the bad ones. Much of how employees interact is through communication. Communication is really the atomic unit of work culture. Impactful cultural management must begin with improving communication.

Did you know knowledge workers spend 80% of their time on average communicating? This statistic includes time spent across meetings, email and instant messaging. A primary goal for a culture manager is to figure out how to reduce time spent communicating while ensuring communication is meaningful. That’s easier said than done.

What is a culture manager or culture consultant responsible for?

The role of managing company culture encompasses overseeing many aspects of the collaborative environment. At the core, culture managers need a deep understanding of the organization and the people to ensure that:

  • Employees are working in a culture that they believe in.
  • Everyone understands their purpose.
  • Performance is maximized with high productivity and low turnover.

Culture Management Deliverables:

  • Efficient vertical communication (up the chain of command and back down). This includes clearly communicated mission and values so that each person inside the organization understands their purpose.
  • Effective horizontal transfer (colleague to colleague, team to team, department to department) to minimize duplicated effort and reap the benefits from the exponential value of collaboration.
  • Easy-to-use software systems and technical infrastructure to reduce frustrations and time wasted on training and maintaining systems.
  • Overcoming the fragmentation of software that doesn’t transfer data between systems and hinders horizontal transfer.
  • Physical and virtual spaces for collaboration (this ranges from conference rooms to video conferencing) to enable rich, high volume output.
  • Tracking employee engagement, equity, and the well-being of employees with culture and people analytics to reduce turnover and catch small issues festering in the culture before they become big problems.

Culture Consultant Deliverables:

  • Setting expectations around scope and calendar for the culture consulting.
  • Great consultants are great communicators. Culture consultants should provide help crafting internal memos for leadership to ask for buy-in in the effort to cultivate the culture and participate in culture surveys.
  • Preparing culture assessments including a culture baseline survey, tracking survey participation, harnessing the data from the culture surveys, and presenting data driven culture findings to the leadership. HR and culture consultants should know what culture questions to ask employees to improve morale, employee engagement, and aspects of inclusion, to name a few of the many aspects of culture management.
  • Interviewing employees for qualitative data and listening to their perspective on the company culture and employee experience.
  • Actioning the culture data insights with the leadership. This might include recommending new systems and processes.
  • Leaving a culture pulse survey behind for the company to continue tracking employee engagement and their culture improvement efforts.

Read more about how to find the right culture consultant if your company does not have a culture manager.

Culture management includes planning effective and efficient ways of how people communicate.
Culture management includes planning effective and efficient ways of how people communicate.

Let’s look at the culture managers’ responsibilities at each stage of cultivating and scaling the culture.

Note: this process cannot start until there’s buy-in from the executive team and top management that the effort is worth prioritization and investment — good culture cannot be seen as a “nice to have” or something that will sprout haphazardly in a healthy form. Organizational development of good culture involves decision-making and commitment.
In addition, leadership behavior should set the tone and model the desired culture.

Stages 1 – 5: Culture Evaluation

Stage 1

Deciding who is responsible for the culture. This person begins a listening tour through the following stages.

Stage 2

Assessing if the organization is aligned when it comes to mission, values, and goals.

Stage 3

Finding which people or teams can trace their effort back to the organization’s mission and goals to establish each person’s sense of purpose.

Stage 4

Evaluating and surveying what is good and bad about the work culture.

Stage 5

Evaluating the management processes and systems for how people collaborate and communicate to ensure information is transferring efficiently vertically and horizontally.

Stages 6 – 8: Culture Management Implementation

Stage 6

Creating and deploying a plan of strategic initiatives that lay the organizational structure and groundwork for the culture to bloom. Remember: culture is created by the people, not these initiatives. The goal of the initiatives to enable people to become intentional about fostering their culture and organizational change. This is a moment to be open and transparent about the transformation, ask for feedback and buy-in from across the organization, and remind everyone that they are all owners of the effort.

Note: it may become apparent that one of the main leaders of the organization (like a founder or CEO) casts a bad shadow over the culture. Poor leadership tendencies can undermine many efforts to transform the culture. There’s a trove of Harvard Business Review articles on the subject.

Stage 7

Setting up mechanisms to find and maintain alignment around the mission, values, and goals and each person’s effort mapped back to these elements.

Stage 8

Looking at the elements lagging in a healthy culture (perhaps more bonding for a remote team or strengthening a shared sense of accountability, lingering cultural differences between teams, or a large number of individuals still lacking a sense of their belonging), and leveraging proven methods to prompt meaningful conversations on a regular basis to strengthen the areas in need. At Unitonomy, we call this building our communication muscles. This stage is all about attacking weak areas of the work culture with better communication. Unitonomy’s GetCommit offers a turnkey system to make this stage easy. And best of all, GetCommit works inside Slack and Microsoft Teams where your people are already communicating.

Stages 9 – 10: Keeping a Pulse on Culture

Stage 9

Measuring progress of the culture transformation. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Don’t assume you can hold your finger to the wind when it comes to gauging company culture. There are many people analytics tools that include culture assessments. The better ones keep a pulse on the culture. Unitonomy’s OrgVitals goes a step further to examine individual performance in the context of collaboration, as well as keeping a pulse on the culture. Plus OrgVitals goes much deeper than employee engagement to assess each individual’s employee experience.

Stage 10

Optimizing and/or reorienting effort to cultivate the culture. As new communication habits form and collaborations improve, you will assess through the ongoing measurement when it’s time to cultivate different aspects of the culture that have been neglected (not every aspect can or should be improved at once).

Stage 11: Scaling Culture

Stage 11

Scaling the culture. As more people join the organization, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain the strong culture. The core issue is transfer. How do the new hires quickly absorb all of the values and habits? How do new people working remotely bond with their colleagues? Often many of the practices that work for a 40-person organization are no longer effective when the company doubles in size to 80, for example. It’s time to jump back to Stage 2 when it’s clear the organization’s growth is outpacing the ability to maintain a healthy culture. GetCommit can help. Nothing conveys culture like stories. GetCommit captures stories of people performing actions that embody the values of the culture. So when a new hire joins, part of their onboarding can be reading these stories to truly learn about their colleagues and the culture. And knowing is half the battle.

What is Culture Management Strategy?

A culture management strategy is the foundation that outlines the entire culture lifecycle, from evaluation of current culture to implementation of cultural change to measuring to scaling. The strategy outlines the sentiment of the people, the organizational values, and the methods of collaboration (ranging from the collaborative environment to communication interactions between employees). Although having an initial strategy is important, a good culture manager is always willing to adjust the strategy based on perpetual assessment.

For organizations that are not equipped to have someone internally lead culture management, bringing in a proven consultant to provide the culture management strategy is a viable option. OrgVitals recommends culture consultants through our Partners page.

Culture Management vs Operations Management

Typically operations management focuses on planning, organizing, and supervising production, manufacturing, or the provision of services. Operations management ensures that an organization operates efficiently. Often operations management is concerned with human capital and human resource management, and this is the crossover between operations management and culture management.

Culture management is focused on establishing an environment that helps people contribute to their full potential.

Sometimes culture management will fall under the Chief Operations Officer who also oversees the HR team. Sometimes HR will run culture management. Many organizations are adopting a Chief People Officer or a Chief Culture Officer, both of whom report directly to the CEO.

Inclusion must sit at the heart of a culture management strategy.
Inclusion must sit at the heart of a culture management strategy.

About OrgVitals and Unitonomy:

Unitonomy is a studio focused on innovating in the culture management space. OrgVitals is the first startup to emerge from Unitonomy.

OrgVitals provides groundbreaking people analytics for leaders needing to change organizational culture. OrgVitals provides data analysis for transformational leaders who need to strategically improve employee retention, equity, and engagement.

Additional Resources:

If you’d like to learn more about culture management and organizational culture, here is further reading we recommend:

For additional tools to help implement great culture, here are tools we recommend:

For more information about Unitonomy, OrgVitals and Culture Management, check out these articles:

Are you a culture consultant? OrgVitals is an end-to-end assessment solution for your clients. Learn more!