Organizational culture and climate are undeniably related, yet distinct and separate. Understanding the differences and how one influences the other is helpful when transforming an organization. One way to illustrate the relationship between culture and climate is through the story of the Chinese bamboo tree.
After the bamboo tree seeds are planted the soil must be watered and fertilized. After a year of constant care, no growth can be observed. This cycle of care continues with no growth for four years. Constant care, but no visible growth. Then during the fifth year the bamboo grows 80 feet in six weeks. The only way to grow the forest is with patience, faith, and perseverance. In this example, the first four years are creating the climate that produces the culture, the bamboo forest.
What is culture?
Culture can be described as the collective way people act within an organization. For example, the list of unwritten rules about how people act. These can be things like people never eating lunch at their desks, people rarely speaking up in meetings if their opinion is different from the bosses, or people openly discussing ideas for improvement.
Essentially culture is the outcome of the climate that is created. In the example of the bamboo tree, the forest of trees is representative of the culture.
What is climate?
Organizational climate is often thought of as patterns of attitudes and feelings that are seen in observable behaviors. These behaviors help build the culture. An example of climate is having an improvement huddle as a place to bring up improvement ideas.
In other words, climate is the process that produces the organization’s culture. In the example of the bamboo tree the climate is the patience, faith, and perseverance that enabled the trees to eventually grow.
Why are they important?
A culture of improvement cannot be created without a nurturing climate. Behaviors, attitudes, and feelings must change before the organizational culture can shift. The climate shift can start with just one person and spread throughout teams, then through the organization.
An organization must define what they want their culture to look like so they can determine the climate they want to create. If an organization wants a culture of improvement, they would want to focus on creating a climate that supports that by asking for improvement ideas and asking humble inquiry questions.
Climate change can be difficult, but it starts with the individual. We recommend that leaders think about what they can do to cultivate a better climate in their area. This usually starts with focusing on the principles of organizational excellence and modeling these through behaviors.
To learn more about creating a culture of improvement join us for our new virtual workshop, Principles and Behaviors of Operational Excellence.