Jitske Kramer is a renowned cultural, and corporate anthropologist. Her insights into how the way that companies work is linked to their culture, has significantly innovated the industry. She is, amongst others, the co author of the book “The Corporate Tribe”, which won the Management Book of the Year Award in 2016.
What is your preferred definition of organizational culture? Every group in the world asks similar types of questions, like how to deal with leaders, how to deal with differences, how to deal with time, how to deal with living and dying and getting old. All of these questions are universal, but the answers are unique. A set of unique answers to those questions is what I call culture.
What mechanisms shape culture? Look at it from the perspective that people shape cultures and cultures shape people. By defining together what we find to be good and bad, right and wrong, true and false, and beautiful and ugly. We create behavioral patterns, and this gives us guidance. From that, we start solidifying the culture into everything that we do, in our companies and their procedures. The main elements in shaping culture are interaction and decision making. This all links into power systems because it asks: who can join the conversation, who can join these interactions and who can decide?
Corporate antropologist. Public Speaker. Entrepreneur. Facilitator. Founder HumanDimensions.
Coach of the Year (2013).
Author of "Deep Democracy", "Jam Cultures", "Wow! Wat een verschil" and "Voodoo".
Co-author of "De Corporate Tribe" (managementbook of the Year 2016) & "Building Tribes".
By defining together what we find is good and bad, and right and wrong, and true and false, and beautiful and ugly. We create behavioral patterns, and this gives us guidance.
Who can join the conversation?
How can you build a strong culture internationally, with multiple offices and different cultures? Can you keep one culture? What about subcultures? There will always be subcultures, and there should be. For example, take the Netherlands, we have a Dutch culture, but you could argue that the north and the south are really different. There are different layers with different subcultures if you zoom in, but if you zoom out, we are all part of the same storyline, the same culture. That storyline is the glue that keeps us together as being part of a group. The same goes for organizations, and here the storyline is linked to the purpose of the organization: what is the reason for its being, why did you start it, and what are its values? You’ll find subcultures within one office as well. Finance has a different subculture compared to R&D, and they should. It wouldn’t be good if they have the exact same type of behavior, because they have something different to do within the company. But together, especially when growing internationally, they must buy into the overarching storyline, the glue that facilitates the organizational values. But leave room for local differences in behavior as well, as different people will have different ways of creating behaviour. You can have diversity, while still using your values and culture as the glue for all the subcultures.
How can you make sure everyone is aware of that one storyline? You need to share the stories, but they need to be congruent in your behavior when emphasizing what you feel is important and then ensure all the processes are aligned with it. So, if ‘customer first’ is part of your storyline, make sure that all your procedures are aligned with this. If you build an organization that is not congruent with what you believe in, then it might look good from the outside, but it won’t make sense on the inside, and people will get confused. One of the things people want from culture is one clear congruent story, with room for diversity. You can execute customer orientation in a different way, but it’s always ‘customer first’. Culture is something people create together, we share it and we live it. We are influenced by the stories we hear, but more importantly by copying the behavior we see. It is important for CEO’s and entrepreneurs to know what behavior they are spreading, because your team will copy that, and it will be amplified when the organization grows. Culture is quite often the mirror of the founder’s behavior and energy. If certain behavior or patterns are dysfunctional for the organization, hire people who are different from you.
How come some leaders feel that their culture is breaking down now that we are working remotely? I'm positive that people know how to be resilient and can deal with this. But connection is key for culture. If we lose connection, we cannot shape or reshape culture. I think one of the tough things with Coronavirus is that it attacks connections, and so we struggle with that. Luckily, we can build connections through technology. But, while technology is helping us, it is also distancing us. I notice people saying that meetings are way more efficient than they used to be. But many people are also talking about things like Zoom fatigue, and noticing how every meeting blends into one another. Technology does help, but with it we are missing the atavistic bonds that have shaped us for millenia. Let’s look at it from the lens of our ancestral past. Sitting by the campfires with our tribes, talking and sensing from one another what is good and bad, and which behaviors work for the tribe. We lose that connection digitally, unfortunately.
Founders of an organization should be aware that they will be the elders of the company
In the times we live in we should look to hire for differences in culture as much as anything.
While working remotely how to immerse new colleagues in our company culture? Be creative! You have to work with what you have. Create a digital session where you have break-out sessions to get to know one another and really invest in connection. Try to create that campfire feel. You have to go the extra mile: let everyone put up a favorite song, show your living room, and organize an online Q&A session with the CEO. Just think about the possibilities and options you have at your disposal to share the storyline of the organization and give things a personal touch. Besides, pay attention to rituals. The onboarding period, the initiation rite, is a ritual in itself. Surprise new colleagues with a present at their house with something magical in it to understand the company, go beyond just giving the typical flowers.These rituals are important because they distinguish the normal from the not-normal.
Can you give a couple of tips regarding culture for scaleups?
Take enough time to fully understand your culture. Make sure that you invest your time in understanding what the culture is, because it's a driver. Companies often work around culture, without really knowing what it is. Another tip is that we know that culture travels through sharing information. We put a lot of time into nice posters and training courses, and that does help. But remember, culture is behavior and behavior doesn't travel through PowerPoint slides, it travels through stories and behaviour.
What last information would you like to add, because a lot of scaleup leaders will benefit from this knowledge? You should aim for strong organizations and a strong culture. A strong tribe is as strong as the mutual relationships in it. In other words, you want to make sure that information and wisdom and ideas float freely through your tribe and that people feel safe to express their thoughts and ideas, knowing that they probably differ from each other. One could call this creativity, the other one conflict, but they’re the same thing. Create this strong culture and a set of beliefs, but then have the courage to listen to the deviant voices. They will really grow your culture. So hire for differences. Hire people who match the company’s purpose and values but allow different views to come in.
Behavior doesn't travel through PowerPoint slides.