No matter how or where we work, there is a culture that exists. It is the answer to the question:
“what’s it like here?”
In large companies, there is likely a status quo. This dominant culture is significantly more visible and endorsed than the myriad of subcultures. As companies grow, so too do the number of variables and thus, culture becomes something harder to control or influence. The smaller the company, the fewer the variables and therefore the easier to control, influence, manipulate, or design.
Regardless of the size of the company, the culture is a subjective experience.
When we talk about company culture, the dominant narrative is to only talking about the aspects that the companies promote themselves or, occasionally, the aspects of a work environment where there is the greatest agreement in subjective experiences. However, it bears repeating that culture is both an individual experience as well as the various places in which individual subjective experiences overlap.
Culture isn’t monolithic.
I know…so far, I likely haven’t introduced anything new here. Much has been written about company culture, including what it is and what it isn’t.
Today, I want to prepare you with an idea that you may not have considered. If culture answers the question “what’s it like here,” we may do well to consider what we mean by “HERE.”
The Culture Here
Most discussions about company culture and work culture focus on the environment. So, when we ask, what’s it like here, we look around and assess.
- We form opinions about how others treat us, and whether or not they value us.
- We judge our compensation and benefits.
- We think about how much work we’re assigned, and the expectations others place upon us.
But what does your work culture look like when instead of looking around, I ask you to look inside?
I’m not asking you to ignore the external culture, I’m asking if you’re ever curious enough to examine your internal culture? Have you considered that you are also your own work culture?
- How do you talk to yourself? Are you tuned in to the voice that berates, undermines, or shames you?
- Do you give yourself adequate breaks? Or are you pushing yourself to the brink, teetering on the edge of burnout?
- How are you compensating yourself? Are you eating right? Are you making time to go to the gym? Are you making time for friends and family?
- What are your values and are you honoring them? Are you letting the work dictate your values, or are you working from those values?
- Have you defined a mission and purpose? Or are you working without direction, inspiration, or meaning?
All of the very same factors you’re looking at in your external work environment, are equally important when examining your inner work environment. Further, I would argue that it may be the culture you have the most control over.
We may not be able to control our external environments, though we can often exert influence. We can, however, tend to our internal environments. We retain the right to examine what our work means to us. When we look inward we should be able to change what we say when we answer “what’s it like here?”